A virus has taken hold within the modern conservative movement. No one knows for sure what has caused this plague but many believe it is transmitted through close contact at boisterous tea parties.
The most obvious, visible symptom is the incessant need to refer to oneself as a "constitutional conservative."
To give you an idea of how far the illness has spread, here are some examples from the Republican wild.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has said, "I like to call myself a 'constitutional conservative.'" Future presidential also-ran and current Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota repeatedly refers to herself as a "constitutional conservative" too. Though unlike her absurd claim that HPV vaccines might cause "mental retardation," that particular side effect has not yet been observed among those suffering with this political ailment.
You can't throw a stone without hitting a Republican who identifies as a "constitutional conservative."
In fact, a Google search -- with apologies to Rick Santorum -- of the term "tea party" appearing with "constitutional conservative" returns nearly 150,000 results. Which makes me wonder. Could this virus plaguing the conservative movement have jumped to the World Wide Web as well?
The infected are an odd mix. At once, they attempt to ingratiate themselves with crowds dressed in ill-fitting Revolutionary War garb while simultaneously castigating wayward moderate Republicans from the GOP's faithful base. That facet of the affliction was on full display when former half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin laid into Senator Scott Brown, an early tea party favorite and Massachusetts Republican, for not being "hardcore 'constitutional conservative'" enough for her taste.
Okay, I'll come clean. Much like a Chris Christie bid for the White House, there is no virus. Surprise, surprise. But the overall aim of these self-described "constitutional conservatives" would result in a metaphorical cancer on our Nation's Charter nonetheless.
The tea party crowd waxes poetic about their supposed love and devotion to our Constitution. They use it as a political weapon shamelessly attempting to weave their warped ideology through tortured interpretations of a document they claim to hold at its original meaning.
Truth be told, there are significant portions of the Constitution that these so-called "constitutional conservatives" would love nothing more than to destroy.
Take the 14th Amendment for example. For my conservative friends reading at home, I'll save you the time of retrieving that illustrated pocket-Constitution you picked up at your first John Birch Society meeting. This Amendment zeros in on citizenship, due process, and equal protection among other things.
Appealing to their xenophobic, nationalist base, many Republicans appear to have abandoned efforts to transform their party into a big-tent large enough to include naturalized immigrants. Instead, they've advocated a repeal of the birthright citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment.
Then there's the 16th Amendment -- this one gives Congress explicit permission to levy taxes on income. Deep-sixing this one is a no brainer for tea party Republicans like Texas Governor Rick Perry. Common among his ilk is the notion that Libertarian magic dust can defend our country, pave our roads, educate our children, provide for our poor, and attend to our sick and elderly.
Perhaps most perplexing of all is attacks made by Republican Senators on the 17th Amendment -- the very Amendment that provides for their direct election by voters. Prior to this Amendment, every day Americans had little say in who would represent them in the Senate.
Leading the charge on this front has been Mike Lee, the Senate's foremost "constitutional delusional." Voters elected Lee just last year but as far as I'm concerned, if he doesn't think "we the people" should elect Senators, he should resign his seat.
What these "constitutional conservatives" are advocating is no less than a full-scale retreat on the 20th century.
The story of our constitutional progress should be an inspiration. As members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus recently pointed out to their colleagues, that progress has "eliminated slavery, expanded the right to vote, protected liberty and equality, and given the federal government important new powers and resources."
For 223 years, Americans have sought a "more perfect union" improving through Amendment on the best form of government the world has ever seen. The arc of constitutional progress has made us a stronger, freer nation.
Our elected representatives take an oath of office to uphold and defend the Constitution -- all of it. They don't get to pick and choose and perhaps that is the fundamental difference confronting us when it comes to our most cherished document.
I am a constitutional progressive and I support the whole Constitution.
Karl Frisch is a syndicated columnist and Democratic strategist at Bullfight Strategies in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at KarlFrisch.com. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and YouTube, or sign up to receive his columns and updates by email.
Distributed by the Cagle Cartoons Inc. syndicate. For information on carrying Karl's columns, click here.