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Tea Party About to Learn Constitution Doesn’t Say What They Think It Says

Beginning in January 2011, we’ll be sucked into the black hole of Tea Party Anti-Government Mythology, in which many of the things the US Constitution says will be ignored or misread out of existence.

As promised by some of its silliest adherents, the Tea Party has convinced the shamelessly pandering House Republican leadership to require a reading of the US Constitution at the beginning of Congress’ First Taliban Session. It’s to become a religious ritual:

“You can do the talk, but you have to do the walk,” said Clifford Atkin, a leader of the New Boston Tea Party in Woodbury, Conn., who likened the increased focus on the Constitution to a religious conversion.

Beth Mizell, who leads a loose affiliate of tea party activists in tiny Franklinton, La., has attended weekend classes on the Constitution that she compared to a church Bible study. She said she is heartened that Congress is taking these steps.

The ostensible purpose is to convey to the nation how serious their commitment is to passing legislation only if it is expressly authorized by a provision they understand and agree with and have not promised to repeal or ignore.

This will be a delicate undertaking, requiring the utmost care in selective reading and limited understanding, followed up by required reeducation seminars conducted by Cardinal Scalia. Any stray logic, misplaced feelings of empathy, or, God forbid, commitment to the public welfare constitute a threat to the enterprise. Nor will the new Taliban tolerate any inadvertent dwelling on something as clear as the First Amendment, emphatic as the Fourth or morally compelling as the 5th and 14th Amendments.

No, understanding these provisions would force painful reevaluations of much of the so-called anti-terrorism legislation of this decade. Why, they might realize the Constitution does not sanction many provisions of the Military Commission Act, funding for Gitmo and CIA black sites, engaging in unlawful wars, or enabling massive electronic surveillance without just cause. Can you imagine the Tea Party repealing the most tyrannical provisions of the Patriot Act?

But a lesson in civil liberties is not the new priests’ goal. Our Tea Party patriots hope to expose to their countrymen that the Constitution does not permit a mandate to buy private health insurance; in Scalia’s Court, they may succeed. But they will have missed the point, again.

What will likely not occur to them is that one of the difficult problems they’ve been elected to solve is how to provide humane, medically appropriate health care to everyone and provide a just means to collect the money and allocate it fairly to providers. Those are really hard problems when you start from where we are, but it’s not the Constitution that stands in the way of solving them.

Fortunately, every other advanced country has solved this on a far more affordable and universal scale. So in a sane world, Congress’ job would be to figure out why we remain so confused about this and to stop listening to those who keep us locked in a corrupt, inhumane system with 50 million uninsured. They might then realize that some parts of a solution set will likely require most people, with whatever exceptions seem fair, to do something they might not otherwise do for themselves, such as, e.g., pay their taxes to support Medicare for all. That’s not a constitutional problem, because we already do it for everyone over 65.

The Founders did not write the Constitution to make solving the nation’s problems impossible. They designed a framework in which problems like providing humane, universal care and a host of other national issues can be solved. How do we provide work at decent wages for everyone who needs/wants a job? How do we use fiscal/monetary policies to encourage growth and allocate wealth fairly? How do we provide a financial system that doesn’t loot the country? How do we provide sustainable commerce, industry and livelihoods that don’t destroy our own planet? So, far, not a single representative of the Tea/Republican Party has said an intelligent word on any these topics. They don’t know what their job is.

The notion of having a capable national government committed to “provide for the general welfare” is not an alien doctrine; it’s the purpose of the Constitution, the one that made America “exceptional” at the time. That’s why this foundational principle is in the Preamble. Yet this core principle somehow escapes those calling themselves the “defenders of the Constitution.”

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Terms like we, union, Justice, common, general welfare, ourselves . . . leap out at you.

The Republican House Leadership would do well if it simply read the Constitution’s Preamble every day, and then set to work on how to use the Constitution to solve the nation’s problems. Where’s your jobs program, Speaker Boehner?

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley