The opening of the new Congress with a reading of the Constitution on the floor of the House of Representatives has triggered some angry reactions on the left, but it wasn’t intended just as a criticism of them. The GOP leadership was also implicitly criticizing those Republicans who have strayed from the ideals of limited government, individual liberty, and constitutional originalism.
The perception that our national politicians on both sides of the aisle have abandoned those principles and succumbed to the allure of big government is perhaps the main impetus for the Tea Party movement — and the impetus is not new. It supported Reagan against Ford in the 1976 GOP convention. It unified the national coalition that swept Reagan to power and sustained his presidency. It led to the GOP sweeps of 1994, and pushed Clinton to the “triangulation” of seeking liberal ends through conservative means. The Left is silly to deride this movement — it has been gathering force for decades, growing alongside, and very much in response to, the federal government itself.
People can sense that in Washington, a relentless concentration of government power has been well underway for decades. They sense that it is a danger to our democracy — and they don’t know the half of it. While Obamacare’s assault on constitutional rights is well understood, the EPA’s audacious power grab and the increasingly corrosive use of conditional federal funds in state budgets are only just becoming apparent.
Liberals laugh at such talk. But there aren’t many thoughtful law students of any political persuasion who can read the classic “con law” case of Wickard v. Filburn (1942) without feeling that somewhere along the line the Supreme Court lost its way and stopped guarding against the unconstitutional expansion of federal power. Those conservatives who are rising to defend the Constitution now are doing so not as a stunt to insult the Left, nor even as a declaration that the Right owns the high ground of constitutional fidelity, but rather because they are genuinely worried about our Constitution for compelling reasons that have been integral parts of our national discourse for more than two centuries.
— Mario Loyola is Director of the Center for Tenth Amendment Studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin. Along with former Texas solicitor general Ted Cruz, he is co-author of Reclaiming the Constitution: Towards an Agenda for State Action (November 2010).