Ask a tea partier if Obamacare is constitutional, and you’ll receive a quick, firm no. But ask him if Operation Odyssey Dawn passes constitutional muster, and a range of answers pour out.
“I think there’s a variety of opinion out there,” Bob MacGuffie, cofounder of Right Principles, a Tea Party group, tells National Review Online. “I think technically he has the right to do such a thing, but in very short order, he’s supposed to go to Congress for approval.”
His compatriots in other states agree — many of them citing the War Powers Act. “The president can commit troops,” says Mark Lloyd, chairman of the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation. “But he’s got to go to Congress within a 60-day window [or pull the troops out at that time].” The act also requires the president to file a report with Congress within 48 hours, which Obama did on Monday.
Jason Hoyt, a member of the Central Florida Tea Party Council, however, disagrees: “From what I’m reading, it’s unconstitutional. Congress has to declare war, and he hasn’t gone to them at all.”
Although the president may be within the law, tea partiers remain blasé about his leadership. Mostly, they think he’s dithered. “We have to be assertive in these things,” Barb Lindberg, president of South Dakotans for Liberty, tells NRO. “We do not see that assertiveness in our president right now.”
“Clearly, he’s just flying by the seat of his pants,” Lloyd observes.
They also resent his disregard of Congress. “I sure wish he would confer a little bit more with Congress on his decisions,” Lindberg says.
“I don’t think I’ve ever agreed with Dennis Kucinich, but he should have gone to Congress,” Lloyd concurs.
That said, the Libya campaign is not the bogeyman that Obamacare is. In conversation, several tea partiers veered off topic to voice their displeasure with the continuing-resolutions dance. Others, however, foresaw another Tea Party uprising against the president.
“If this becomes the usual inextricable military operation that we’ve seen in the last 20 years, I think it’ll surface as an issue,” MacGuffie predicts.
“Some folks were saying, ‘Well, it’s not a fiscal issue,’” Hoyt recounts. “But I tell you, you could easily talk about the money being spent.” He expects the Florida Alliance, a Tea Party umbrella organization, to publish a statement on the situation soon.
Lloyd hints at frustration even over Afghanistan: “You’re already seeing Tea Party groups scratching their heads over Afghanistan. How long is this going to go on? What is a victory over there?”
The Tea Party has defended the Constitution for two years. But in this case, they are divided over what exactly that document means.
— Brian Bolduc is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.