FLJS Policy Brief attributes US government shutdown to Tea Party ‘fundamentalism’ over Obamacare

15 October 2013


 
As the world braces itself for the possibility of an American debt default that could trigger another global financial disaster, the Foundation for Law, Justice and Society has published a policy brief which attributes the origins of the crisis to the Tea Party’s ‘fundamentalist’ approach to Obamacare and the US Constitution.
 
The brief, entitled 'The Tea Party, the government shutdown, and Obamacare', is written by Lawrence Rosenthal, executive director of the Center for Right-Wing Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-editor of STEEP: The precipitous rise of the Tea Party (California 2012), who argues that the Tea Party’s fierce opposition to Obamacare has created the US government shutdown and approaching debt ceiling crisis, labelling it a “campaign to inflict punishment on the nation”.
 
In showing that Obamacare has been the bête-noire of the Tea Party movement since its founding, he traces the current Congressional stalemate back to the “‘by any means necessary’ tactics of the Tea Party in summer of 2009".
 
Dr Rosenthal goes on to explain that “Beyond its bombastic rhetoric and tactics, the Tea Party’s view of Obamacare is part and parcel of a theory of the US Constitution. This theory emerges from the ‘state-rights’ tradition in US history, and is expressed in the urgent conviction that the size of the US federal government and, in particular, liberal social policy, are destructive of the fundamental premises of the Constitution.”
 
The brief explores this central belief that the federal government is too big and too secular, charting the Tea Party’s constitutional populism through the concepts of popular originalism and American civil religion, in which “the country’s founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, are sacred texts; the country’s founders a sacred cult, lawgivers and prophets”. 
 
It is this populism, combined with a free-market absolutism and zero-sum thinking, which leads Tea Party populists to believe that granting health insurance to those without coverage is tantamount to dispossessing them: "The Tea Party’s feeling that Obamacare means that something of theirs is being taken away ... rationalizes their willingness to threaten national financial ruin in the form of a government shutdown and a potential debt default."

The Tea Party’s feeling that Obamacare means that something of theirs is being taken away ... rationalizes their willingness to threaten national financial ruin in the form of a government shutdown and a potential debt default.

 
The policy brief emerges from a FLJS workshop held at the Jay Heritage Center, New York, last month, at which constitutional experts convened to assess the recent populist global uprisings and their implications for constitutional thought. A video from one of the participants, Professor Richard Parker from Harvard Law School is available from the link at the top right of this page.
 
Further policy briefs from the debate, which forms part of the FLJS programme on the Social and Political Foundations of Constitutions, will be published over the coming months.
 
Download:
The Tea Party, the government shutdown, and Obamacare
Lawrence Rosenthal, executive director of the Center for Right-Wing Studies at the University of California, Berkeley

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