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The Conservatives' Cafeteria-Style Constitution

August 29, 2010

On Saturday, Glenn Beck and tens of thousands of his Tea Party faithful descended on Washington supposedly to "restore honor" to America and defend the Constitution of the United States. Or, more accurately, parts of it. After all, once they get past their enthusiasm for the Second and Tenth Amendments, the same right-wing die-hards would literally white out large swaths of America's contract with itself. And with their pick-and-choose, cafeteria-style Constitution, these most fervent Republicans would undermine the economy, gut the social safety net, and incite racial, religious and ethnic division.
Even as they argue with the actors at Colonial Williamsburg and offer classes on the Constitution, the Tea Bagging crowd belies its boasts like, "I've read the Constitution 20 times in the past two months." In no particular order, here are just some of the Articles and Amendments in conservative America's Constitutional Left Behind series:

Article I, Section 8. Ever since the New Deal, conservatives have bemoaned the Congressional expansion of federal regulatory power enabled by the Commerce Clause. Similarly, taking a dim view of Congress' power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States," the Republican Party and its elected state attorneys general have claimed the new health care reform law is unconstitutional.
As it turns out, Tea Party favorite and Sarah Palin protégé Joe Miller isn't content to rest there. The Alaska Republican Senate candidate doesn't merely want to privatize Social Security and Medicare. Miller believes the programs which lifted millions of elderly Americans out of poverty, like unemployment insurance, are unconstitutional. On Sunday, he protested being labeled an extremist:

"Well, yeah I would suggest to you that if one thinks that the Constitution is extreme then you'd also think the Founders are extreme."

Sadly for Miller and the conservative constitutional know-nothings, the Supreme Court long ago decided otherwise.
1st Amendment. As evidenced by her confusion between public criticism and government censorship, Sarah Palin is just one of many conservative leaders struggling to comprehend the First Amendment's free speech protections. (The flip-side, as Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer said of Bill Maher in 2001, "There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say.".) And when it comes to freedom of religion, some religions are more equal than others.
Like Beck, Palin insists Muslim Americans "refudiate" their religious freedom when it comes to building an Islamic center in lower Manhattan. That "knife," she repeated:

"Is an insensitive move on the part of those Muslims who want to build that mosque in this location. It feels like a stab in the heart to, collectively, Americans who still have that lingering pain from 9/11."

For his part, on Saturday Glenn Beck told the Tea Bagging multitudes, "America today begins to turn back to God." Twenty four hours later, Beck pleaded, "There's nothing we can do that will solve the problems that we have and keep the peace unless we solve it through God." But for the man who once demanded of Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN), "Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies," those with a different God (or none at all) need not apply.
14th Amendment. To be sure, the Party of Lincoln has long bristled at the post-Civil War amendments to the Constitution. After all, while Arizona Congressman Trent Franks declared in February that "Far more of the African-American community is being devastated by the policies of today than were being devastated by policies of slavery," GOP Governors Bob McDonnell and Haley Barbour issued Confederate Heritage Month proclamations that omitted mention of slavery altogether. And judging by this t-shirt on display at the Beck rally Saturday, at least one attendee longs for the days before the passage of the 13th Amendment.
But it's the 14th Amendment in particular (aside from the Supreme Court's novel, one-time use of the Equal Protection Clause to make George W. Bush President of the United States) that drives conservatives crazy. After all, the 14th extended most of the Bill of Rights guarantees to the states. Worse still for the right, the Supreme Court has turned to the 14th Amendment to expand the American circle of liberty to include minority and gay citizens. And if the reasoning of Judge Vaughn Walker's Prop 8 ruling in California withstands Supreme scrutiny, "equal protection of the laws" may also come to include marriage equality.
And now, the Amendment's Section 1 promise that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside" is raising the ire of Republican leaders and their Tea Party hardliners alike. While Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) has proposed legislation to curb birthright citizenship and the supposed epidemic of illegal Mexican mothers "dropping" their "anchor babies" north of the border, Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl called for a "review" of the 14th Amendment.
On that point of constitutional excision, Glenn Beck was quite passionate in his 2009 book, Arguing with Idiots. Sadly, to make it, Beck had to both butcher history and equate illegal immigration to slavery:

But even after the importation of new slaves stopped in 1808, the South was so dependent on slavery that it was unwilling to let it go. (Sound a little like businesses relying on illegal immigration today?) Thus, it became necessary to end slavery by expanding [sic] unthinkable amounts of blood and treasure.

