Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Addressing the Role of Government in Response to the Rise of the Tea Party Movement

William Edgar, Hilary Sherratt


This week’s column features a series addressing the role of government in response to the rise of the Tea Party movement and this week’s election results.  The series authored by Jim Skillen describing the Center’s Guidelines for Government and Citizenship will resume next week.

November 5, 2010

Vision Over Fear

The phenomenon of the Tea Party is as astonishing as it is unsurprising. Astonishing because of its rapid growth. Unsurprising because America has a long history of independent movements which rise to prominence based on frustration and even anger. To be sure, there is plenty to be frustrated about. Despite regular announcements that the economy is on the rebound, unemployment remains a stubborn reality. We have amassed an enormous debt. Moral decline in various sectors is palpable. But is the Tea Party a viable, sustainable answer?

Randomly selected ads asking us to join a Tea Party movement include the following appeals: “Tired of big government?” “Stop this insanity.” “Please help save liberty and freedom in the United States.” “Help make Barak Obama a one term President.” “We are not sending 60 new Republicans to Congress to compromise.”

But none of these ads ask us to reexamine the role of government in helping to guide a good and a just society. Instead, government is an enemy, especially big government. Liberty and freedom are never defined, except negatively: freedom from, not freedom unto. And although many Tea Party members claim to be Christians, the tone is often anything but the respect and deference for office-holders that Scripture commends.

The basic problem is that many in this admittedly amorphous movement are driven by fear and reaction, rather than by vision. In hard times it is more difficult to think straight. Yet it has never been more important to take a deep breath and find the big picture: what can a great country like America contribute to the common good, to promoting justice at home and abroad, to brokering peace, to educating its people? Certainly the answer is not in big government. But neither is the answer in small government or libertarian rights.

Dr. William Edgar is a Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

Civics 101

News headlines the morning after this week’s elections suggested that Americans are “angry” or “fed up” with the political status quo and exercised their frustration in the voting booth. The 2010 midterm elections have been deemed a “referendum” on President Obama’s administration and campaign promises.  Perhaps the greatest challenge to American views of government is that, no matter what names are ticked off on ballots across the country, there is still a misconceived notion that President Obama has a great deal more legislative power than he actually does.

Congress, not President Obama, is primarily responsible for legislation regarding healthcare, climate change and economic reforms. Of course President Obama has pushed these policies forward, helped by his 110th Congressional allies, but his scope of influence as to the content of that legislation is restricted to his veto pen.  And while former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was a popular figure to lampoon in the months leading up to this election, I wonder whether this election cycle has furthered the confusion around which branches of government can (and ought to be) held accountable for which policies.  

Simultaneously, this so-called “referendum” on the current state of Washington politics has raised important questions for both coffee and Tea drinkers: what does that Constitution say? How ought we to interpret it? These questions have been asked since Publius began advocating for its ratification in 1787, but with the introduction of Constitutional rhetoric into Senate, House and statehouse races across the country, Americans will (I hope) be more inclined to ask questions for themselves on what is contained (and not contained) in the scope of our founding document.   

Hilary Sherratt is a student at Gordon College majoring in Religion, Ethics & Politics.

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”