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“An Emotionally Abusive Relationship”: Tea Partyers Love The Constitution So Much — They Want To Blow It Up

Sometimes I think tea partyers are in an emotionally abusive relationship with the Constitution.

One day, they proclaim its inerrancy and say it must be loved, honored and obeyed in all its original perfection. The next day, they call for a constitutional convention, arguing that it’s broken, outdated and desperately in need of a facelift.

In other words: I love you, you’re perfect, now change.

This pure, pristine document is so fervently adored by people of the parchment that some carry it around with them at all times — sometimes in their breast pockets, close to their hearts, perhaps to protect them from a stray Second Amendment-protected bullet. They cite it as they might scripture (that is, often incorrectly, and for their own purposes).

They believe that anyone who questions the Constitution’s decrees must be verbally flogged or even impeached. The United States’ sacred scroll must be feared, fetishized and followed to the letter — down to the comma, even — in its original, strictly constructed form.

Indeed, above all other national concerns, this founding document must be preserved as is.

But now a line of thinking has emerged that the best way to preserve the Constitution is to revamp it completely.

Consider Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), a tea party darling, who wants to convene a constitutional convention to amend this precious political heirloom.

And not to push through just a single amendment, but nine.

These amendments include: allowing a two-thirds majority of the states to override a Supreme Court decision; prohibiting Congress from regulating activity that occurs wholly within one state; and requiring a seven-justice supermajority for Supreme Court decisions that invalidate a democratically enacted law. Abbott also demands a balanced-budget amendment, which almost certainly would have been opposed by Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father who was the most prolific defender of the Constitution.

These are not minor copy edits.

In a 92-page document defending his proposals, Abbott laments widespread ignorance of the Constitution and argues that his plan is “not so much a vision to alter the Constitution as it is a call to restore the rule of our current one.”

The Constitution itself is not broken,” Abbott writes in italics. “What is broken is our Nation’s willingness to obey the Constitution and to hold our leaders accountable to it.”

In other words, the Constitution says what Abbott thinks it says, not what it actually says, or what the Supreme Court decides it says — so now we just need to rewrite it so that the text fits what’s in his head.

Abbott is not the only right-wing Constitution-thumper to call for reframing the Founding Fathers’ allegedly perfect handiwork.

Marco Rubio, apparently trying to capture more of his party’s fringe, recently announced that on his “first day in office” as commander in chief, he would “put the prestige and power of the presidency behind a constitutional convention of the states.” Its agenda would be to impose term limits on federal legislators and judges, as well as a balanced-budget amendment.

Rubio assured Americans that delegates to such a convention “won’t be able to touch our important constitutional rights.”

Who determines which parts of the Constitution are important and therefore untouchable, and which are unimportant and touchable? Rubio, apparently.

Then there’s Donald Trump, who, along with others, wants to roll back the 14th Amendment to quash birthright citizenship . (In the meantime, he’ll settle for casting aspersions on his political enemies’ birthplaces.)

And Ben Carson — author of a book subtitled “What We the People Can Do to Reclaim Our Constitutional Liberties” — has argued that U.S. law is not subject to judicial review from the Supreme Court, contra Marbury v. Madison. (Carson has also expressed other funny ideas about what’s in the Constitution and who wrote it.) Like Rubio, Carson has supported the idea of a constitutional convention, along with fellow Republican presidential candidates Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee and John Kasich.

Then there’s Ted Cruz, who devotes a whole section on his campaign website to his pledge to “defend the Constitution” and “restore the Constitution as our standard.”

Cruz, too, has decided that the best way to “restore” the Constitution is by altering it. He supports amendments to require a balanced budget, let state legislatures define marriage and subject Supreme Court justices to periodic retention elections.

These and “many more” unspecified amendments are needed, he told reporters, “because the federal government and the courts have gotten so far away from the original text and the original understanding of our Constitution.”

Because, obviously, the best way to honor that cherished, perfect, original text is by getting rid of it.


By: Catherine Rample, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 14, 2015

January 15, 2016 Posted by | Constitution, Constitutional Convention, Greg Abbott, Tea Party | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Paths To The Presidency”: John Kasich And The Road Less Taken, Because It Goes Nowhere

Last month I spent a few minutes mocking a Cleveland Plain Dealer story that suggested big donors might hunt down Ohio Gov. John Kasich as he traipsed around the Mountain West plumping for a balanced budget constitutional amendment, and beg him to become the 2016 Republican presidential nominee. I half-thought the story was the product of somebody in Kashichland funnin’ a local reporter. I mean, really, a guy as seasoned as Kasich didn’t really think that was a viable strategy for becoming Leader of the Free World, did he?

