I used to be a big Tea Party fan.
To clarify, I was never a huge fan of the tri-corner hats. The xenophobic lexicon made me uncomfortable, and I didn’t find the constant references to “tea bagging” very tasteful.
But in the Tea Party’s early stages, the idea of anti-incumbency, the push back against politicians who wasted taxpayer money on pork barrel spending and a demand for governing by the Constitution were perspectives that could have been very constructive for the country. I was troubled by what I still see as a diminished adherence to the Constitution by recent administrations, and thought maybe some stricter interpretations could balance the scales.
Then, of course, came the almost comical hypocrisies of the Tea Party. “Cut taxes, not defense!” they said. “Our budget is inspired by Catholic Social Justice Teachings and Ayn Rand!” they seemed to exclaim.
But the ultimate contradiction of the Tea Party was the juxtaposition of its esteem for a traditional interpretation of the Constitution with its disregard for the mechanism by which that Constitution was created. It seems that in their fevered dash to get back to the foundation of the Constitution, they forgot about the bedrock.
They forgot that the Constitution is the child of Compromise. Anyone who truly had strived to govern as the framers had intended would have followed the rich tradition of bipartisan cooperation that is the legislative branch, a tradition that the men and women of the Tea Party caucus have largely ignored.
America’s history is filled with examples of times when compromise led to striking advancements in policy, and was sometimes even crucial to the continued existence of the union. The 1787 Constitutional Convention was chock-full of compromises, including the aptly named “Great Compromise” that provided for a bicameral legislative body. Then, in 1820, Congress staved off civil war by passing the Missouri Compromise. More recently, the Republican Congress under Newt Gingrich – who has since become a Tea Party man – worked with Democrats to reform everything from welfare to taxes to term limits in the 1990s.
The Tea Party, on the other hand, has made “no-compromise” its modus operandi. They won’t even agree to pass an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the middle class if it means increasing taxes on the upper-income bracket by one cent.
Of course, nowhere in the Constitution does it say that lawmakers must work together to come up with bipartisan solutions, but to use the heritage of the Constitution as a basis for your election – as the Tea Party Caucus did – and then disregard its roots when in office is either dishonest or ignorant, or both.
My understanding is that conservative thinking is defined by a profound respect for the Constitution. If that’s the case, I cast an early conservative vote this week when I voted for Democratic candidates for Congress.
To vote for the Republican candidates would have rewarded a party that has abandoned the constitutional principle of compromise for its own political gain. If being conservative truly means defending the most fundamental principles of the Constitution, then I encourage my fellow conservatives to vote blue too.
You can have a liberal interpretation of the Constitution, and you can have a conservative interpretation of the Constitution. What the Tea Party has is a misunderstanding of the Constitution. Which is ironic, since it seems like anyone who would dress up as one of the Founding Fathers would strive to govern as they did, too.