Slaves of the Constitution

After their victory in November, Republican leaders piously promised to govern “according to the Constitution.”

Many of us wondered what that could possibly mean. Daily resolutions in favor of having three branches of government and a bicameral legislature? The Constitution is a document that lays out the structure of the American government, not a guide to action. A representative who pledges to vote according to the Constitution is like a football coach whose strategy for the big game is to read and re-read the rulebook.

Sure enough, as the GOP takes leadership this week of the House, one of their first acts of business is to read the Constitution aloud on Thursday. I imagine this will stop seeming like such a great idea at around the two hour mark, when CSPAN cameras catch representatives dozing through stirring lines such as, “In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction.”

The truth is, most of the Constitution is about as inspiring as the minutes of a local PTA meeting ? if right before the report from the bake sale committee was a resolution extending the international slave trade for 20 years.

Yet the Tea Party types talk about truly understanding the Constitution with an intensity that I can only compare to my feelings about the Smiths when I was fifteen years old. Like today’s conservatives, I was frightened and angry and I thought the world sucked. I knew things would be better if everyone would just sit on my bed and just?like?listen.

One reason conservatives are so rapturous about something so boring may be that they are thinking of a totally different document. That’s what you have to conclude after reading the preamble of the Constitution Party, a nutty group with close connections with Kentucky’s newly elected senator Rand Paul. The preamble states that the Constitution “established a Republic rooted in Biblical law” and that America “was founded on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

If these guys are right then Jesus must be pissed because he’s not given credit even once in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or any of the Amendments. On the other hand, this would explain our government’s brutal lack of support for storm victims from New Orleans to Pakistan; after all, Biblical law is pretty tolerant toward the occasional apocalyptic flood.

The more a right wing politician talks about the Constitution, the less likely he’s actually referring to anything in the Constitution. It’s just another cultural codeword meant to conjure up a time when men were men, youth had respect, and there was no such thing as a Black president.

But opposition to Obama has merely added a new twist to the long-standing conservative silliness that the Constitution prohibits all measures not foreseen and approved by its authors ? otherwise known as “progress.” Social Security, Medicare, and the Civil Rights Acts were all opposed in their times as unconstitutional intrusions by the federal government into areas best handled by the states.

For some reason conservatives view state capitals as idyllic paragons of popular democracy while to the rest of us they’re just places where politicians live after they’re elected and before they’re sent to jail or busted for having an affair.

This “strict construction” of the Constitution made some sense when it was first written and We the White People were mostly small farmers who had fought a revolution to create their own independent communities, free from a tyrannical government.

But today’s pseudo-libertarians are led by business owners and professionals whose lives are far from self-sufficient – unless Sara Palin feeds and clothes her family exclusively with hunted moose. They only oppose those laws that limit their ability to exploit their workers or the environment that we all must share. At the same time, they’re all for any government intervention that can help such exploitation ? from ICE raids to anti-strike injunctions to publicly funded cleanups of privately-made oil spills.

And you can bet that the new rebels in Congress aren’t planning to take on the real government tyranny of the ever-expanding Wars on Drugs, Immigrants, and Terror. In fact, when it comes to these aspects of the state that are actually Orwellian, their main complaint is that the government isn’t playing dirty enough ? because it’s too wedded to the Constitution!

Sarah Palin isn’t part of the House’s incoming class ? that would take too much time away from promoting herself ? but she did beautifully demonstrate her comrades’ love-hate relationship with the Constitution in a speech earlier this year:

Our vision for America is anchored in time-tested truths: Government that governs least governs best. That the Constitution provides the path to a more perfect union? it’s the constitution! By the way it’s within our own borders and the homeland that we should feel safe and not condone any violence. That makes me want to say, in these volatile times when we are a nation at war is when we need a commander in chief, not a constitutional law professor?”

To Palin and her friends, there is no contradiction here; the Constitution is for us, not them. And those two categories aren’t just defined by what side of the border you’re on. For Rand Paul, “us” are business owners who shouldn’t have been forced by the 1964 Civil Rights Act to have to serve African Americans, who obviously fall into the category of “them.”

At the end of the day, the true Tea Party plan is to preserve the minority’s sacred Constitutional right to it’s wealth by cutting the majority’s benefits and services to the bone. The Democrats will meekly follow and hope we forget that they still control the White House and Senate.

If we want to stop them we’ll have to build an opposition outside the House and Senate – in the streets. In the process, let’s reclaim this country’s revolutionary tradition for our side. We’re the ones who fight for the freedoms of religion and speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. We’re the ones organizing against an empire that denies self-government to peoples across an ocean.

The only thing the new House leadership has in common with the original Tea Party is that they don’t give a shit about polluting our waterways.

DANNY LUCIA is an activist and humorist who lives in New York City. He can be reached at

This article is based on one that originally appeared in