But now we have a Wall Street Journal piece from the veteran national political reporter Janet Hook reporting the same madness:

If Ohio Gov. John Kasich is thinking of running for president, he’s taking a very circuitous route. Mr. Kasich, one of several Republican governors seen as potential candidates, is spending much of this week traveling through six sparsely populated Western states to promote balancing the budget.

Fresh off his inauguration to a second term as governor, Mr. Kasich is travelling from South Dakota to Wyoming to Idaho in a tour that ends Friday. He is trying to round up support for a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget — even as fiscal issues seem to be fading in Congress.

But then, after reporting that Kasich doesn’t admit this odd out-of-state travel schedule means he’s running for president, Hook cites it as one of several “paths to the presidency,” alongside those more conventional candidates are pursuing:

Mr. Kasich is part of a distinct posse of potential candidates — Republican governors that include Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and outgoing Texas Gov. Rick Perry — who are angling to use their states’ records as calling cards in a bid for national office.

Mr. Kasich is proud of Ohio’s economic turnaround, and of his 2014 re-election by more than 30 percentage points. He has been trying to espouse a new brand of compassionate conservatism, supporting an expansion of Medicaid in his first term and saying in his second inaugural address, “Somehow we have lost the beautiful sound of our neighbors’ voices. Moving beyond ourselves and trying to share in the experience of others helps us open our minds, allows us to grow as people.”

But he is pairing that big-hearted message with fiscal conservatism, his trademark issue during his 18 years in Congress when he played a lead role in crafting a 1997 deal to eliminate the federal budget deficit.

So Ohio Record (including the kryptonite-to-conservatives Medicaid expansion) plus Balanced Budget somehow equals viable candidacy. It’s not easy to understand how, mechanically, anyone would win the nomination this way, unless Hook is buying the idea big donors will track him down somewhere in the Rockies and beg him to run.

You know what I think? A lot of MSM types think Kasich ought to be the kind of candidate the Republicans nominate, and that fiscal hawkery–the only part of the Constitutional Conservative ideology they understand–could be his ticket to ride.

Beyond that, there are an awful lot of people who think the current presidential nominating process, and particularly the role of the early states, is absurd, and would love to see someone defy it. But it keeps not happening. The last two serious candidates who tried to skip the early states–Democrat Al Gore in 1988 and Rudy Giuliani in 2008 (well, he didn’t originally plan to skip the early states but shifted away from them when support was not forthcoming) went nowhere. Perhaps someone with a massive national following and special credibility with the conservative activists who view the early states as their God-given choke point on the GOP nomination could get away with starting late and elsewhere. But not John Kasich.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 23, 2015

January 24, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, John Kasich | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Lord Help Us!”: The Return Of One Of The GOP’s Dumbest Ideas

Lord help us, is the balanced budget amendment—one of the dumbest policy ideas the right ever cooked up (and that’s saying something)—actually back? Only time will tell, but today on the New York Times op-ed page, two prominent conservative economists, Glenn Hubbard and Tim Kane, try to revive it with an argument so unconvincing that I worry it’s going to be embraced by every Republican in sight. If you think the sequester was a terrific idea and worked out great for everyone, have they got a deal for you.

Hubbard and Kane start by insisting that deficit panic must not be allowed to wane. “We are stuck in a bad and worsening place: sure, deficits strike fear in the hearts of economists and intellectuals, but they don’t matter at the ballot box.” Haven’t we actually cut the deficit by more than half from its 2009 peak? And isn’t creating jobs and increasing wages more important? And aren’t most “economists and intellectuals” not actually driven to terror by the deficit at the moment? Of course not, silly. We must put aside parochial concerns like jobs and focus our fear on deficits, lest they one day…well, one day they’ll do something really bad, but don’t worry about what it is.

