I was listening to a piece on NPR this afternoon, Tea Party: It’s Not Just Taxes, It’s The Constitution, talking about the enthusiasm that Tea Party members have for the US Constitution and I was struck by their comment that many Tea Party members carry a copy of the Constitution around with them.
Karen Cole says she carries a copy in her purse. “The Democrats are eviscerating our Constitution,” she says. Her friend Betty Anne Olsen agrees. “This current administration is trashing our Constitution; they couldn’t care less about the values. They’re breaking the laws.”
It reminded me of my college days when some Christian students (they called them “Jesus freaks” back then) carried leather-bound copies of the Bible around with them. Now there’s nothing wrong with carrying a Bible or the Constitution; I have a copy of both on my iPhone, but there other parallels that are troublesome and I list some of them here:
- Attributing to the Constitution absolute moral authority and attributing infallibility to the Framers. They idealize the past.
- An attempt to reclaim the past by going back to the Constitution, devoid of the historical baggage of interpretation.
- Using the Constitution as a bastion against any kind of change.
- Reading the Constitution literally, devoid of historical/political/legal context, denying the possibility of any difference in interpretation.
- Reading individual words and short phrases out of the larger context of the document.
- The Constitution is used as a rallying point against perceived enemies.
- They justify their prejudices by the Constitution even if they don’t really know what the Constitution actually says (or doesn’t say) on the subject. (The birther claim that the Constitution clearly states that the President must have 2 citizen parents, is a great example.)
- They deny that the Constitution is a “living document” that has the possibility of adapting to changing conditions through novel application by the courts.
- They believe that the Constitution excludes viewpoints held by others, even to the point of calling those with other views “traitors” (“heretics” is the analogous religious term).
- They use the Constitution as a talisman, carrying conspicuously copies, either booklet or facsimile.
Tea Party members are often vague about exactly how their constitutional rights are being denied. But they all believe the federal government has expanded far beyond what the Constitution intended.
In that regard, I think Christian fundamentalists have a much better handle on exactly what they believe is wrong.