(This is the first in a series of four posts which discuss Tea Party “Political Fundamentalism”, comprised of the unholy trinity of “Constitutional Idolatry”, Liberty Idolatry, and Small Government Idolatry.)
Every now and then, you encounter an argument you’ve been making for years, made far better than you’ve ever made it. And such was my pleasure a few moments ago, when I read this week’s “Lexington” column in The Economist (Lexington is the weekly column about America), titled “The Perils of Constitution Worship: One of the Guiding Principles of the Tea-Party Movement is Based on a Myth” (http://www.economist.com/node/17103701?story_id=17103701).
Among the many sage observations made by the author, was one I’ve repeated in at least a dozen “debates” with tea-partiers: The Constitution was not drafted to check central government and preserve state or individual rights, but rather to do the exact opposite, to create a central government with teeth. And, of course, the Constitution doesn’t actually contain all the answers to all of the challenges we face as a society, nor all of the information necessary to define the scope and range of our federal government. The notion, as the author notes, is simply infantile.
George Lakoff, in The Political Mind, notes that while both conservatives and progressives rely on a metaphorical narrative of “family” to understand government, what distinguishes them is that conservatives rely on a metaphor of the authoritarian, patriarchal family, while progressives rely on the metaphor of an empathetic and nurturing family (thus “the nanny state”). Ironically, the claim to be rooted in a commitment to individual liberty is belied by the deference to some ultimate authority that deprives us of responsibility to meet the challenges of our own day as free individuals. Like the fundamentalist religious zealots that so many of them are, thumping the Constitution with the same blindly dogmatic fanaticism that they thump the Bible, they are relieved of their responsibility to know or understand anything by the presence of an infinitely wise and infallible final authority, one in print, one that answers all questions and resolves all disputes, the final word from on-high.
Of course, the Constitution is a brilliant document, made more brilliant by what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t address the minutia of how we must govern ourselves, but rather sets out the general principles. And, as is so often the case, those principles are rarely more egregiously violated than by those who most zealously claim to be the defenders of the faith.