You never hear conservatives articulate exactly why running a deficit, any deficit, is so problematic. They rely on the fact that it seems self-evident, and in fairness, some Democrats, Barack Obama in particular, contribute to widespread misunderstanding of the subject by repeatedly comparing the government’s finances to a family’s finances. But the government’s budget isn’t at all like a family’s budget. For instance, when it’s faced with a crisis like the Great Recession, borrowing more and spending more is exactly what it has to do. In the last 50 years, we’ve had a balanced budget eight times, four of which were at the end of the Clinton years. There’s no reason why the deficit has to come down to zero. If that’s what you’re forced to do, then you end up making problems worse at the worst moments. That’s what happened to states over the last few years; because nearly every state has a requirement to balance their budget every year, when tax revenues plummeted, they were forced to slash government services and lay off hundreds of thousands of workers. This made the recession more painful for everybody (and the federal government sent billions of dollars to the states in an attempt to mitigate the damage).

If you had a balanced budget amendment in place, when a recession hits and tax revenues fall, the federal government would have to immediately cut back its spending, precisely the opposite of what it ought to be doing. Yet for years, a balanced budget amendment was Republican dogma, nearly on par with tax cuts for the wealthy and big defense budgets. Which brings us to Hubbard and Kane’s new balanced budget amendment proposal. Here’s part 1:

First, because reconciling expenditures and revenues would be impossible in real time, the constraint should be on expenditures only. A good rule would be this: Congress shall spend no more in the current year than it collected, on average, over the previous seven years. No more overspending in fat years and no draconian cuts to expenditures during future recessions.

This rolling average idea makes things a bit more sane, but do you see what they did there? I’ve highlighted it in bold. “The constraint should be on expenditures only,” meaning that their balanced budget amendment would require spending cuts, but not tax increases. Why? Because these are Republicans, that’s why. Here’s part 2:

Second, any amendment should be simple, focused only on fiscal balance. The best mix of tax and expenditure changes is for each generation of voters to decide.

Is that supposed to mean that the amendment itself shouldn’t actually write into the Constitution budgetary limits for every single federal agency for every year in the future? Well since that would be insane, I’m not sure why it has to be an explicit part of their three-part proposal. Perhaps they should also specify that a balanced budget amendment shouldn’t deal with abortion and drug legalization, or that the amendment need not specify the headline font on the Department of Energy’s press releases. And on to part 3:

Third, there should be an exception to the spending constraint for national emergencies.

And what would be a national emergency? Would the Great Recession count? How about the Iraq War, which the Bush administration (where Glenn Hubbard served) financed through deficit spending? This is basically a way of saying, don’t worry, we’ll require balanced budgets, unless requiring balanced budgets looks like a terrible idea, at which point we won’t. And then we get to the end, where Hubbard and Kane finally reveal the threat posed by deficits, a threat so profound it must be met with the constitutional equivalent of permanent sequestration:

America’s high and rising national debt threatens our economic health through higher future taxes, crowding out important government services, or both. The best antidote is a focus on economic growth and a balanced approach to deficit control

Ah, there we are. We must force draconian budget cuts now, because if we don’t, at some point in the future we might have to…force budget cuts. And of course raise taxes, which we can’t ever, ever do. So by imposing those cuts, we can “focus on economic growth,” not by actually promoting economic growth, but by…um…confidence!

This isn’t some dopey politician offering his opinion on a topic he plainly doesn’t understand, this is two highly-placed and supposedly informed conservative economists. Hubbard is dean of the business school at Columbia and was George W. Bush’s chief economic adviser. Kane is chief economist at the Hudson Institute. These are the Republican party’s big economic thinkers. And this is what they have to offer.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, August 12, 2013

August 13, 2013 Posted by | Federal Budget | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Party Of Ideas, From 20 Years Ago”: Which 1990s Era Bad Idea Will The GOP Pull Out Of Its Policy Posterior Next?

I wrote in my column a few weeks back that conservatives seem stuck in the 1990s. The NRA swaggers like the organization that could claim credit for taking down so many Democratic members of Congress … nearly two decades ago; House Republicans—including some from the class of 1994, apparently trying to relive their, uh, inglory years—are openly aching for a government shutdown; some even want an impeachment. It almost begs the question: What hoary policy proposal will they summon out of the Gingrich years next? The answer is apparently the Balanced Budget Amendment.

