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The Tea Party – Three Principles by Elizabeth Price Foley

Elizabeth Price Foley

Reviewed by:
On April 2, 2012
Last modified:September 29, 2012


The Tea Party - Three Principles is an interesting and well-written book. It is not a paean to the Tea Party intended to fortify members of the faithful. Rather it is an intellectual examination of the principles behind the movement.

The Tea Party, Three PrinciplesThe Tea Party – Three Principles is an interesting and well-written book.  When the publisher contacted WWTFT to review the book, this reviewer was not sure what to expect.  At first, it was not clear whether the book was going to be an academic study of the Tea Party with a decidedly partisan bent, or a purely devotional work, a paean to the Tea Party intended to fortify members of the faithful.

In actuality, the book was neither. It really is not about the Tea Party in the way one might study an organization and its inner workings.   And, while the author is decidedly on board with Tea Party principles, it is not a book directed particularly at those in the movement.  Instead, it is a book which describes the genesis and motivations of those who are lumped together as Tea Partiers.

It is a philosophical work which seeks to explain the commonalities which tie the Tea Party together.  More importantly, it delves into the roots of members’ beliefs with a degree of sophistication that is only now starting to get some attention.  It is a surprisingly intellectual book which investigates three principles that guide this grass-roots activism in way that is not often articulated, even by the people protesting under the Don’t Tread On Me banner.  It isn’t because they are unaware of them, it’s because these beliefs are innate and because the lack of central control inherent in the Tea Party means it doesn’t have a press organ.

Foley first briefly looks at the origins of the Tea Party – frustration with the degradation of American culture by the self-styled intellectual crowd.   This lack of pride and patriotism is perhaps best illustrated by the attitude of President Obama.  When asked his opinion of American exceptionalism, he said:

I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.

Foley points out,

The president’s idea of exceptionalism, in other words, was a type of narcissism possessed by all countries.  If every country is equally entitled to believe it’s exceptional, then none really is exceptional, just self-centered.

To develop Foley’s point further, Obama’s comment is integral to the left’s desire to avoid the appearance of making value judgements of any sort.  By their logic, the cannibal tribes of Papua New Guinea possess an equally valid culture with the exact same value and are equal in their contributions to world progress. Foley herself falls into this trap a bit with her assertion that American exceptionalism is really just a belief that the United States is just, “different in a way that is worth preserving and defending.” She contrasts this with the claim by the left that advocates of American exceptionalism mean that the United States is “better.”  Her watered down explanation is more incorrect.

We can make value judgements about culture and philosophy.  From a metaphysical or religious perspective, people are equally valuable, regardless of their culture or country of origin.  The Declaration proclaims that all men are created equal.  This doesn’t mean that they have equal abilities or that their choices will yield the same result.  What it does mean is that all “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”  We have free will and are entitled to exercise it. The system that the Founders set up, however imperfect, is superior to any other in history.  Why?  Because it acknowledges that people have worth and should be treated as sovereign, responsible entities, not as sheep.  We should not apologize for having a superior form of government which has yielded benefits to mankind as a whole, far in excess of any other country in history.  For most of its history, the United States has been a shining example of the difference between subjects and citizens.  The fact that the president of the United States can’t produce a patriotic sentiment, even when he tries, is emblematic of Tea Party frustration.

However, disgusted the Tea Party is with the president’s evident disdain for America, its frustration is targeted at both major political parties and its issues reflect this.  These issues, Foley has identified as three core principles:

  1. Limited Government
  2. US Sovereignty
  3. Constitutional Originalism

It is in the discussion of these three core principles that the book takes a decidedly  (and somewhat surprising) intellectual turn.  Foley’s legal background shines through in her in-depth discussion of various court cases and their resolution.   She boils down some fairly complex cases in a clear and logical manner.

Limited Government

Foley looks at early cases, like Marbury v. Madison as well as 20th century decisions like Heart of Atlanta v. United States.   She carefully explains the thought process and justifications for each of the decisions handed down by the court.  Several of the cases examined by Foley, like Heart of Atlanta, used the commerce clause to justify the decisions.  Over time, such contortions of the court have diverged widely from the ideas of the founders.  Foley touches on the importance of the checks and balances designed by the Framers, and hearkens back to Jefferson’s words,

When all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another, and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated.

This is the concern of the modern Tea Party movement.

In examining the role of the Supreme Court, Foley examines not only into how the cases were argued, but how they should have been argued.  She attacks the “ends justifies the means” argument of the left.  Cases, like Heart of Atlanta v. United States, invoked the commerce clause – because the court was eager to impose the result, rather than look at the method.  But Foley asserts that not only do two wrongs not make a right, but the Congress of the time had already passed civil rights legislation and would certainly have passed more, had the court not come up with its convoluted use of the commerce clause.  Additionally, she not only points out which cases could have argued from an originalist perspective and achieved the same result, but also explains which of them could not and why.   Regardless of a desire to do the right thing, the court should not exceed its authority, simply because it thinks it knows what the right thing is.  What if the court is not as enlightened as it believes it is?  That is putting a great deal of faith in nine, life-tenured, unelected,  fallible, human beings.  If the left were honest, they would surely admit that, looking through the lens of history, the court hasn’t always been enlightened.  The system we have works best when the government adheres to its founding principles and resists abrupt shifts based on public opinion and the conventional wisdom of the moment.

