The default position for Tea Party candidates such as Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, Joe Miller in Alaska, Sharon Angle in Nevada, Ken Buck in Colorado and Ron Johnson in Wisconsin is to declare that—if elected—they will follow the dictates of the Constitution.
But that is a campaign slogan, not a serious commitment.
If O’Donnell, Johnson and their Tea’d-Off compatriots were even minimally serious about adhering to the founding document, they would all be thoughtful critics of the undeclared wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ardent foes of the Patriot Act and steady opponents of free trade deals that remove the authority of Congress to represent and serve the interests of American workers, farmers and communities. But then they would be Russ Feingold, and it goes against the Tea Party narrative—at least as it has been framed by the movement’s corporate paymasters and messaging consultants—to regard a progressive Democrat as the most ardent defender of the American experiment.
So it should be understood that O’Donnell, Miller, Angle, Buck, Johnson and the rest of the Tea Partisans who might be senators are not talking about the Constitution as it was written or as the founders intended it. Rather, they are talking about the Constitution as they would like to see it rewritten and reinterpreted—with the help of the most activist Supreme Court in American history. While their intents are radical, their prospects must be seen in light of the fact that Chief Justice John Roberts and his conservative majority have already reinterpreted the First Amendment’s free speech protection in a manner that extends the natural rights that the founders reserved for human beings to multinational corporations.
How big a leap would it be to rewrite the amendment’s referencing of religion as an invitation to promote an establishment of religion?
That depends on whether you are reading Christine O’Donnell’s Constitution or Thomas Jefferson’s Constitution.
O’Donnell, the Tea Party favorite who is carrying the Republican banner in this fall’s Delaware US Senate contest, found herself debating the First Amendment earlier this month at the Widener University Law School—where the man whose seat she hopes to occupy, Vice President Joe Biden, once taught constitutional law.
Her Democratic opponent, Chris Coons, explained that, while parochial schools can teach creationism, the Constitution makes it clear that "religious doctrine doesn’t belong in our public schools."
O’Donnell shot back: "Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?"
Coons explained that the First Amendment bars Congress from making laws respecting the establishment of religion.
To which O’Donnell responded: "You’re telling me that’s in the First Amendment?"
"You actually audibly heard the crowd gasp," Widener University political scientist Wesley Leckrone told the Associated Press.