Tuesday, December 15, 2009
REVIEW: Tea Party Revival
Title: Tea Party Revival: The Conscience of a Conservative Reborn
Author: Dr. B. Leland Baker
Genre: Political opinion
Publisher: Outskirts Press
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib
Tea Party Revival is an unabashedly political book, and uses as its opening page a list of 12 goals entitled “Our Demands.” It then goes on to define what author Dr. B. Leland Baker considers the “conscience of a conservative.” Interestingly enough, Dr. Baker confirms what I have been arguing – the Tea Party movement is not the same as the Republican Party. In fact, throughout the book, Dr. Baker rejects both Republican and Democratic “elites” and their policies.
This is a difficult book to review. I do not share the Tea Partiers’ political ideas, something which even a casual reader of my personal blog would discover. But, since this blog is not my personal property nor is it intended to be a political blog, I shall attempt to keep my politics out of this review.
On a strictly technical level, the book is perfectly acceptable, and indistinguishable from a book by a major publisher. Dr. Baker’s writing is clear, concise (the whole book is only 111 pages, including 40 devoted to reprinting the entire US Constitution) and understandable. I found the book completely understandable and readable.
The content of the book is much more problematic. Dr. Baker is against the income tax, arguing “Americans have been under attack since the 1913 creation of the federal income tax by a federal government that no longer follows the rule of law.” He also argues that, “Socialism, or progressivism, is the path that has been followed by both Republican and Democrat political elites for the past 80 years (political elites, not necessarily the general membership).”
I don’t share these opinions, but it is not the purpose of a book review to take issue with the author’s opinions. Where I have issues it is with things Dr. Baker cites as fact which either actually are not a fact, or at best are a matter of political argument. I feel I would be remiss in not at least addressing the factual errors in a non-fictional work.
Dr. Baker’s argument is that the Constitution is a restrictive, not permissive, document. He quotes Thomas Jefferson in support of this idea, and states that our “Founding Fathers” looked upon the federal role as limited government. This implies a historical unity that simply did not exist. Jefferson represented one party, which did advocate for limited government. Hamilton, John Adams and, at the Constitutional Convention, James Madison, all advocated a stronger, more activist government.
In general, arguing that the Founding Fathers were united on much of anything is a stretch. Northern delegates wanted to abolish slavery. Small states wanted a legislature based on fixed numbers of seats per state, while large states wanted a legislature based on population. None of the delegates at the Convention wanted a Bill of Rights. All these parties ended up making political compromises.
Moreover, relying on Jefferson to argue for anything runs against the inherent contradictions of his life. Although Jefferson advocated for a limited government, and there is absolutely no authority to do so in the Constitution, he signed the Louisiana Purchase. Not only did he sign the deal, he borrowed the money (AKA “deficit spending,” another of Dr. Baker’s hot-button issues) to cover the purchase price.
Dr. Baker also relies on the 10th Amendment to argue that if some power is not specifically given to the Federal government, then the government cannot use that power without passing a constitutional amendment. Besides being violated by the very same Founding Fathers who passed it, the historical record shows that it was never intended as an absolute prohibition. There was a very similar clause in the Articles of Confederation, which preceded the Constitution. Except that older clause had the word “explicitly” in it, while the 10th Amendment as written does not.
The argument about limited government has been ongoing since the beginning of the Republic. The Federalists wanted the Bank of the United States. Southern states wanted to nullify Federal laws, and later argued that they had the right to leave the Union. That’s just in the 19th Century. To claim that “limited government” is somehow settled is to be ignorant of American history.
As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Dr. Baker and his fellow Tea Partiers are free to advocate that government should conform itself to their opinion. They are free to get people sympathetic to them elected, and those so elected should work to implement their ideals. But the fact of the matter is that the US Constitution is largely silent on what kind of policy we as a nation should follow. What it does speak to, and the reason we’ve only had one Constitution for over 200 years, is how we should decide what kind of policy to follow.
Note – I received an electronic copy of the book reviewed, which remains my property.