It’s been an article of faith of the Tea Party movement that conservative Republicans are the exclusive defenders of the Constitution.
It’s an idea fueled for many voters by a professed quasi-religious regard for the Constitution and for Mormon voters in particular—the ones who sent reigning freshman Tea Party senator Mike Lee (R-UT) to office—by a folk prophecy predicting that in the last days the Constitution would hang by a thread. Lee, a Constitutional lawyer and the son of a Constitutional lawyer, ran his whole campaign on the idea of “restoring Constitutional government to Washington.” (Yesterday, John McCain called Lee “foolish” for his role in the debt-ceiling debacle.)
But with the debt crisis escalating to its endgame, it is Democrats who are defending the Constitution now. Yesterday, several Democrats invoked section four of the Fourteenth Amendment—”The validity of the public debt of the United States shall not be questioned”—and urged President Obama to do the same to shut down whatever form of the Boehner bill finally makes it out of the House. (Others are pointing to Article I, which prohibits states from passing laws “impairing the Obligation of Contracts.”)
What we’re witnessing in the debt ceiling crisis reveals what the Tea Party has been all along: not an embrace of the Constitution as a foundation for good government but its appropriation as a weapon in a nihilistic effort by ideologues to disable and dismantle government with the object of transferring generations’ worth of public wealth into private hands. Political theorist Ruth Wilson Gilmore has described it as the emergence of the “anti-state state.”
We’ve seen the emergence of the “anti-state state” in my home state of California, where for decades prison building (and the warehousing of thousands upon thousands of young working-class people of color) replaced actual economic planning as the state’s response to economic restructuring and the loss of our manufacturing sector.
The Tea Party response to the nation’s economic situation is to hobble federal power and use national debt as a political gun to the head of the president.
It’s nihilism masquerading as end-times revivalism.
It’s just plain bad faith.