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Books Explore Republican Evolution

Foley writes like a lawyer, and the book reads like a well-constructed brief, which is not a criticism. So much nonsense has been written about tea party philosophy that a structured treatise that gets to the heart of the matter is more than welcome.  

Unlike Kabaservice, Foley understands that ideological evolution doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

She methodically lays out the movement’s rejectionist beginnings — opposed to President Barack Obama’s lack of appreciation for American exceptionalism and to his desire to have the government do more, made manifest by the 2010 health care overhaul.

“The growing perception that America’s foundational principles are on the verge of a deep, dark politically correct precipice has created a political environment akin to a gas leak,” Foley writes. “It was only a matter of time before something ignited the flames of political resistance.”

She then goes on to spell out the “Three Principles” of her subtitle: limited government, U.S. sovereignty and constitutional originalism. This is the heart of the book, the most legalistic, and makes for highly enjoyable reading. It would also make good fodder for an American Constitution Society/Federalist Society debate.

Taking another tack altogether is David Brody, chief political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network. 

In “The Teavangelicals: The Inside Story of How the Evangelicals and the Tea Party Are Taking Back America,” Brody seeks to make the case that the tea party movement, grounded in constitutionalism and support for a less intrusive government, has a natural partner in the evangelical movement.

“Throughout the years, conservative evangelicals have powered important movements like the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition,” he writes. “Tea Party rallies are the next wave in that revolution.”

If so, it would seem to be more a marriage of convenience than passion. 

Any number of fissures are visible between the tea party and evangelicals, among both group leaders and the rank and file.

Brody comes to grips with the problem in what he calls “the Ayn Rand controversy.” The libertarian instincts of many tea partyers are at odds with the evangelical desire to use the power of the state to create a more moral universe. 

I would argue that Brody overstates the influence of Rand on the broad mass of tea party adherents, although the objectivist philosopher is obviously a guiding light for many leaders of the movement. He is on firmer ground when he asserts “that most churchgoing conservative Christians probably have never even heard of Ayn Rand.”

In any case, Brody seems certain that the wings of the movement can work together, which is probably true for the time being. Any split will come after they’ve obtained real power and try to figure out what to do with it.

No movement in recent American politics has had as big and as immediate an effect as the tea party. The debate over its influence continues in the popular media and has now begun to migrate to the more considered corners of intellectual thought. That’s a good thing for people who want to know more about the subject, and it’s also an indication that the tea party movement is not going away any time soon.

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