There’s nothing the right, particularly the sectarian right, loves more than the the federal constitution, which by their reckoning is an anti-federal power, libertarian document that hearkens back to the days when the Founding Fathers founded the Tea Party movement. But I’m not sure there’s any better example of what nonsense this is, or the way that the ‘constitution’ has just become a fetish which automatically represents the rightwing wish-list du jour, than the paranoia and rage against the Census. If you’re really devoted to the constitution, by all rights responding to Census should make you something close to giddy since participating in the Census is about as close as you can get to fulfilling an unambiguous and explicit constitutional duty. For a real constitutionalist, it should be like touching the Pope’e garment.
But the disconnect between the wingnut fantasy constitution and the actual document actually goes well beyond that. Certainly liberals and conservatives have their own takes on the constitution. And outside the extreme margins each take is rooted in some real history. But what I’m talking about is the Ron Paul, Tea Party, right-wing sectarian take — the ‘constitution’ of Sen. DeMint’s imagination — that really does believe that the constitution is a sort of far-right wishlist. But what’s even weirder and more problematic in terms of our public discourse is that a lot of journalists seem to buy into this fantasy — at least assume it as a given — even if they don’t accept the supposed implications. In other words, ‘Yes, sure the original constitution is a Paulite, radically small government document. But hey, we’re a big country now. Times change.’
But this is a complete crock. The federal constitution doesn’t just not perfectly line up with the anti-federal, small government right. It was actually put into effect precisely to combat the kind of politically philosophy these folks espouses. It’s a centralizing document. It was aimed at making federal power trump that of the states, indeed bringing the states to heel. The idea that of a genuine heir of the South Carolinian political tradition — which DeMint is — is someone whose views are in tune with the constitution is silly if you spend a few moments cracking a history book. The big point of the constitution was to create a strong federal government, one with the power to do pretty much all the things the phony constitutionalists are the far-right want to prevent.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.