My old bloleague Scott Galupo, now at The American Conservative, flags the news that the GOP is going to try to write a balanced budget into the Constitution, including a supermajority requirement for raising taxes and raising the debt ceiling. Scott writes:

Just as problematic is the institutional folly that the BBA represents. Instead of reasserting democratic control over fiscal policy, as had been the plan until five minutes ago, a BBA regime would take us in the opposite direction – toward newly empowered judges. The literature on how a BBA would invite judicial interference into fiscal policy is vast — for a taste, see Ed Meese, Walter Dellinger , and Peter H. Schuck – and, to my lights, dispositive. But that’s not all. The executive branch, too, would potentially gain new authority over spending — which the Goldwater Institute, strangely, sees as a feature rather than a bug.

And David Frum points out perhaps the biggest problem with the scheme:

A cap on spending, especially one at 18 percent, also means recessions will be turning into depressions. The automatic stabilizers that have induced such deep deficits since 2008, especially unemployment insurance, would be capped under such a plan. Without that spending to prop up demand, expect the boom and bust cycle to get worse.

Even former U.S. News-er Jim Pethokoukis questions the realism of this idea. And you know something extraordinary is going on if I’m approvingly citing Jimmy P.

So which 1990s era bad idea will the GOP pull out of its policy posterior next? I suppose they have to wait until the Defense of Marriage Act has actually been overturned or repealed before they try to revive it. Maybe a flag burning amendment?


By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, February 11, 2013



February 12, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Resettling Of The Hostages”: What The Tea Folk Want In The Fiscal Talks

To properly assess the lay of the land for the continuing fiscal negotiations in Washington, it’s kind of important to understand what those conservative Tea types fighting John Boehner actually want. You get the general impression they just want less compromise than Boehner. But the reality is quite different. Here’s an appropriate reminder from Breitbart’s Joel Pollak:

The present Tea Party dilemma did not begin in November 2012 but in January 2011, when the new Republican leadership in the House of Representatives excluded Tea Party members from the highest leadership positions. The Tea Party, used to opposing but not to governing, acquiesced in a faulty arrangement that allowed the Republican establishment to lead the legislative agenda, and to blame the Tea Party when it failed.

That is exactly what happened in the summer of 2011, when Speaker of the House John Boehner quashed efforts by Rep. Jim Jordan to rally support around the Tea Party’s preferred “Cut, Cap and Balance” proposal in the debt ceiling debate. Boehner then signed onto an ill-fated deal that led to the present “fiscal cliff” impasse–while the Tea Party, slandered by the mainstream media as “terrorists,” bore the burden of blame.

Sounds semi-reasonable until you focus on what the “Cut, Cap and Balance” proposal involves. Here’s a description from June of 2011:

1. Cut – We must make discretionary and mandatory spending reductions that would cut the deficit in half next year.

2. Cap – We need statutory, enforceable caps to align federal spending with average revenues at 18% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with automatic spending reductions if the caps are breached.

3. Balance – We must send to the states a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) with strong protections against federal tax increases and a Spending Limitation Amendment (SLA) that aligns spending with average revenues as described above.

The “Cut, Cap and Balance” Pledge that was signed by 12 senators and endorsed by every one of the viable GOP presidential candidates (including Mitt Romney) made all three elements a condition precedent to support for any debt limit increase.

Since constitutional amendments require passage in both Houses of Congress by a two-thirds vote, and the version being promoted by conservatives involves a radical and permanent reduction in federal spending, it ain’t happening unless and until vast changes in the composition of Congress occur–maybe on the order of four or five straight 2010-style GOP landslides. So we’re not talking about some temporary “hostage-taking” involving the debt limit, but the kind where the hostage is resettled in another country under armed guard for years.

It is rather important that the media and Democrats understand where the Tea Folk are coming from. They aren’t just trying to push the country towards their policy priorities. The whole idea, and the rationale for all the revolutionary trappings, rhetoric and other folderol, is permanent repeal of much of the domestic policy legacy of the twentieth century–back towards what they imagine the Founders (and for many of them, Almighty God) intended. For the most part, they have little to fear from voters back home. There is no price to be paid for craziness and intransigence, though in most cases there is decidedly a big risk in exhibiting reasonableness.

So that’s who we are dealing with, and best we can tell, there are enough of them in the House to keep Boehner from showing much reasonableness as well.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 27, 2012

December 28, 2012 Posted by | Fiscal Cliff | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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