So while it's probably true that, as Berkowitz asserts, the Tea Party movement represents anxiety over the federal deficit, spending, taxes, and a stagnant economy, it is obviously not true that it also aims to "block the expansion of the state into citizens' lives." When expansion of the state into our lives includes federal surveillance and detention powers, or the power to prosecute street crime (or regulate marriage and abortions), the Tea Party appears to be all for it.
Tea Partiers are hardly alone in their inconsistent approaches to big government. Liberals who favor federal intervention in the marketplace or expansion of federal hate crime legislation but oppose limits on stem cell research, gay marriage, or the government's power to blacklist and spy on us also stand both for and against federal power. Only a minority of libertarians (some of whom can be found at the CATO Institute) are consistent in their commitment to individual freedom and an unregulated marketplace.
I'm not suggesting that people who are consistent in their opposition to federal power are always right by virtue of their consistency. I count myself among the inconsistent, since my strong support for civil liberty sometimes clashes with my opposition to entirely free markets. But I do wish Tea Partiers and their conservative intellectual apologists would exhibit a little self-awareness and honesty about their own inconsistent approaches to federal power. Very few people, right or left, have principled positions on federalism. Most of us oppose federal power when we oppose federal policies and support it when we oppose state policies or practices.
"People favor federalizing what they don't like and oppose federalizing what they like," the always incisive Barney Frank reminded me years ago, commenting on expansions of federal criminal jurisdiction. Or as Jon Stewart recently pointed out, "it's a fallacy that limited government is the principled stand of conservatives. It's only limited to the shit they want to do."
This is not too subtle a point for Peter Berkowitz, but, like Jonathan Haidt, he seems less intent on formulating an intellectually honest analysis of the Tea Party than in marketing a romanticized one. While acknowledging parenthetically that allegedly anti-federalist Tea Partiers have probably never read the Federalist Papers, Berkowitz derides their liberal critics as poorly educated elitists with little understanding of the constitutional scheme of enumerated powers and a system of checks and balances. Of course, he has no evidence for this assertion (other than his irritation with fashions in teaching history and political science), and he offers no reason to believe that a majority of Tea Partiers would pass, much less outscore their liberal critics, on a basic civics test about the Bill of Rights (excluding the Second Amendment) and the respective roles of Congress, the Courts, and the President. Higher (and lower) education may be failing all of us, but partisanship has more power to make smart people seem stupid.