The Rise Of The Tenthers
This is a very important article by Ian Millhiser for The American Prospect. Conservatives have found a new Amendment in the Bill of Rights to glorify, making a grand total of two, as they trash the other eight. Their entire Constitutional theory now rests on the tenth Amendment.
Almost a year after she called for an investigation to discover which members of Congress are "anti-American," Minnesota's nuttiest lawmaker is back. In a recent appearance with Fox's Sean Hannity, Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann accused her colleagues of "forg[etting] what the Constitution says" because they are poised to pass comprehensive health-care reform. Not to be outdone, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina told right-wing activists on a conference call last Thursday that health reform violates the 10th Amendment; he also called on state legislators and governors to "champion individual freedom" by resisting the bill. Two Florida lawmakers beat DeMint to the punch, having already introduced legislation to block health reform from taking effect in their state.
These efforts are all part of a movement whose members are convinced that the 10th Amendment of the Constitution prohibits spending programs and regulations disfavored by conservatives. Indeed, while "birther" conspiracy theorists dominate the airwaves with tales of a mystical Kenyan baby smuggled into Hawaii just days after his birth, these "tenther" constitutionalists offer a theory that is no less radical but infinitely more dangerous.
Tentherism, in a nutshell, proclaims that New Deal-era reformers led an unlawful coup against the "True Constitution," exploiting Depression-born desperation to expand the federal government's powers beyond recognition. Under the tenther constitution, Barack Obama's health-care reform is forbidden, as is Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. The federal minimum wage is a crime against state sovereignty; the federal ban on workplace discrimination and whites-only lunch counters is an unlawful encroachment on local businesses.
I guess the words "to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States" don't appear in their pocket Constitutions.
Really, there's nothing new about Tentherism - it's basically nullification prettied up for the 21st century. But of course, nullification was a prelude to eventual secession and Civil War. It's not completely out of bounds to see us headed in that direction.
When George Bush sought to take money out of people's paychecks and deposit them in private retirement accounts, that was fine. Only when a Democrat takes office can the majority of actions of the federal government be seen as not only misguided, but actually in violation of the Constitution. Because conservatives consider it against the natural order of things for them not to control the government and distribute its Treasury to their favored corporate interests, a circumstance with them out of control must be criminal in nature.
This is an outgrowth of the right-wing populism we've seen in reaction to a recession and the uneasiness people feel with job insecurity and an uncertain economic future.
Today, however, the tenthers tap into the same populist outrage that inspired a generation of working-class religious conservatives to enthusiastically vote against their own interests. Fox News star Glenn Beck exhorts his audience to "be a constitutional watchdog for America" by lining up against health-care reform, cap-and-trade legislation, and the stimulus package. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who enthusiastically backed a tenther "state sovereignty resolution," told a right-wing radio host that he is "willing and ready for the fight if this administration continues to try to force their very expansive government philosophy down our collective throats." Tenther-inspired claims that federal spending violates the Constitution are so common at "tea party" protests that it is impossible to tell where the tenthers end and the tea baggers begin.
In other words, it is all but certain that tenthers will play a significant role in selecting the GOP's presidential nominee in 2012. And if that nominee wins, the tenthers could even come to dominate the administration in the same way that the religious right set its hooks into George W. Bush.
This is the inevitable point where all the anti-government rhetoric of the post-Reagan years was bound to go. Tenthers literally want a government that cannot govern, period. And the movement is growing. Ultimately, this is where the teabaggers meet up with the corporate interests who would thrive in an era of no regulation and no ability for the government to use their power.
But, you know, liberals are the Constitutional "activists."