A study led by a team of UNC-Chapel Hill and Vanderbilt professors examining what “cultural dispositions” unite the Tea Party reaching some interesting conclusions about the political movement’s relationship with the Constitution. They simultaneously revere the idea of the Constitution and hate much of what it actually says:
In our follow-up poll, 84% of those positive towards the TPM [Tea Party members] said the Constitution should be interpreted “as the Founders intended,” compared to only 34% of other respondents. Other respondents were also three times more likely not to have an opinion on the issue, highlighting the salience of the question for TPM supporters. Support for Constitutional principles is not absolute. TPM supporters were twice as likely than others to favor a constitutional amendment banning flag burning; many also support efforts to overturn citizenship as defined by the Fourteenth Amendment. . . . . The Constitution – and Tea Party more generally – take on heightened symbolic value and come to represent a ‘way of life’ or a “world view” rather than a specific set of laws or policy positions.
Sadly, the study actually paints a much more reasonable picture of the Tea Party than the reality suggests. Amending the Constitution to literally write your own policy preferences into the document is very rarely a good idea, but it is also an entirely legitimate way of bringing about constitutional change. The Tea Party, however, seems more interested in simply asserting repeatedly and loudly that the Constitution already imposes their preferred policy outcomes on the country — and in ignoring any evidence to the contrary.
In the past two years, we’ve seen Tea Party elected officials claim that everything from Social Security, to Medicare, to Pell Grants and federal student loans, to federal disaster relief, to the minimum wage, to child labor laws, to the ban on whites-only lunch counters all violate the Constitution. In other words, it’s clear that the Tea Party has little interest in following the actual Constitution — they just think the rest of the nation is gullible enough to believe that it says whatever the Tea Party wants it to say.