Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Tea Party Constitution and Its Critics

The Constitutional Accountability Center this week launched a new project, Strange Brew: The Constitution According to the Tea Party, to take on Tea Party claims about the U.S. Constitution.  Its first publication in the project, an issue brief titled Setting the Record Straight: The Tea Party and the Constitutional Powers of the Federal Government, by Elizabeth Wydra and David Gans, challenges claims by Tea Partiers and others that "our Constitution created a sharply limited national government and that the modern federal government vastly oversteps those limits."

Here's a taste of Wydra and Gans's response:

Contrary to Tea Party claims, the Founders created a federalism that allowed for a significant role for states and local governments, but created a strong central government with sufficient power to govern a united country. . . .  As made clear in the Constitution's soaring Preamble, our Founders invested federal lawmakers with broad powers to promote the "common defense" and "general welfare" of "we the people of the United States."

The Tea Party story about our sharply limited national government is not only inconsistent with the words and intentions of our Founding generation, but it also requires a form of selective amnesia about the important changes made to the Constitution by successive generations of Americans.  Since the Founding, the American people, at critical moments in our country's history, have amended the Constitution and added to Congress's express constitutional powers, ensuring Congress has all the tools it needs to address national problems and protect the constitutional rights of all Americans.  Indeed, most of the amendments added to the Constitution during the 19th and 20th Centuries expanded the power of the federal government.  The Tea Party's reading of the Constitution depends on ignoring or repealing these critical amendments.

We've posted on this last point here and here.



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The delegates to the Federal Convention that wrote the constitution "created a strong central government with sufficient power to govern a united country." They were also enormously concerned with avoiding concentration of power. This was true at the convention, in the Federalist/AntiFederalist Papers, and at the ratification conventions. The founders wanted checks, with balanced power, on each element of the government, whether that be the national branches or the states. Wydra and Gans are absolutely correct that: "the 19th and 20th Centuries expanded the power of the federal government..." In fact, well beyond the checks and balances envisioned by the founders. That is the position of Tea Party members that I have talked to.

Posted by: james D. Best | Jul 21, 2010 9:04:46 AM

@ James D. Best
Many of us would charitably describe our reaction to the Tea Party movement as "scratching our heads". If you would please elucidate incidents where the Federal Government has overstepped its Constitutional authority, I would appreciate it.

Posted by: Puzzled by the Tea Party | Jul 22, 2010 9:42:32 AM

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