The court’s contorted logic in these cases led to a series of faulty precedents which are used to justify extensions of federal power like the individual mandate in ObamaCare.  It isn’t only the Tea Party that is legitimately concerned that if the government can make this case, then it can impose anything using the same argument.  In the words of judge Vinson, in his ruling in favor of the states in 2011,

To be sure, it is not difficult to identify an economic decision that has a cumulatively substantial effect on interstate commerce; rather, the difficult task is to find a decision that does not.

The left is well-aware of the ramifications of using the commerce clause as the rationale for forcing Americans to buy health insurance.  It seeks to reassure the American public that it won’t be misused in the future.  They argue that it won’t set a precedent because health insurance is different, because everybody will require health care at some point in their life.  Foley explains and then counters this argument,

… But what’s so unique about health-care?  The Obama administration argues that it’s unique because no one can opt out of the health-care market, and as a result, the costs of health care for the uninsured are often shifted onto hospitals, doctors, taxpayers, and those with health insurance.

But this isn’t actually unique to health care at all.  People can’t really opt out of the food market, the water market, the clothing market, or even the housing market.  Everyone has to have food, water, clothing, and some sort of housing.  And once they enter these markets, the cost of the bad debt incurred by businesses that provided these goods will undoubtedly be passed along to other consumers in the form of higher costs.

Moreover, the premise on which the administration’s uniqueness argument is made isn’t even accurate.  Some people can opt out of the health insurance market for their entire lives and never shift the costs onto others.  It’s entirely conceivable that a person can be born, live a healthy life, and die peacefully at home without ever incurring a health care debt they can’t pay. …

Foley goes on to dissect the concept of a “limiting principle,” by citing both its advocates and detractors.  The admissions of those who articulate this concept to justify the individual mandate should be terrifying to anyone who values liberty as is the hubris of the socialist left in what they say and do.

US Sovereignty

This hubris and disdain for the Constitution are also evident in those who favor a globalist agenda.  Unabashed defense of national sovereignty is the second defining principle that Foley ascribes to the Tea Party movement.   She goes on to document and explain that the concern of the Tea Party is well-founded, using the globalists’ own explanation of their agenda.

Let us face reality.  The framers have simply been too shrewd for us.  They designed separated institutions that cannot be unified by mechanical linkages, frail bridges, tinkering.  If we are to ‘turn the founders upside down’  — to put together what they put asunder – we must directly confront the Constitutional structure they erected.  Globalist government professor James MacGregor Burns

Burns is not alone in his advocacy of global governance.  Foley exposes how international law has seeped into the judiciary, blurring the concept of sovereign supremacy.  She also points out the troubling precedent of Mr. Obama’s seeking clearance from the UN, prior to exercising national prerogatives and the trend being set of using treaties to force American citizens to adhere to the stipulations of foreign law.  Foley explains the important historical distinction between treaty law and legislative law.

In a very general sense, treaties regulated external acts of a nation in its relationships with other nations, whereas legislation (ordinary laws) regulated internal acts of a nation’s citizens.

The Tea Party realizes the significance of taxation without representation and rejects the prospect of being subject to laws passed by people they did not elect.  Foley asserts that,

… global warming presents a perfect opportunity to implement a broader internationalist agenda.

The wealth transference inherent in the concept of “carbon credits” of “cap and trade” is part and parcel of this plan.  Foley explores at some length the globalist objectives and efforts and also explains some of the potential consequences.

In a very real sense, individuals’ standard of living – at least in the world’s developed countries – declines in meaningful and measurable ways.

Such consequences are not unintended.

The globalist agenda is also integral to the administration’s immigration policy and contorted interpretation of the 14th amendment.  As any American living along the southern border can attest, the concerns of the Tea Party on this issue are not over blown.

Constitutional Originalism

Foley concludes this dense little book with a discussion of originalism, the third defining principle of the Tea Party.   She compares and contrasts the “Living Constitution” approach with the “Originalist” approach favored by those in the Tea Party.  The author might have (but did not) quote this passage from Through The Looking Glass in explaining the dangers of the former interpretation.

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

Foley’s book is much more than a documentary of the Tea Party. It is, as the title implies, an examination of the principles behind the movement.  The Tea Party, Three Principles is not a light fare, but it is well-researched and accessible.  This book makes clear why so many people on the left “just don’t get” the Tea Party.  As Foley points out in the last section of the book, members of the Tea Party take the Constitution seriously, and make a genuine effort to understand the nation’s founding principles. They surmise that the blessings bestowed on the United States were the result of this system and that it is worth preserving.  Those on the other side of the political spectrum don’t make that correlation – and probably never will.


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