Inconsistencies With the Tea Party Ideology

Clay Bennett editorial cartoon“The Tea Party movement spontaneously formed in 2009 from the reaction of the American people to fiscally irresponsible actions of the federal government, misguided “stimulus” spending, bailouts and takeovers of private industry. Within the first few weeks of the movement, Tea Party Patriots formed to support the millions of Americans seeking to improve our great nation through renewed support for fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government, and free market economic policies.

The aforementioned quote is taken from Assumably, this statement is supposed to define who and what the Tea Party is and what they believe. “The Tea Party Patriots’ mission is to restore America’s founding principles of Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets.” The site goes on to say that they do not “support any political party” nor do they “endorse candidates.” The term “to restore America’s founding principles” indicates that the groups approach to the Constitution is from a textualist/Protestant (letter of the law). Interestingly, the fact they rely on quotes outside of the Constitution such as the quote by Thomas Jefferson: “the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity [is] swindling futurity on a large scale;” is demonstrative of the non-textualist/Catholic (spirit of the law) perspective. It seems that where the Constitution fails in their eyes, they resort to persuasive or “non-textualist/Catholic” rhetoric to lend weight to what they consider to be the true intent of the framers.

The only way the Tea Party can make the impact that they desire is through the Legislative Branch of government. In order to make the changes they desire, they would have to endorse a candidate. According to CNN in 2011, there were 60 members of Congress who identified being a member of the Tea Party caucaus. The fact that these individuals are Conservative, it would stand to reason that the Tea Party supports the Republican Party. Therefore based on these facts, at the very least, they are inconsistent. The following addresses some of the inconsistencies with the Tea Party dogma.

Fiscal Responsibility –

The Tea Party believes fiscal responsibility to be: “[M]eans not overspending, and not burdening our children and grandchildren with our bills. In the words of Thomas Jefferson: “the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity [is] swindling futurity on a large scale.” A more fiscally responsible government will take fewer taxes from our paychecks.” Based on this quote alone, the Tea Party appears to be “textualist” like Justice Scalia and the Protestant mindset in accordance with Levinson. Interestingly, in many aspects Protestant Christianity is diametrically opposed to many of the ideologies of political positions, including that of the Tea Party. That being said, there are many Christians that call themselves “Christian Conservatives” and a great number of Tea Party members identify themselves as Christians.

Constitutionally Limited Government

The Tea Party holds that: “[M]eans power resides with the people and not with the government. Governing should be done at the most local level possible where it can be held accountable. America’s founders believed that government power should be limited, enumerated, and constrained by our Constitution. Tea Party Patriots agree. The American people make this country great, not our government.”

At first glance. The first sentence appears to be a view supported by Brennan and the Catholic view as purported by Levinson. However, after closer examination, it appears to be a more Protestant ideology as held by Levinson when related to individualize or community interests. When held in contrast with the next sentence, the “first glance” becomes a little problematic. “Governing should be done at the most local level possible where it can be held accountable.” Here is where things change. The Pre-Civil War Constitution codifies the first three Articles outlining the responsibilities of the three branches of United States government (Legislative, Executive, and Judicial), Article IV pertains to jurisdiction, the formation of states and territories, and the U.S. protecting the states. Article V addresses the amendment creating process, the sixth addresses debt incurred by the validation of debts as well as “no religious Test” ever being required for qualification for any office. And finally, ratification is the object of the seventh Article.

In other words, for priding themselves (the Tea Party) on going back to the original intent of the “Forefathers” and the Constitution there is nothing to support the rhetoric in their statement “Governing should be done at the most local level possible where it can be held accountable.” In fact Sections seven and eight of Article I gives authority to the the Legislative branch to raise revenue and taxes, as well as borrowing money, regulating the valuation of currency, the establishment of Post Offices, etc. While the Tea Party, and other Americans may disagree with the federal debt and the bailouts, when seen through the lens of a “textualist”, Tea Party ideology falls short and thus becomes somewhat problematic. In addition, their true ideology can perhaps be a more Catholic view as described by Levinson. The Tea Party relies heavily on other writings outside of the constitution to support their views on the constitution.

The Constitution in relevant part states: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Here the terms “…secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” is the only thing that could be debated to support the argument of not passing on debt to our children. What are the “Blessings of Liberty?” Could it not be conceived that the debt incurred was a blessing of liberty for today’s generation? If we are to promote the general welfare of our society as the constitution states, then we must understand that “general welfare” applies to all members of that society and NOT that of the Tea Party alone.

However, even if applying the most liberal interpretation to seek where the Tea Partyer’s derive their point of view we can only look to the Tenth Amendment which states “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” But even when examining this amendment to try and support the idea of “free market economic policies,” we find that it conflicts with the “Commerce Clause” that gives authority to Congress to regulate trade. Therefore, the idea of “free market economic policies” in comparison to the Commerce clause and in addition to the fact that the Tea Party states that it “[D]oes not support any political party nor do we endorse candidates” must be summarily dismissed. The only way to accomplish the policies they seek, they must support and endorse a candidate to support their views.

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4 Responses to Inconsistencies With the Tea Party Ideology

  1. bewalke3 says:

    Awesome post. I found it very interesting that you pointed out that general welfare applies to all members of our society and not the Tea Party members alone, especially since the Tea Party holds the constitution so valuable, yet they fail to adhere to abide by the preamble of the document.

  2. dlopezra says:

    The points that you have presented demonstrate a deceiving circle within the Tea Party’s ideology. The way you defined their believes represent the Tea Party to be misleading, because their motives clearly contradict the reality that constitutes government. Overall, your explanation is very explicit on the inconsistencies within theTea Party’s believes and I could not agree any more with your justification.

  3. yesdelrinc says:

    You point out an interesting point. It is keen that you notice how the Tea Party even utilizes other passages from thinkers or quotes from other historical documents to make their argument. This is using a much more open interpretation. And the Tea Party thinks they are being strict interpreters of the constitution! Strict interpreters think they are making a direct, concrete reading of the document. Yet, we are always in some sort of cultural interpretation, pulling from different social understandings. Its odd to me, but strict interprets for some reason think that their knowledge is isolated.

  4. mfmyers says:

    The Tea Party Patriots are a 501(c)(4) non-profit, which basically defines them as a civics-based organization. That’s quite a bit less restrictive than the other non-profit designations. They’re not supposed to spend more than 50% of their operating income on political campaigning, but that seems like it’s a messy point of definition.

    The post ran a decent article on 501(c)(4)s in May:

    And the CRS report for Congress was a worthwhile read too:

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