As politicians of both parties fall all over themselves denying blame for the shooting of Congresswomen Giffords and decrying the toxic political environment, one denial rings louder than any other. From Tea Party leader Sarah Palin's insistent "I hate violence" to Tea Party cheerleader Glenn Beck's "peace is always the answer." America's newest political party is rolling out a protest of responsibility not seen since President Clinton did not have sex with that woman Miss Lewinsky. Does the Tea Party doth protest too much? Or is it rightfully defending itself against politically motivated slander?
Surprisingly, I find myself arguing the latter. The blame for this heinous act lies squarely with the voices in Jared Lee Loughner's head, not the ones pontificating over talk radio. And repugnant as I find Sarah and her cosmic boyfriend, they are not responsible for the violent actions of a single crazy person.
They are, however, responsible for the destructive actions of thousands of other people -- (some crazy some not). No matter how vigorously they promote the woe-is-us narrative (as expressed by Tucson Tea Party Co-founder Trent Humphries -- "Every time anything happens, we're going to get blamed"), the Tea Party is responsible for ripping this country apart. And if the Tea Party has its way, violence and destruction far beyond the horrific acts of this weekend are on the horizon.
The Tea Party's goal is a full-scale dismantling of the republic. When the last friend of a friend who went to school with the sister of the roommate of the Arizona shooter's high school girlfriend has been interviewed, the Tea Party will return to the task at hand -- fundamentally changing the architecture of America.
Last week's reading of the (pretty parts of the) Constitution was meant to convince Americans everywhere of the deep and abiding love these Tea Party Americans and their Republican friends have for the 200-year-old document. But in an act worthy of Broadway, the sentiment was more: I love you. You're perfect. Now change.
Tea Party Republicans have called for a direct challenge to not one (14th), not two (16th), but three (17th) Constitutional amendments. They have also proposed a 28th 'Repeal Amendment' that would shift the balance of power to the states by granting them the right to repeal any federal law if they muster the support of 2/3rds of states' legislators. For all their rhetoric of "strict constructionism" and "originalism," conservatives interpret the Constitution in ways that radically break from established jurisprudence. Just look at last year's Supreme Court Citizens United decision, which essentially granted the right of free speech to corporations.
And in their most recent attack on the Constitution, Tea Party Republicans are gearing up for a sweeping challenge to the 14th Amendment -- the part of our Constitution that has for the past 140 years defined what it is to be an American. The 14th Amendment was adopted in 1868, a response to the Dred Scott v. Sandford case, which held that the descendants of slaves born on American soil were not citizens. The Amendment remedied this by holding that those born on American soil, black or white, were citizens of the United States. Of course, if you skirt the inconvenient history that necessitated the 14th Amendment, as the Tea Party Republicans did last week by not reading the 3/5th part, the 14th amendment seems much less important.
Since the earliest days of nationhood the constitutional definition of citizenship has been on a trajectory of expansion. Amendments have, without exception, extended citizenship and the rights and privileges it entails to larger circles of Americans -- to blacks (13th and 15th), to women (19th), the poor (24th), and the young (26th). Those seeking to repeal the 14th Amendment are extremists advocating not a return to our country's roots but a radical break from our established tradition.
The desire to ratify the Constitution for partisan and exclusionary purposes is not new. Historical gems include the proposed Anti-Miscegenation Amendment of 1912 -- to prohibit the marriage of blacks and whites. More recently we saw the Federal Marriage Amendment -- proposed a total of four times to prevent gay men and women from marrying. Thankfully, such exclusionary attempts inevitably fail and become resigned to the dust bin of history. Altering the Constitution involves an arduous course requiring the consent of 2/3 of Congress and 3/4th of the States. It has been happened only twice in the past 40 years.
The Tea Party gains traction for their radical views by chipping away at American history bit by bit, relying on half truths and carefully selected omissions to rewrite the past to serve their extremist agenda today. This selective reading of the Constitution is dangerous because it deftly erases the past, replacing our collective history with a narrative that is reactionary, exclusionary, and fabricated. The subtle changes to our history are then adroitly exploited to justify a radical assault on our country's foundation and ideals.
The Tea Party's rhetoric is all America and apple pie, but their designs are disturbingly radical. It's time we start paying less attention to words and more attention to the specific proposals they promote.
What happened to Congresswoman Giffords was a terrible tragedy, but one psychopath's ramblings do not offer much insight to the state of the nation. The actions the Tea Party, as they rewrite history and dismantle our Constitution, are the sticks and stones that will actually break this country's bones.
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