By Brigitte L. Nacos
After reading my previous post that labeled the loud reading of the U.S. Constitution on the floor of the U.S. House Representatives insisted on by the new Tea Party Republican majority as “political theater,” my husband joked that one of the books he gave me for Christmas may have been the wrong choice. After all, it was Jack N. Rakove’s “The Annotated U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence.” Jim was indeed joking since he knows that many of the books lining the shelves in my home office are dealing with one or the other aspect of the constitution, not to mention that I frequently reread passages in the constitution and chapters in the Federalist Papers that I keep next to my desk.
Strangely, Tea Partiers just like hate groups of the extreme right variety want to give the impression that they are the only ones who know and appreciate and defend the constitution, its sources, its history, its meaning during the more than 200 years since ratification.
Problem is that they have it all wrong when they cite the constitution as evidence for their charge that the federal government’s exercise of power transcends by far the authority granted by the document and the original intent of the framers—at the expense of state authority.
Conveniently forgotten here is that the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia came about because the Articles of Confederation provided the federal government with no meaningful authority except in the areas of foreign policy and war. That everything else was left to the states, including taxation, made for a dangerously weak confederation.
There was no way to simply revise the Articles and come up with a viable kind of “united states.” For that, a completely new constitutional design was needed.
In Philadelphia, the Federalists, led by James Madison, put their stamp on the U.S. Constitution.
In case the Tea Partiers do not know—or do not want to know--, the Federalists were the ones in favor of a strong national government, whereas the Anti-Federalists favored state rights.
And the subsequent struggle for the ratification of the Constitution was won by the Federalists—not the Anti-Federalists.
The Tea Partiers of today argue along the lines of the Anti-Federalists who lost their fight against the ratification of the constitution that they thought would create a too powerful national government.
Strangely, Tea Partiers claim that the U.S. Constitution, the very one that the Federalists supported, bears witness to their new anti-federalist agenda.
If they are serious with forcing Congress to act according to the constitutional text and only exercise the enumerated powers, they should take a look at two clauses in Article I, section 8, namely, the General Welfare and “Necessary and Proper clause:
“The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Imposts and Exercises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and General Welfare of the United States…”
[The Congress shall have Power]
“To make Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.”
To be sure, Anti-Federalists opposed both clauses calling the latter, as author Rakove reminds his readers, the “sweeping clause.”
Why, then, would the new majority in the U.S. House of Representatives take anti-federalist positions based on the Federalists’ U.S. Constitution? Perhaps they figure nobody will notice?
They would stand on stronger grounds, if they would read from the Anti-Federalist Papers. But that would mean to side with the losers of the constitutional battle and stand against those who framed and ratified the document that created and supports ever since a strong national government .
Strangely, Democrats in the House joined the political theater earlier today as if the constitution meant the same to federalists and anti-federalists then and now.