For 30 years or more, the political divide within the Republican Party has been over how to build the so-called “big tent.”

Republicans like Ronald Reagan not only laid out a positive and sweeping vision of how America could reclaim its heritage of a “shining city on a hill” through returning to the principles of limited government through responsible taxation and spending policies, but also emphasized nonmaterialistic values such as faith in God and the importance of the traditional family.

Meanwhile, those who claimed they wanted to build a “big tent” dismissed so-called “social conservatism” in favor of exclusively economic or materialist – claiming this approach would appeal to more Americans.

Time and time again, those trying to erect the big tent failed, while Reagan’s more cohesive vision built the biggest coalition in the party’s history – even winning over sizable percentages of Democrats.

You might think that old “big tent” idea would be discredited by now – after 30 years of failure. Not only has it never succeeded, Republicans have seen the so-called “economic conservatives” betray the party over and over again – even on economic issues.

So it should be somewhat surprising that the old “big tent” crowd is back in a very unlikely venue – the tea-party movement.

That materialistic divide is at the very heart of a concerted effort within the tea-party movement to limit its scope to “economic issues.”

You can see it in the coalitions and federations that restrict membership to tea-party groups promoting “fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets.”

You can see it in the U.S. Tea Party’s exclusive concern about “high taxes.”

You can see it in Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks agenda of “lower taxes, less government and more economic freedom.”

You can see it in the so-called “Contract From America” and its nearly exclusive concern with economic issues.

How extreme is the materialistic approach of these groups? Some of them actively discourage or even forbid protests of illegal immigration because it is not perceived as a proper “economic issue.” Held in even higher disrepute by some is any show of concern about the constitutional eligibility of the president of the United States. But the real divide is not over individual issues, it’s about a clash of worldviews – one with God at the center of the universe and the other with government or materialism defining right and wrong.

The good news is that this rather extreme materialism by no means represents the tens of millions of tea-party activists who represent the greatest opportunity to change America’s direction from the destructive path it has been on precisely because of the country’s abandonment of God and His laws.

I have had the opportunity to talk to hundreds of grass-roots tea-party activists. I’ve seen their signs and placards. I know their hearts.

They are not materialists. Their concerns are not limited to economics. They understand America’s fundamental problems go far beyond fiscal woes. And they know we can never correct those fundamental problems by limiting our agenda to economic issues – as important as they might be to us all.

Personally, I take a backseat to no libertarian on cutting down the size of government. But government will never be cut down, and never has been, without a much broader view than “economic conservatism” provides.

This is why I wrote “The Tea Party Manifesto,” to delineate what I believe is the real vision of the grass-roots activists, one that is in danger of being betrayed by politicians and those positioning themselves for national leadership in a movement much bigger than any of them.

It’s also one of the reasons I have organized the “Taking America Back National Conference” in Miami next month where these important ideas will be openly discussed and debated.

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