It seems as if we’ve heard more about the Constitution this election than we did in 2008, when questions of due process and cruel and unusual punishment were bona fide election issues. Two years in to Barack Obama’s presidency, after turning a blind eye throughout the Bush years, a key goal for the Tea Party this election is to “return” to the Constitution. Minus certain parts of it. And only if you read other parts in a very specific way.
We know the Tea Party has a … unique interpretation of the country’s foundational text, but it’s hard sometimes to keep track of all the things their favored candidates would like to see abolished or relegated as part of this “return.”
Their convenient reading of various amendments — particularly the 10th — would radically transform the country as we know it. Here are a few major programs that would change or disappear.
1. Social Security
Social Security is far too popular for all but the most conservative politicians in America to outright oppose. So the “Tenth Amendment” remedy for what they view as an unconstitutional program is to make individual states responsible for resident’s retirement security. No word on how this would impact people who want to retire to a different state than the one they spent their career paying taxes in. Fortunately for Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller (R), people don’t flock to Alaska to enjoy their golden years.
Along the same lines, some tea partiers and tea party-backed candidates think that the federal government never had the constitutional authority to create Medicare. But few are willing to articulate that view publicly. However, during a Fox News appearance this summer, Miller explained his solution to the Medicare and Social Security “problems.”
“If we don’t come up with solutions, you know, whether it be privatization, personalization or some other solution, which, frankly, you know, it’s our preference that that be a transferred power to the states,” Miller said. “That’s really what the constitutional basis of our platform has been, that we need to get back to transferring many of the powers of the federal government to the states. We believe that that’s what the Tenth Amendment provides.”
3. Minimum Wage
Probably because old people vote, and poor people are, well, poor, conservatives are a bit more outspoken about the minimum wage than they are about entitlements for the elderly. But few come right out say that it’s unconstitutional. One of the few who does is West Virginia Senate nominee John Raese.
“I don’t think it is [constitutional] And the reason I don’t think it is, is the same reason the [National Recovery Administration] was not constitutional in 1936,” Raese said. “It was declared unconstitutional because it was government micromanaging an intervention into the private sector. Well, what are price controls, or what are wage controls? They’re the same thing.”
Another is, again, Joe Miller.
4. United Nations
You know what else wasn’t specifically provided for in the Constitution? The establishment of, and the United States’ participation in, the United Nations. The Republican candidate who most embodies the tea party view that American involvement with the U.N. violates the Constitution is Nevada nominee Sharron Angle.
“The United Nations resides on our soil, and costs us money,” Angle claimed in August. “We — I don’t see any place in the Constitution, in those eight priorities, about the United Nations. So when we start cutting programs, about five percent a year, I think the United Nations fits into that category.”
5. Unemployment Benefits
Though many Republicans have voted to extend unemployment benefits since the economy tanked, others think the whole concept transgresses the Constitution.
Joe Miller again, this time during an appearance on “Top Line” “The unemployment compensation benefits have gotten — first of all, it’s not constitutionally authorized. I think that’s the first thing that’s gotta be looked at, so I do not favor their extension.”
6. Civil Rights Act
This one’s gone way out of fashion. But when he first won the Republican nomination for Senate in Kentucky, tea party favorite Rand Paul figured it would be fine to go on television and discuss why perhaps a key part of the civil rights act, providing for the integration of private businesses, might not be Constitutional. Segregated lunch counters!
“Well, there’s 10 — there’s 10 different — there’s 10 different titles, you know, to the Civil Rights Act, and nine out of 10 deal with public institutions and I’m absolutely in favor of,” Paul told Rachel Maddow in an interview after he won the GOP nomination. “One deals with private institutions, and had I been around, I would have tried to modify that.”
As a breath of fresh air, this argument is based on a right wing reading of the First Amendment, not the Tenth.
BONUS: Health Care Reform
This isn’t just a Tea Party thing. Practically everybody in the Republican party thinks at least one part of President Obama’s health care reform law — the individual insurance mandate — is unconstitutional. The most common argument against the mandate is that in giving Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce, the founders didn’t create the authority for the federal government to regulate inaction. In other words, they say citizens can’t be compelled to to participate in interstate commerce, such as buying health insurance. Most legal scholars disagree with this interpretation, though many think the issue will ultimately come before the Supreme Court whose five conservative justices could strike it down. If they did, the ramifications for current and future policy could be huge.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.