Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Into the Intro: The Tea Party

Elizabeth Price Foley

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.

About The Author

Elizabeth Price Foley

Elizabeth Price Foley is the author of The Tea Party: Three Principles (2012). Price Foley is a professor of constitutional law at Florida International University College of Law, ...

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