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A Constitution Only the Tea Party Could Love

July 5, 2010

On Friday, Gallup became just the latest pollster to confirm the obvious: "Tea Party supporters overlap the Republican base." Despite the fact that the Tea Party movement is simply a continuation of the losing 2008 GOP presidential campaign by other means, the Washington Post today examined how its members marked the Fourth of July. But in celebrating the Tea Party's July 4th "festivals and other gatherings focused on the Constitution," the Post overlooked one increasingly inescapable conclusion. The Constitution the Tea Partiers claim to so revere sounds less like that of the United States and more like the one adopted by the Confederacy.
At a July 4th festival for "god and country," Alexandria Tea Party organizer Terry Scott insisted, "With knowledge, there is power. And having an understanding of the Constitution can lead to electing people who will uphold it."
Which is where the problem begins for the Tea Baggers. They don't merely detest the income tax and direction election of Senators. Their constitutional history apparently omits not just three generations of Supreme Court jurisprudence on the Commerce Clause, but the Civil War itself. As the Post summed it up:

Scott and others look primarily to the Constitution's 10th Amendment, which grants to the states all powers not specifically given to the federal government. Like those on the left, they also point to Article 1, Section 8, which enumerates Congress's specific powers, including the right to tax and to regulate commerce. In these two passages, conservatives find the evidence that Congress and the executive branch have dramatically overstepped their authority by enacting health reform and regulating the environment, among other things...
As Rick Buchanan, an organizer of the Fauquier County Tea Party who last started up a 12-week class on the Constitution and advertised it at "An American Event," put it, "The founding fathers were very afraid of a central government."

If, that is, you view Jefferson Davis as one of the Founding Fathers.
In their perpetual war against President Obama, the Tea Partiers turn to the Constitution. Just not, TPM pointed out, the one you think. Under the Constitution of the Confederate States of America:

Language promoting "the general welfare" was omitted, while the right to own slaves was explicitly guaranteed although foreign slave trade was forbidden).
The president, serving a single six-year term, was given line-item veto power over the budget, and his cabinet awarded nonvoting seats in Congress. To guarantee Southerners their much-desired states' rights, the federal government had no authority to levy protective tariffs, make internal improvements, or overrule state court decisions, while states had the right to sustain their own armies and enter into separate agreements with one another, and were given greater power in amending the constitution.

When it comes to the Constitution, Tea Baggers want to party like it's 1861.
From their inflammatory rhetoric to their resurrection of discredited Confederate notions of secession, nullification and states rights, the GOP's fans of Dixie constantly remind Americans that the old times there are not forgotten.
As the health care reform debate reached its climax in March, Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia was among those longing for the days of the antebellum South. Missing the irony that health care is worst in those reddest of Southern states where Republicans poll best, Broun took to the House floor to show that he was still fighting the Civil War:

"If ObamaCare passes, that free insurance card that's in people's pockets is gonna be as worthless as a Confederate dollar after the War Between The States -- the Great War of Yankee Aggression."

If you thought you had heard that outdated term of Dixie revisionist history recently, you did. In February 2009, Missouri Republican Bryan Stevenson took exception to President Obama's support for the Freedom of Choice Act, legislation which codify the reproductive rights protections of Roe v. Wade nationwide:

"What we are dealing with today is the greatest power grab by the federal government since the war of northern aggression."

The next logical step for the neo-Confederate s of the GOP is to threaten secession. And as ThinkProgress reported a year ago, Texas Governor Rick Perry suggested to a furious Tea Party rally that the secession option should be on the table:

Perry told reporters following his speech that Texans might get so frustrated with the government they would want to secede from the union.

"There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that."

Sadly for Perry and the secessionists, their favorite Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia crushed their hopes:

"If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede."

Hoping to stand the Civil War on its head, President Obama's Republican opponents are once again turning to nullification. Suggesting that South Carolina's effort to nullify federal tariffs starting in 1828 was a blessing, foes of the new health care reform law claiming state sovereignty trumps federal supremacy. In March, the Virginia General Assembly was the first to try to nullify the new health care reform law by making it illegal for the government to require individuals to purchase health insurance. The new "Tentherism" is embodied by Minnesota State Senator Tom Emmer, the Republicans' choice to succeed Governor Tim Pawlenty. As TPM recounted last week:

He has even proposed a state constitutional amendment that would allow federal laws to operate in Minnesota only if they were consented to by super-majorities of the state legislature.

Meanwhile, back in Fauquier County, Virginia, event organizer Brock Price said, "I've read the Constitution 20 times in the past two months." As in blackjack, getting to 21 could be a winner.
Especially if this time, the Constitution in question was this one.

3 comments on “A Constitution Only the Tea Party Could Love”

  1. The 10th did not in any way legitimize slavery. One could easily argue that the federal right to life, liberty, and property trumps slavery entirely. In the same way, the right to bear arms guaranteed in the federal constitution applies to everyone, and states and cities cannot infringe on those rights.
    (The new federal health care law radically infringes on my liberties).
    I also don't believe there is a right to secession anywhere in the Constitution.
    But that doesn't meant that the 10th doesn't have teeth. If you think that just because we fought the Civil War, that States are subjugated to the Federal government in every way, you would be mistaken.
    This is by James Madison. It's called "Federalist 45":
    "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.
    The operations of the federal government will be most extensive and important in times of war and danger; those of the State governments, in times of peace and security. As the former periods will probably bear a small proportion to the latter, the State governments will here enjoy another advantage over the federal government. The more adequate, indeed, the federal powers may be rendered to the national defense, the less frequent will be those scenes of danger which might favor their ascendancy over the governments of the particular States".

  2. This is a good article, written in more detail. Government should be the main work is the development of the economy and improving people's lives and protecting the security of the state and people. This is the most important.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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