Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Tea Party, the states and the Constitution

That's what Ben and I talk abut in this week's Scripps column. Stop me if you've heard this before:

The proposed amendment spits in the eye of the same Founders whom conservatives make such a show of revering.

Before the Constitution, the United States was governed -- if you can call it that -- by the Articles of Confederation. Under that system, Congress functioned more like today's United Nations Security Council, a fractious and paralyzed body that let each state act as a sort of sovereign nation with veto power over every act of the national government.

It didn't work. Letting the states have that much power made it impossible to get anything done. The adoption of the Constitution didn't just fix those shortcomings: Read The Federalist Papers and it's clear the Founders believed the new system represented a decisive point when the multiple states decided they truly were a nation rather than a collection of small, weak, independent kingdoms.

There was opposition to that vision. A group of men who called themselves the "Anti-Federalists" wanted to continue the old ways of state primacy and campaigned hard against the Constitution. They lost the argument, or so it seemed. The emergence of the proposed new amendment suggests that -- for all their tri-corner hats and Gadsden flags -- today's Tea Party set has more in common with the Anti-Federalists who tried to stop the Constitution from becoming law than they do with the actual Founders. It's funny, if you think about it.

As a practical matter, giving states more federal power would also blur the lines between the two forms of government, making a real hash of things. Voting for state senators and governors and attorneys general might be determined by their stands on national -- rather than local -- issues. The proposed amendment doesn't just repudiate the work of the Founders; it's probably just a bad idea on its own merits.

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