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Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey Pens ‘Tea Party Manifesto’

September 9, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey speaks with Judy Woodruff about his new book "Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto." This is the first in a two-part series of book conversations with thinkers on both sides of the political spectrum.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: a book conversation about the Tea Party movement. It was recorded earlier.

Former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey is chair of the conservative group FreedomWorks, and he’s the co-author of the book “Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto.”Dick Armey, it’s good to have you with us.

DICK ARMEY, former Republican House majority leader:Thank you.It’s nice to be here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tell us, first of all, what is the core of the Tea Party?What does it believe?

DICK ARMEY: I think, you talk to them, they believe that the country is in serious danger by a government that’s so excessive in its spending that it threatens the insolvency of the nation and their personal liberties. So, these are — we call them small government conservatives, constitutionally limited, small government conservatives, who think the government has strayed to the point of peril for the nation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you write in the book about how the goal is to take over the Republican Party, that that’s the first goal.Are you on track to do that this year?

DICK ARMEY: Yes, I think the idea is to reform the Republican Party, make it the party of constitutionally limited, small government, personal liberty, and make it, in fact, the answer to the Democrat Party, rather than what is perceived lately by most of the folks I am working with today, as the echo to the Democrat Party. So…

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, when you say — so, is there a distinction between taking it over and reforming it?

DICK ARMEY: Well, the idea is — I mean, there’s a sort of practical politics here.You start with the observation 99 percent of all people who hold office will be as Democrats or Republicans.So, that’s not going to change.The question is, will the Republicans in office be the constitutionally limited, Reagan Republicans, small government Republicans, that we need them to be?

Well, they will be if we require that of them.They can’t win the majority without this movement.It’s the biggest swing vote on the field.And we’re saying — you know, we’re not going to come be like you.We insist you be like we need you to be.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But are you saying that the current leadership of the Republican Party, the Republican National Committee, the Republican governors, Republican House and Senate committees, that they’re not doing an adequate job of leading the party?

DICK ARMEY: We just find that political parties are not reliable institutions from a policy point of view. They’re whimsical. Their — their motives, their objectives, their defined purposes are always given by political definition. We want the decisions to be driven by policy definition. We think, in the early days of the Contract With America, which was a top-down, inside job…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Back in the 1990s.

DICK ARMEY: Yes.They stayed true to policy goals and objectives.And we were proud of them for a while.Now we’re an outside-the-body, bottom-up group.And we’re saying, we’re going to reform your behavior to make you once again behave in such a way that we can dare to trust you and continue to support you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you’re already showing some successes out on the campaign trail.Some of the candidates that the Tea Party has supported, Sharron Angle in Nevada, Ken Buck in Colorado, and others. Now, Democrats are saying, these candidates may be acceptable inside a Republican primary, but they’re not going to do as well when they face a general election, a broader electorate.

DICK ARMEY: Well, right now, in this primary season, this movement’s having its greatest impact on who is winning Republican primaries.In the general election, just a little bit from now, this movement will define the — at the margin, define the outcomes that puts the Democrat Party in the minority in the House and quite possibly in the Senate.And they know that.So, they’re — right now, they’re a very panicky party.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are you ready to make a forecast for November?

DICK ARMEY: Well, I have no doubt about that the Republicans will be the majority in the House.Our only question is, will they be a conservative majority or a Republican majority?

A Republican majority is not what we’re looking for.We’re looking for a conservative majority.It’s possible — and I attach now a significant probability, above 50 percent — that the Republicans could be in the majority in the Senate.But the Republicans in the Senate will be a more conservative group than they are now.And I have no doubt about it, that at the — after the elections of 2012, there will be a Republican in the White House.Now, that’s settled, and President Obama’s already decided that.

So, the only way the Democrats, in my estimation, could keep the White House in 2012 would be to replace him in their primary.I’m not sure they’re up to that task.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We will see.

DICK ARMEY: We will see.I mean, but now I’m on the record.You can…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You are.You’re on the record.The book, again, “Give Us Liberty,” written by you and a co-author.You’re with this organization FreedomWorks.A lot in here, Dick Armey, about organizing community — down at the community level, what to do to get people to rallies, using different social media.It’s clear you’re focused on candidates and winning elections.Are those candidates prepared to govern?

DICK ARMEY: Well, absolutely. First of all, I mean, right now, one thing we see in the current leadership in the House and the Senate, even the White House, it doesn’t take a lot of preparation to get by the job. You know, they’re not doing all that good. But the fact of the matter is, this book was written because these folks are so badly mischaracterized. And, yes, it is…

JUDY WOODRUFF: These folks, meaning the…

DICK ARMEY: These folks that are known as…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tea Party activists.

DICK ARMEY: … the Tea Party activists.They’re probably the kindest, gentlest, most gentle souls we ever saw.We had a million of them in town last September, and they left the town cleaner than they found it.I don’t see that happening very often.

But the fact of the matter is, we are guided by the notion hard work beats daddy’s money.There are so many people that in the political punditry look at the comparative checkbooks of candidates and say, well, this guy will win, that guy will lose.And we believe the guy with more money isn’t necessarily the winner, if he goes against a well-organized activist organization, like we can equip candidates.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Once the Tea Party — if the Tea Party gets its way, takes over the country, what changes would you like to see made?What agencies would you do away with?What programs would you cut?What would be the ideal government under a Tea Party rule?

DICK ARMEY: Well, first of all, yes, there would have — there has to be a comprehensive reduction in the size of the government.Government is just so big, so incompetent and inefficient, it’s choking out the private sector.Now, everybody agrees this can’t be done unless you’re willing to deal with entitlement spending.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s Social Security and Medicare.

DICK ARMEY: Like Social Security and Medicare.And so I think one of the first things we would argue, let all subscription to government support and assistance programs be voluntary.Nobody should be required to take a government assistance.I think it is amazing that the government set themselves up as the insurer of first resort for everybody over 65, and they can’t afford that.

And yet they won’t let people just voluntarily say, well, I don’t need your help.I don’t want your help.Let me off the hook.So, there’s all kinds of punitive sanctions to anybody who says no.So, if, in fact, you just let that happen, you solve the long-term financial liquidity problem, because the unfunded liabilities voluntarily take themselves off the list.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The argument to that — against that is that making it voluntary would destroy these programs, that they couldn’t exist if they were voluntary.

DICK ARMEY: Yes.Well, that’s, of course — I mean, again, if, in fact, there’s no demand for you, so what?

The fact of the matter is, nobody’s going to voluntarily give up government-provided health care unless they’re confident in their ability to provide for themselves. So — and, if you can provide for yourself, why in the world should your children and grandchildren be taxed to support you with your assistance?


DICK ARMEY: But, again, I just am a little bit appalled by those folks that are so committed to a government program that they will say to a citizen, you sacrifice your liberty, so I don’t have to worry about me losing my program.

Is it about programs or persons?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Dick Armey, it’s very good to talk to you.Thank you for being with us.

And we have a very different perspective coming up soon. It’s a conversation with liberal Democrat Arianna Huffington about her book “Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream.”