Reading Between the Lines: The Tea Party’s Real Constitutional Philosophy

Despite all the hype, the Tea Party is not a “populist,” “libertarian,” or “constitutionalist” movement. Rather, it is a movement of grassroots frustration that has been co-opted by wealthy corporate interests to fight against the historic victories of Populism, against the key movements for civil liberties and civil rights, and against modern constitutional principles, argues a new report by Jamie Raskin of People For the American Way.

As the newly-empowered House GOP takes to the House floor to read the Constitution in its entirety, Raskin’s report questions the Tea Party movement’s asserted allegiance to the text and history of the Constitution, its claim to champion the liberty of the people, and its identification with earlier populist movements. “Americans who still love the promise of political democracy, the real Constitution and Bill of Rights, and the progress of human liberty and equality should carefully read the fine print, as well as  between the lines, before they drink the tea being served at this party,” Raskin writes.

Raskin, a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way, is also a Maryland State Senator and a professor of constitutional law at American University’s Washington college of Law.

The report, Corporate Infusion: What the Tea Party’s Really Serving America, discusses the modern Tea Party movement’s history and track record, including:

  • advocating in the 2010 elections for repeal of the 17th Amendment--popular election of U.S. Senators--a key victory of American Populism in the last century;
  • advocating in the 2010 elections for repeal of the 16th Amendment and attacking the federal power to impose an income tax, which is essential to modern democracy;
  • fighting the 14th Amendment’s guarantees of equal protection and birthright citizenship and arguing for repeal of parts of the 14th Amendment, including its crucial first sentence;
  • asserting the unconstitutionality of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and defending the right of private establishments to discriminate on the basis of race and other arbitrary factors;
  • advocating for a return to the gold standard and thus assailing another great victory of the Populist movement for working people;
  • opposing the reproductive rights of women and the civil rights and liberties of gay and lesbian citizens; and
  • calling for ever more “deregulation” and generating a host of silly and false political issues, like allegations about the president’s citizenship and religion, while ignoring and obscuring gigantic corporate scandals and crimes of our times, including the multi-trillion dollar sub-prime mortgage scam, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the lethal collapse of Massey Coal’s mines in West Virginia.

“Our Constitution reflects the American people’s historic fight for a strong democracy, civil liberties and the common good,” said Raskin. ”Although the Tea Party has been billed as embracing all of those values, it has been co-opted and channeled to fight for the power of big corporations, not the rights of the American people. We should take a close look at what the Tea Party’s words about the Constitution really mean.”

Responding to the planned Constitutional “read-out” by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives on Thursday, Raskin said: “It’s a fine idea to celebrate and study the Constitution, but the document they’re reading aloud is about two minutes longer than the one the Tea Party supports.  And what does it mean to read the Establishment Clause out loud when you support the teaching of creationism in our public schools? Or to repeat the words 'due process,' 'liberty' and 'equal protection' but deny their application to all citizens? Or to read the Commerce Clause and the necessary and proper clause but deny their use in advancing the public health and welfare? It's one thing to read the Constitution, quite another to defend its meaning.”

The full report can be found at: http://www.pfaw.org/media-center/publications/corporate-infusion-what-the-tea-party-s-really-serving-america

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