With the Republican National Convention getting underway in Tampa, FL (the usual fanfare tempered by the approach of Tropical Storm and projected Hurricane Isaac), we turn to the introduction to Elizabeth Price Foley’s timely and insightful account, The Tea Party: Three Principles. Curious about the relation between the Republican party and the Tea Party movement? Look no further than the extract below, or download the full text HERE.
Love ’em or hate ’em
For many reasons, this has been the most challenging book project I’ve ever undertaken. Nonetheless, it’s been a labor of love. Writing a book about the Tea Party presents a unique set of challenges. For one reason or another, mere mention of the phrase “Tea Party” seems to incite passionate feelings from across the ideological spectrum. In many ways, Americans have come to love ’em or hate ’em; rarely does one encounter indifference. Because of this, telling someone you’re writing a book “about the Tea Party” is often an awkward moment, engendering a pregnant pause during which one waits for the deluge of either effusive or suspicious comments. In an attempt to get along, I have found it generally more pleasant not to reveal my own thoughts about the Tea Party in the context of such conversations. Instead, I’ve learned to listen, soaking up the information conveyed and discerning the basis of the speaker’s perspective.
This isn’t to say that I don’t have my own thoughts about the Tea Party. As the dedication to the book reveals, I’ve developed admiration and respect for the movement. This isn’t a politically motivated conclusion: I consider myself libertarian, not pledging any particular allegiance to either the Republican or Democrat party. I am quite conservative on some issues, quite liberal on others.
But I haven’t always been a libertarian, at least not in any overtly self-aware way. My journey to libertarianism has been a steady progression since I started law school many years ago. Before law school, I considered myself an ardent liberal, working on Capitol Hill as a policy adviser to several prominent Democrats. I fought vigorously for causes such as universal health care; expansion of Medicare and Medicaid; and greater regulation of insurance companies, food, drugs, and cosmetics.
The shocking thing, looking back on it all now, is how very little I actually knew about our government, despite the fact that I was knee-deep in its bowels, charged with the awesome responsibility of keeping high-ranking members of Congress advised on critical issues of the day. Although I considered myself well educated at the time, having attended a top-tier university, I had almost zero grasp of the Constitution or its foundational architectural features, such as federalism or limited power. Indeed, like most self-identiﬁed liberal well-educated Americans, if someone had told me then that the federal government – particularly Congress – lacked the power to accomplish a goal it deemed desirable for the public welfare, I would have laughed and dismissed the statement as right-wing, politically motivated lunacy.
My early ignorance of the Constitution wasn’t unusual. In fact, it was normal. Most Americans – even college graduates – know shockingly little about their own Constitution. To be honest, the vast majority of lawyers don’t know much more. They read the assigned cases in the casebook, memorize the holdings, and don’t really think much more about it.
The more one knows about the Constitution, however, the more one grows concerned, unless one thinks the Constitution has (and should have) no real ﬁxed meaning. There is an incessant drumbeat in one’s brain that says, “This is really important,” “You need to know this,” and “This country won’t survive if you don’t understand this.” Realizing how much the founders studied and understood the intricacies of political philosophy and the science of government – and what high hopes they had for Americans to grasp these matters as well – creates an urgency about keeping their hopes from being extinguished.
It also, to a great extent, allows one to rise above petty politics. The modern labels “conservative” and “liberal” seem almost irrelevant in this context. What matters is preserving the Constitution, its meaning, and its foundational principles. All else is petty politics.
View or download the entire preface HERE.