Constitution Uber Alles

After watching this Daily Show clip and talking politics with my employer (who’s on the hippie end of the tea party), I’m forced to conclude that not all tea partiers are wingnuts.*
You know, I'd kind of like to see a Tea Party protest wher everyone cosplayed as Alice in Wonderland.

On the other hand, some of them are.

However, there is one statement that I keep hearing variations on from the intelligent Tea Partiers that I know:

“We have to return to the Constitution.”

First, what does this mean? And second, how can you defend it?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m given to understand that what is meant is “we should run the government according to the fundamentals outlined in the Constitution,” sometimes with a side dose of “strict interpretation.”

To which I have to ask: If you support government by the Constitution alone, would you include the first ten amendments (e.g. the Bill of Rights)? Even now, you’re getting onto unsteady ground, as the existence *of* amendments implies that the Constitution could be interpreted or even changed. But I think we can all agree that things left  out of the original Constitution, like a right to free assembly and a right to not purjure oneself, are good things. I don’t meet many Americans that hate the Bill of Rights as such. Well and good.


If you support the Bill of Rights, do you also support the *other* amendments? Like the fourteenth, that prohibits slavery and provides for due process if the State is going to deprive you of life or liberty? Or the twenty-seventh, that limits the power of Congresscritters to raise their own salaries? That last one was passed in the 1992…pretty recent, and pretty far removed from the world, and intent, of the Founders.

Let us say you also support those, because it’s bad politics to say you oppose the motions that abolished slavery and prevented finanical abuses from On High. Well and good.

In that case, do you support the so-called “right to privacy?” This may be a statistical artifact among my Tea Party friends, but it seems like Tea Partiers value their right to privacy more than the average citizen. They don’t want other folks interfering in their business, especially their financial business.

Except that there is no such thing in any of the above-quoted documents. Go ahead and read  them, you’ll find no such phrase. The “right to privacy” was concocted by a couple of lawyers in the 1890s who decided that such a thing must exist, and was implied to exist by the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth amendments. Not that it’s explicitly written there, that it’s implied to be there, that those amendments (and other things) create a “penumbra” or shadow of a right to privacy.

And, if you support the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, and amending the Constitution as time and circumstances dictate, and the interpretation of the Constitution to provide powers and rights that aren’t explicitly written there…

…how can you say you support government by only the Constitution?

If I’ve gotten the position of my intelligent, Tea Party friends wrong, I apologize and invite you to correct me. If you’ve been arguing for a strict interpretation of the Constitution, I invite you to consider my words. And if, after all that, you’re willing to support the Constitution alone, without any of the other documents that have accrued around it in the past 221 years…well, I look forward to our merry war of the ballot box, and may the best argument win.

*in Categorical Standard Form – Some members of the tea party are not people who are stark raving bonkers.


About R. Jean Mathieu

They say he speaks five languages, was conceived on a chess board, and once seduced a tong boss' daughter and lived to tell the tale. All we know is, he's called Roscoe. You can find more scurrilous lies at and buy his books at View all posts by R. Jean Mathieu

2 responses to “Constitution Uber Alles

  • rmathieu

    Sidebar: Jefferson did not write the Constitution. He was in Paris the whole time, and often expressed regret at not being at the Convention. He had more involvement in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and other documents of the French Revolution than in drafting the Constitution in ’89.

    Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. He had no hand in the Constitution.

  • Vorn

    Actually, the 27th amendment was originally part of the Bill of Rights – it was proposed the same day, September 25, 1789.

    The only remaining unratified amendment from that time apportioned members of the House of Representatives according to a particular formula. Had the formula been followed, there would probably be somewhere between 1500 and 6000 representatives today!

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