The Tea Party’s Constitution

“It’s not denial. I’m just selective about the reality I accept.” -Bill Watterson

House Republicans fulfilled a campaign promise this week to read aloud the US Constitution on the floor of the chamber.  They managed to “interpret” the Constitution to their liking and skipped over all the parts about slavery, claiming they only wanted to read what was relevant today.

GDNAL sent me a piece Dahlia Lithwick wrote in Slate about the Tea Party’s relationship with the Constitution.  The omission of the Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 (The 3/5ths Compromise) is telling about the Tea Party’s view of the Consitution and, really, of history. They are selective. You don’t get to champion Madison and forget Jefferson. You don’t get to shout the 2nd and 10th Amendments and whisper the 1st and 8th.

Garrett Epps, from The Atlantic, sums things up better than I can:

“If the Members actually listen, they may notice that the document they are hearing is nationalistic, not state-oriented; concerned with giving Congress power, not taking it away; forward-looking, not nostalgic for the past; aimed creating a new government that can solve new problems, not freezing in place an old one that must fold its hands while the nation declines.”

I feel like the Tea Party treats the Constitution like the Bible. They take literally the parts which they agree with (say, opposition to homosexuality) but brush over that other stuff (like not mixing fabrics.) They contend I’m supposed to be against evolution, but eat all the shrimp I want. Just like they want me to support gun rights but consider waterboarding “enhanced interrogation.”

I’m not a Constitutional scholar. In fact, I had to go look up which part of the Constitution the 3/5ths Compromise was in.  I disagree with this “looking back” approach the Tea Party has. I don’t think we should be tied to a 200 year old document. It was written by people whose minds would be blown by the idea of the telephone. Why should I wonder what Madison would say about net neutrality?  Justice Steven Breyer agrees, writing in his new book, Making Democracy Work, that we shouldn’t be controlled by the “dead hands” of the past.

But if your party is going to make the Constitution the focus of your political arguments, you damn well better use the whole thing.

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