The new House GOP majority is planning to read the entire Constitution aloud on the House floor tomorrow. We can’t argue with that—our elected representatives can always use a brush-up on what’s in the document. But what’s troubling about the GOP’s planned Constitution-reading is that the new far-right class of House Republicans is trying to paint themselves as the sole defenders of our nation’s laws.
In fact, as PFAW’s Jamie Raskin examines in a new report, the Tea Party movement and the elected officials it empowered are in fact fighting against selected values in the Constitution. Raskin writes of the Tea Party’s relationship with the Fourteenth Amendment:
By railing against the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments, the Tea Party makes clear that it is not at peace with our written Constitution, and its hostility to democratic constitutional purposes runs even further back than its opposition to Populist and Progressive-era amendments. The Tea Party has problems with the Fourteenth Amendment’s fundamental protection of equal civil rights, the very anchor of modern democratic constitutionalism. Tea Party activists may dress themselves up in colonial garb and swear their devotion to the Constitution. But the Constitution they revere is not the real one, but only a projection of their own reactionary desires.
Tea Party leaders have a tortured relationship with the Fourteenth Amendment. They have been attacking its very first sentence, which grants citizenship to all people born in the United States: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” This sentence overturned the Dred Scott decision, which had determined that descendants of slaves could never be citizens of the United States with equal rights. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex,.) and other activists have been calling for a constitutional amendment to repeal this language in order to solve the crisis they perceive in the advent of Americans they call “anchor babies,” babies born in the United States to undocumented immigrants. At the same time, other conservative activists without the intellectual honesty of Rep. Paul and the constitutional repealers are claiming that this language does not establish birthright citizenship at all, despite the fact that it has always been understood that way. Ignoring the plain text, they contend that Congress can deny citizenship to the “anchor babies” through a simple bill, and they have proposed to do just that in the Birthright Citizenship Act, introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
This difference in opinion on whether to repeal this provision of the Fourteenth Amendment or simply deny its existence and legislate over it is a tactical skirmish, yet both sides essentially agree that it is time to subtract a long-standing and fundamental liberty from the Constitution. The last time we tried this was with Prohibition and we could expect similar chaos and division resulting from this kind of repressive effort if it succeeds today.
Beyond the first sentence, the Tea Party has even bigger fish to fry when it comes to the Fourteenth Amendment, which its leaders see, paradoxically, not as the legitimate and authoritative constitutional source for the civil rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, but rather as the illegitimate pretext for a massive assault on the civil rights and liberties of private business owners ever since then. This extraordinary controversy over the meaning and uses of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Reconstruction effort that gave rise to it, and the Civil War that made it possible, tells us everything we need to know about the boastful and ubiquitous claim that the Tea Party speaks for liberty and freedom.
Raskin’s report, Corporate Infusion: What the Tea Party’s Really Serving America, also tackles the Tea Party’s complicated relationship with populism, libertarianism, and the original Tea Party of the American Revolution.
You can read the whole thing here.
As I mentioned earlier today, Glenn Beck has started asking his listeners and viewers to donate money to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—yes, “populist” leader Beck is asking his fans to give their money to the Chamber of Commerce, the national association of large corporations that spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year to lobby Congress and support the election of candidates who will prioritize corporate interests. Jamison Foster at Media Matters sums up the absurdity:
Now, the Chamber of Commerce is not simply an advocacy organization pursing an ideological agenda, like the National Rifle Association or the National Right to Life Committee. It is a trade association representing some of the largest corporations you can think of. Its board of directors counts among its members executives from Pfizer, Lockheed Martin, AT&T, US Airways, JPMorgan Chase & Co., IBM, and Verizon. It is The Establishment incarnate.
And Glenn Beck is calling on his hardworking listeners to donate money to the Chamber. He is literally asking American workers to give their hard-earned wages back to their employers, so their employers can use that money to advocate a public policy agenda that benefits the rich at the (again: literal) expense of everyone else. It’s incredible. It’s such a twisted scheme that it’s easier to believe as a piece of performance art meant to mock right-wing pseudo-populism. Though if it was art, it would be dismissed as overly broad and heavy-handed.
Beck tried to put a populist spin on his plug by conflating the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—a national lobbying organization—with local chambers of commerce, many of which are members of the national organization but have little control over its policies. Last year, the Chamber got in trouble for making the same conflation, claiming that it had 3 million members (10 times as many as it really did), when that figure included the members of local chambers that have no role in shaping the national chamber’s agenda. Giving money to the lobbying efforts of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a far cry from donating to a local chamber’s economic development programs. And Beck’s claim that the U.S. Chamber is pushing for a populist agenda is one of his most audacious deceptions yet.
UPDATE: Several days after Beck made his pitch, Chamber of Commerce ads appeared all over his web site... Beck asked his fans to give money to Chamber, then the Chamber gives a chunk of the money back to Beck in ad revenue. How sleazy.
The Hill today succinctly outlines the 2010 Tea Party Paradox—even while Tea Party candidates spout populist rhetoric, the powerful interests backing them have pretty much the opposite of populism in mind. Large corporate donations to groups that don’t have to disclose their donors until long after the election are upending the way elections are run, in ways that are hidden from the view of most voters, writes A.B. Stoddard:
Just as the tradition of journalism was upended by the Internet, crippling brands like the Los Angeles Times or The New York Times as new websites produced and presented the news to larger and larger audiences, the new fundraising landscape — combined with the Tea Party energy that fuels the donations — is dismantling the system in ways most voters won’t understand until long after Election Day.
A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finds that the change voters seek over all is a reduction in the influence of special interests. More than any other change — electing outsiders, a GOP takeover of Congress, a repeal of healthcare reform — a 70 percent majority of respondents chose scaling back the power of special interests as their top political priority.
The new rules regarding the funding of campaigns are, of course, tailor-made for the richest and most powerful interests to dominate the debate in campaigns by burying candidates who cannot match the advertisements dollar for dollar.
Wait until the Tea Party finds out.
In our new report, “After Citizens United: A Look into the Pro-Corporate Players in American Politics,” we’ve profiled the history and activities of nine of the power players working behind the scenes to elect pro-corporate Tea Party candidates.