This weekend, the Constitution celebrated its 224th birthday. Yet, despite the fact that our founding document has served America well for more than two centuries, the Tea Party now wants to cast its principles aside and replace them with a radical anti-government manifesto. Despite the fact that the Constitution has been amended many times to make America more democratic and more responsive to We the People, the Tea Party believes that we have an authoritarian constitution that prohibits everything they disdain and requires nearly everything that they support.
THE END OF SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE: Last April, the House GOP voted almost unanimously to phase out Medicare and shift crippling medical costs onto seniors and their families. Yet this slow death of Medicare appears downright moderate compared to the Tea Party agenda of simply declaring our entire safety net for America’s seniors unconstitutional. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) claims Medicare and Social Security “contradict the principles of limited, constitutional government that our founders established to protect us.” Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) mocked President Franklin Delano Roosevelt for calling upon the federal government to provide “a decent retirement plan” and “health care” because “the Constitution doesn’t give Congress any of those powers.” Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who engineered the House of Representatives’ dramatic reading of the Constitution earlier this year, claimed that Medicare and Social Security are “not in the Constitution” and are only allowed to exist because “the courts have stretched the Constitution to say it’s in the general welfare clause.” And Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) believes that Medicare is “a family responsibility, not a government responsibility.”
THE WAR ON WORKERS: The Tea Party’s vision of the Constitution wouldn’t just leave America’s seniors out in the cold, it would force American workers to compete with their adolescent children for sub-minimum wage jobs. Lee believes that we should return to a misguided era when federal child labor laws were considered unconstitutional because the Constitution “was designed to be a little bit harsh.” Perry believes all “national labor laws” including child labor laws, the minimum wage, overtime laws, and laws protecting workers’ right to organize, are unconstitutional. And Justice Clarence Thomas embraces a vision of the Constitution that would eliminate all these laws and take out workplace discrimination laws in the process.
JUST THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG: Sadly, this wholesale assault on workers and the elderly is merely one small part of the Tea Party’s vision of the Constitution. It’s difficult to count how many laws would simply cease to exist if the Tea Party wins its fight to re-imagine our founding document, but a recent Center for American Progress white paper lists not just Social Security, Medicare, and basic workplace protections, but also all federal health care, education and antipoverty programs, federal disaster relief and food safety programs, and most national civil rights laws. In other words, the Tea Party’s agenda is nothing short of a wholesale repeal of the 20th Century, and a return to the era when families mortgaged their home to pay for their mother’s end-of-life care, higher education was a luxury reserved almost exclusively to the very rich, and rotten meat shipped to supermarkets nationwide without a national agency to inspect it.
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