tea party

Constitutional Conservatism, The “Return” to Christian Values, and Mutual Exclusivity

I’m hoping someone can explain this to me, because I’m a little bit confused.

Not too long ago, I wrote a post on the confounding nature of the Tea Party. It emerged from a collective discontent, was usurped by socially conservative idealogues, and scares the living daylights out of me.

Here’s where my confusion stems from- they claim to want to return to basics and the ideas of the Founding Fathers when it comes to how the government functions. Let’s take a look at some of the quotables, shall we?

Michele Bachmann:  “We have to recapture the founders’ vision of a constitutionally conservative government, if we are to secure the promise for the future. […] As a constitutional conservative, I believe in the founding fathers’ vision of a limited government that trusts in and perceives the unlimited potential of you, the American people. I don’t believe that the solutions of our problems are Washington-centric. I believe they are with every-American-centric.”

Newt Gingrich: “Congress Has the Power to Protect the Constitution. It Should Use It.”

Rick Perry: “I am reminded of James Madison’s perspective from Federalist number 45. He said that the powers delegated by the proposed constitution to the federal government are few, and they are defined. Those which are to remain in the state government are numerous and indefinite. I like that. I am a Madisonian.”

Herman Cain: “I define a Tea Party candidate as anyone who believes in fiscal responsibility, the free market system, and enforcing the constitution. That’s the mantra of the Tea Party movement. I have been a believer in that mantra from the beginning.”

Sarah Palin: “I want to tell ’em, ‘Nah, we’ll keep clinging to our Constitution and our guns and religion—and you can keep the change.'”

They seem to have a lot of respect for the U.S. Constitution, and, not trusting my own expertise, I decided to revisit the cornerstone of our government. The First Amendment reads, and I quote:

” Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

But let’s be real- the language here is vague. So I went to case law for further clarification. The landmark case of Lemon v. Kurtzman in 1971 contains this nugget in the court’s decision:

” Under our system the choice has been made that government is to be entirely excluded from the area of religious instruction and church excluded from the affairs of government.”

Ok, so I know this case has withstood the test of time- we’re still abiding by it 40 years later- but these candidates think the courts are participating in “judicial activism.” Instead, they say we should rely on the interpretations formed by the Founding Fathers. So I started researching their opinions on separation of Church and State. Let’s ignore the fact that the whole point of our “forefathers” coming across the Atlantic was to escape religious persecution and that their “Christian” affiliation was loose in most cases and completely absent in some, and instead look at what they said (because words speak louder than actions, clearly):

“We the General Assembly of Virginia do enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.” (Thomas Jefferson, Draft for a Bill to Establish Religious Freedom in Virginia, 1779)

“The experience of the United States is a happy disproof of the error so long rooted in the unenlightened minds of well-meaning Christians, as well as in the corrupt hearts of persecuting usurpers, that without a legal incorporation of religious and civil polity, neither could be supported. A mutual independence is found most friendly to practical Religion, to social harmony, and to political prosperity.” (James Madison, Letter to F.L. Schaeffer, Dec 3, 1821)

“…the path of true piety is so plain as to require but little political direction.” (George Washington, 1789, responding to clergy complaints that the Constitution lacked mention of Jesus Christ)

“As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensable duty of all government to protect all conscientious professors thereof, and I know of no other business which government hath to do therewith.” (Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1771)

” “The [president] has no particle of spiritual jurisdiction. . . .” (Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Paper LXIX, 1788)

So, in summary, the Founding Fathers, Supreme Court and Constitution seem to mandate that religion and politics not intermix. So explain to me why these Tea Party leaders, so devout in their adherence to the Constitution, have the following words to their name:

Michele Bachmann: “We need more biblical world view to let people know what is it that the principles of God stand for. If people understand the principles of ours, it won’t be difficult to understand who would best represent those values in the White House and in Congress. And as I encourage people, go to my website. I am happy to have people know exactly where I stand.”

Newt Gingrich: “I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they’re my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.”

Rick Perry: “America is going to be guided by some set of values. The question is going go to be: Whose values? And David Lane and I, and I would suggest most of the people in this audience, believe it’s those Christian values that this country was based upon.”

Herman Cain: “Our Founding Fathers recognized a higher power in the formation of this nation when they said in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal and that they are “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.” It was no accident that in some of our earlier years as a free and independent nation that our leaders added “In God We Trust” to all of our currency. And to send a message to the rest of the world when Communism was on the rise in the 1950s, Congress added the words “under God” to our pledge of allegiance. They were not just words. It was a collective reaffirmation that we know the ultimate source of our greatness as a nation.” America’s moral foundation does not need to be rewritten. It needs to be respected and taught to our children and grandchildren.

Sarah Palin: “Go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant– they’re quite clear– that we would create law based on the God of the Bible and the Ten Commandents, it’s quite simple.”

Can you see why I’m confused? All these self-proclaimed Tea Partiers, who have made their absolute faith in the Constitution very public, are the same people who advocate its violation in spirit- if not in policy and day-to-day governance- above and in a vast array of other instances.

