The Tea Party's Constitution
20 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2010 Last revised: 24 Sep 2015
Date Written: September 19, 2010
Tea Party activists have declared that the central goal of their movement is to return the federal government to constitutional principles. The sudden prominence and power of the Tea Party movement calls for an examination of its constitutional vision. Describing that vision presents a challenge, however, because Tea Party supporters do not invoke the Constitution as a text in need of interpretation but instead as a repository of what they consider the nation’s fundamental and unchallengeable values. This essay examines the Tea Party’s vision of the Constitution in light of THE FIVE THOUSAND YEAR LEAP and THE MAKING OF AMERICA, two books written by W. Cleon Skousen in the 1980s that have been enthusiastically embraced by the Tea Party movement. Tea Party supporters have made the books best sellers, and Tea Party groups extensively use the books to educate their members about the Founding Fathers’ plan for the nation. The books, however, are decidedly strange sources to inspire a contemporary political movement. They are products of the paranoid edges of the radical right wing of the Cold War era, and their main thrust is that Founding Fathers were devout Christians who discovered certain ancient principles of government that provide the only hope to save the United States from international communism.
The Tea Party movement has embraced Skousen’s books because the movement shares with Skousen what can best be characterized as a fundamentalist vision of the Constitution. Like religious fundamentalist movements, the Tea Party movement arises in opposition to modern developments that supporters believe conflict with foundational principles. Like fundamentalist movements, the Tea Party movement reaches back to a mythic past, the foundation of the nation, to identify the fundamental principles they espouse, principles that believers perceive to be under attack – belief in God, individualism, limited government, the free market, and the sanctity of private property. To Tea Party supporters, adherence to the fundamental principles they project onto the Constitution serves to divide true believers in the constitutional faith from “anti-Americans” who would compromise or subvert the nation’s fundamental principles.
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