So when my buddy let me know that Haidt had written an article called What the Tea Partiers Really Want, I was eager to read it. And Haidt didn't let me down. In attempting to find an on-point 3-paragraph excerpt that encompasses the gist of the article, it became very clear that there is in this case no substitute for reading the whole thing. Please do that!
Because a generalized love of liberty doesn't distinguish tea partiers from other Americans, liberals have been free to speculate on the "real" motives behind the movement. Explanations so far have spanned a rather narrow range, from racism (they're all white!) to greed (they just don't want to pay taxes!) to gullibility (Glenn Beck has hypnotized them!). Such explanations allow liberals to disregard the moral claims of tea partiers. But the passion of the tea-party movement is, in fact, a moral passion. It can be summarized in one word: not liberty, but karma.
The notion of karma comes with lots of new-age baggage, but it is an old and very conservative idea. It is the Sanskrit word for "deed" or "action," and the law of karma says that for every action, there is an equal and morally commensurate reaction. Kindness, honesty and hard work will (eventually) bring good fortune; cruelty, deceit and laziness will (eventually) bring suffering. No divine intervention is required; it's just a law of the universe, like gravity.
In the tea partiers' scheme of things, the federal government got into the business of protecting the American people—from market fluctuations as well as from their own bad decisions—under Franklin D. Roosevelt. During the Great Depression, most Americans recognized that capitalism required safety nets here and there. But Lyndon Johnson's effort to build the Great Society, and particularly welfare programs that reduced the incentives for work and marriage among the poor, went much further.
Hope you read the whole thing. I even hope it leads folks to checking out The Happiness Hypothesis. I think Haidt is spot on with the idea that the best impulse of the tea party to re-establish a firmer link between rights and responsibilities, where honest good-faith effort is rewarded and laziness and deceit is punished. And FWIW, if you disagree with what Haidt says, please give me a better reason than the fact that the WSJ published it.