Look, I’m not knocking Christianity. I classify myself as a Christian, though my beliefs are very personal in nature and not affiliated with a specific denomination. Christians are awesome. But I do not believe in a national religion, or a country being run as though there is one. The only way to protect the nation from mob rule is to protect the rights of the minorities. To borrow heavily from someone far wiser than me, I may not hold the same beliefs as you, but I will defend to the death your right to hold them.

And before you start talking about your rights being infringed upon, I don’t want to hear it. Just because the government does not govern from a pulpit does not mean your ability to practice your faith is inhibited; it only means that your ability to institutionalize your faith is limited. The same applies for the “radical Islamists” referenced by Newt above, and Athiests, and Buddhists, and Wiccans…. the list goes on.

EVERYONE IS PROTECTED IN THE SAME WAY.

Even in a world where I didn’t believe in the separation of Church and State (or its mandate wasn’t spelled out in black and white), there’s another big problem here- staunchly conflicted agendas. If you can provide me a logical explanation as to why the concepts of “constitutional conservatism” and the statements of the candidates above are not mutually exclusive, I’m all ears.

Until then, I’m still scared. And you should be too.

Debt Ceiling: End Scene?

Woo hoo! We raised the debt ceiling! Time to celebrate!

Except not.

Here’s my problem with the way this whole debate played out, and what’s about to come. This whole debacle is Exhibit A in the case of the American people failing to hold its government accountable. Before you start to worry about some random anarchy post, don’t. This isn’t about how government is bad or oppressive or evil (sorry to all you K believers out there), but it is about how we’re letting it get that way.

In the 2010 midterms, the American electorate failed themselves by allowing shoddy communication smoke and mirrors to rally them into a fervour that knew neither logic nor, truth be told, reality. Frustrated by a floundering economy, the people lashed out against their nearest representatives, and in their stead, installed a group of politicians so nauseating that words are insufficient: the Tea Party.

The Tea Party is an interesting political phenomenon, because, despite the best efforts of PR folks around the nation, it’s largely decentralized. The basic belief of the party is that the government is too big and not reflective of the people. That might be a fair assessment, but the warrants used to support this super-generic platform vary more widely than Lady Gaga’s wardrobe from state to state, and even county to county. Some members are probably more Libertarian in nature than anything else, but, fed up with the way 3rd parties have failed them in the past, have aligned themselves with the ever passionate Tea Party. Go a hundred miles in any other direction, and you may find jackasses like this one:

Kentucky Tea Party Jerk (seriously, not just randomly assigning a party to him... and yeah, I know I used to live in Kentucky. Ugh.)

Anyway, this lack of decentralization, with vague claims of populism fueling the charge, ushered in an era of toddler governance- and I don’t just mean on the conservative side. Republicans, Democrats, Tea Party and Flying Spaghetti Monster Reps, for all I care, all need a major reality check. Listening to CSPAN yesterday made me sick. The speeches taking place were simply sound waves echoing around the chamber from which these candidates will pull soundbites. And yes, I said candidates. They may be elected officials, but the way they carry out their business, they are perpetually running for office.

What we’ve witnessed over the past several decades is a political transformation from public service to public scintillation. Dramatic antics have replaced the genuine drama of making significant, impactful decisions, and PR punchlines have replaced meaningful debate.

And we let it.

The thing is, we can complain and whine and kvetch all we want about how politicians are running this country into the ground. We can vote out every elected official in this country and bring in young guns (or at least new ones). It won’t matter. Until we start demanding accountability from our elected officials, none of it matters, because each time we go through this, the results will be the same.

In a conversation with a good friend of mine today, we discussed whether or not Bush is to blame for much of what happened during his presidency. Both of us agreed that Bush made some very poor choices, but as we continued to talk, we found ourselves perpetually coming back to the same conclusion: we let him. We fostered a system that not only allows this sort of thing to happen, but encourages it.

So how do we fix it? I mean, some people reading this may think otherwise, but I know I’m too poor to donate enough to sway a campaign one way or another… and money doesn’t really solve the problem if all of the candidates are using the same dark magic to bewitch the people. Donating is good… but if you’re drinking the Koolaid as a foot soldier, I’m not sure how much change you’ll propagate, either.

But you are a constituent. And you do have a voice. In fact, due to my experience in the world of forensics, most of the people I know have excellent, well-cultured, well-informed and persuasive voices. So use them. Call your representative’s office. Write letters. Write emails. Send faxes. Write letters to the editors of the papers around you. Engage the person next to you in conversation. Engage your family in conversation. Write a blog post. Comment on a Facebook post. I mean, I have had some of the best conversations over the past week on Facebook about the debt ceiling.

In short, we need to engage. We need to force our elected officials to actually talk with us- not at us.

Is this easier said than done? Absolutely. Does that make it any less necessary? Ha. Nice try. The debt ceiling debacle was only the latest in a string of dysfunctional near-crises happening on the Hill. Next time, we might not be so lucky. If we can do something to avert that- and by that, I mean do the right thing, our civic duty– by taking politicians to task for their performances worthy of nothing but a cancelled soap opera pilot, I’m game. Are you?