Beck went on to offer his own replacement version of the 14th Amendment regarding the rights of "all persons who successfully sneak into the country."
16th Amendment. Despite the facts that over 95% of American households received a tax cut courtesy of President Obama and the Democrats and that total federal, state and local taxation is at its lowest level since 1950, frothing at-the-mouth Tea Baggers and many rabid Republicans want to eliminate the IRS - and the income tax - altogether.
While only 2% of Tea Baggers know their federal taxes had been reduced by President Obama (according to a CBS poll), they are quite familiar with Mike Huckabee's plan to kill the IRS in favor of a national sales tax. To establish his bona fides with Republican primary voters, the Baptist minister and former Arkansas governor turned White House hopeful in 2007 began peddling the "Fair Tax, his national sales tax scheme:

He promises to abolish the IRS, and along with it all current income, corporate, payroll and other taxes--to be replaced with a 23% national sales, or consumption, tax. He's also promised repeal of the 16th amendment--which established the income tax--to ensure Americans don't get double-taxation.

One of the side benefits of the Fair Tax, according to the same man who proposed that "what we need to do is amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards," would be:

"You end the underground economy. Illegals, prostitutes, pimps, gamblers, drug dealers - everybody pays taxes."

And in right-wing America, Mike Huckabee has a lot of company. The Tea Party's "Contract from America" similarly calls for "scrapping the internal revenue code." And after domestic terrorist Joseph Stack crashed his plane into an Austin IRS building and killed a federal employee there, Iowa Congressman Steve King declared:

"It's sad the incident in Texas happened, but by the same token, it's an agency that is unnecessary and when the day comes when that is over and we abolish the IRS, it's going to be a happy day for America."

17th Amendment. As the Washington Post reported in July, many Tea Partiers also have problems with one of the more important advances in the evolution of American democracy:

Some conservative activists also point to the 17th Amendment, but in this case they oppose it. That amendment established direct election of U.S. senators by popular vote rather than appointment by their state legislatures. The thinking in that case is that the amendment removed the powerful Senate from control by the states.

Alas, that fringe view is supported by some not-so-fringe Republican politicians. GOP candidates like Steve Stivers in Ohio and Palin favorite Vaughn Ward in Idaho got in hot water over their support for "Repeal the 17th." And as TPM reported:

There are, of course, plenty of conservative Republicans who favor repealing the 17th Amendment. Tim Bridgewater, the man who got the most votes at the Utah GOP convention that ousted Sen. Bob Bennett, says on his website that he'd support rewriting the constitution to put the power of choosing Senators in the hands of the states. And Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) has actually put forward legislation that would repeal the amendment.

Of course, the right-wing's selective reading of the Constitution hardly ends there. Republicans now grant the President unlimited powers as commander-in-chief under Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution unless, of course, the President is a Democrat. (While John Yoo considered his justifications of illegal domestic surveillance and presidential power to crush a child's testicles "my gift to the Obama presidency," his Tea Party allies call President Obama a "tyrant" and a "dictator.") For Republicans like Pat Roberts, Jeff Sessions and John Cornyn, the President's war powers trump acts of Congress and the Fourth Amendment alike. (As Cornyn put it, "None of your civil liberties matter much after you're dead.") And it's not too much of a stretch to imagine, as The Onion did, conservatives repealing the 22nd Amendment so that the reanimated corpse of Ronald Reagan could seek a third term in the White House. All told, Republicans in Congress have proposed 42 constitutional amendments.
As for the devoted followers of Glenn Beck, the man who declared the intent of his Saturday rally to "reclaim the civil rights movement," there is a Constitution they can love. Sadly, it belonged to 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.

In the mean time, Glenn Beck's hordes will concentrate on stopping the Constitutional mandate to conduct the Census. After all, Beck insists, it's now just a tool to "try to increase slavery [and] your dependence on the master in Washington."

2 comments on “The Conservatives' Cafeteria-Style Constitution”

  1. The most absurd positions these geeks take is to point out that such-and-such is not "in" the Constitution; therefore, we should not tolerate it. Duh! The document could not be an omnibus. It was a skeleton, a guideline. That is why they bitch about Roe v. Wade, where the justices "found" a right of privacy allowing women to get abortions. No, the document does not say, "The right to an abortion shall not be abridged." So what? When the right wingnuts want this or that, they have no trouble finding something in the Constitution. Then, there is the right to bear arms. In the same sentence prohibiting abridgment of that right, reference is made to a "well-armed militia." The only militias we have now are the kooks living in the back woods with their shelters and their machineguns and assault rifles, protesting taxation and such. It's mind-boggling.

  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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