Tea Party Constitutional Ignorance

The reading of the Constitution on the House of Representatives orchestrated by newly-elected Tea Party Republicans to advance their political and social views was an embarrassing display of ignorance. Had they studied the Constitution in its entirety and the reasoning of the Founding Fathers beforehand, they would have learned that the iconic document is not the blueprint for small government, lower taxes, cost cutting, state rights, and laissez faire economics that they though. Quite the contrary, from the 1789 original through the subsequent Amendments, the tenor of the Constitution is for a strong central government, increased spending, strict regulations and ever greater taxing powers, culminating with the Tax on Income foisted by the 16th Amendment (1913). It should be noted that the most repeated phrase in the "Congress shall have the power to . . ."

As Alexander Hamilton, New York delegate to the Constitutional Convention, put it: “A nation cannot long exist without revenues. Destitute of this essential support, it must resign its independence, and sink into the degraded condition of a province. This is an extremity to which no government will of choice accede. Revenue, therefore, must be had at all events.” And acquiring revenue at all events, as the need arises could only be assured by investing a central government with the power to levy new or increase existing axes, mainly against consumption. (Taxing personal income would have been abhorrent as abhorrent to him as it was to his political rival Thomas Jefferson.) The Federalist Papers #12 (1787).

A strong “republic,” not a weak “democracy” was, what James Madison of Virginia and the other Federalist who carried the day wanted for America. The Federalist Papers #10 (1787)

Ideologically, our modern day Tea Partiers are more in tune with the state- rights Anti-Federalist delegates who lost the debate, like the anonymous Brutus, who held that under the kind of strong Republic advocated by the Federalists, “No state can emit paper money—lay any duties or imposts, on imports, or exports, but by consent of Congress . . . the legislatures of the several states will find it impossible to raise monies to support their governments. Without money they cannot be supported , and they must dwindle away, and, as observed, their powers absorbed in that of the general government.” The Anti-Federalist Papers #1 (1787)

Another Anti-Federalist with whom our Tea Partiers have much in common was Virginia delegate George Mason, who refused to sign the Constitution , rejecting the whole thing out of hand on the grounds that “This government will set out a moderated aristocracy: it is at present impossible to foresee whether it will, in its operation, produce a monarchy, or a corrupt, tyrannical aristocracy; it will most probably vibrate some years between the two, and then terminate in one or the other.” (Quoted from The Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates, Penguin Putnam, (2003)

Though he signed off on the document, Pennsylvania delegate Benjamin Franklin had strong reservation , as did Thomas Jefferson, who was at the time serving as ambassador to France.

Perhaps it would be a good idea if candidates for public office were required to pass a test on the Constitution. The thought that so many of our elected officials idolatrize yet bank on the document without knowing anything about it is disturbing. Let us hope our newly elected Tea Partiers to Congress are not as unintelligent as they are ignorant.

1 comment:

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