F. Grey Parker
They now espouse a political philosophy which seeks to impose upon us something quite different than simple respect for the Constitution. This is not the "originalism" of previous generations. They would actually have us worship the thing. Their argument generally starts something like this:
"You don't interpret the Constitution! It says what it says."For the most part, it appears that people who push such a position have either never read it very closely themselves or, more frighteningly, are counting on too many other people not having read it at all. What makes them dangerous is that this view is usually accompanied by efforts to enforce as narrow a set of guaranteed liberties for the individual as possible.
The most common tactic they employ while arguing against interpretation is to simultaneously create an endless series of reinterpretations of the "founders."
The irony of their own revisionism is lost on them.
Josh Holland writes:
"When the Tea Partiers stormed into Congress, one of their first acts was a bit of political theater arranged by Tea Party caucus leader Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota: reading the Constitution (with the embarrassing bits edited out) aloud on the floor of the House." EMPHASIS OURS
Gone, for example, was the original reference to the African American as "3/5ths" of a person. Gone was the original provision which stipulated that only landowning males could vote. This is incredibly important and not as a gotcha moment.
Whether it is Michele Bachmann, David Barton, Glenn Beck or any number of others, the argument of these fundamentalists (for there is no other accurate term) is that they and only they get to tell us what the document actually says.
It goes deeper and dangerously so. They speak not of the contentious and nearly 13 year debate between men that led to the ratification of the original text in 1788. Instead, they describe the Constitution as a "covenant" which was the result of "divine" inspiration. This is the foundation for their claim that any diversion from their position is not only "anti-American," it is also outright heretical.
They have referred to the adoption of their point of view as "repentance." Indeed, they claim that the drafting of the Constitution was a "miracle."
Holland cites one of the better analyses of the movement:
"In her book, The Whites of Their Eyes, Jill Lepore writes that the problem with the Tea Partiers’ claimed fealty to the Constitution is that it's a form of religion rather than analysis."
"Originalism," Lepore writes, "looks like history, but it is not; it’s historical fundamentalism, which is to history what astrology is to astronomy, what alchemy is to chemistry, what creationism is to evolution."
The contemporary Constitutional fundamentalist relies on the general electorate's ignorance of language itself. For example, the fact that the term "general welfare" isn't explicitly defined in some sub-addendum to the document is one of their weapons. It is their position that only they can define it.
They cast themselves as more than public servants; They would have us regard them as priests and priestesses. They tell us that the "general welfare" most certainly doesn't mean things like infrastructure, public transportation, education or unemployment insurance... because they don't like those things. And we dare not question them because they say they are channeling divinity.
'Let it be done.'
Does that sound Jeffersonian to you?
They seek to confuse in the minds of Americans the consistent deism of our early leaders with their own Christianist Dominionism.
"...fundamentalism requires a strict adherence to a sacred document, and that's where today's constitutional conservatives go off the rails. As I wrote back in May, “constitutional conservatives,” once in power, have offered any number of legislative proposals which, on their face, are blatantly unconstitutional. Bachmann – who is obsessed with lightbulbs -- herself proposed a bill on their regulation that would have required Congress to usurp the executive branch's enumerated powers in obvious violation of settled constitutional law."
When confronted with their own falsehoods and fairy tales, they refuse to admit error. They try to confuse in the minds of Americans the consistent Deism of our early leaders with their own Christianist Dominionism.
These radical fundamentalists are no more exemplars of our Constitutional ideals than Mohammed Atta was to the teachings of the Koran.
But, they might be more dangerous.
No one was promising to vote for Atta in a Presidential primary.