How to host a Tea Party

From what I hear, California provides all sorts of commie perks and socialist freebies that Texas doesn’t. Of course, that’s why California had that 20-something billion-dollar budget deficit, right? So, when I grabbed Governor Rick Perry’s new whodunit Fed Up!, I expected the answer to a nagging question: how is it Texas provides comparatively few perks and freebies and yet now apparently has the same 20-something billion-dollar deficit? Unfortunately, Fed Up! doesn’t answer that question.

Whether you hope Fed Up! is the blueprint to our state’s ostensibly impending secession from the Union or a primer on how to be a relatively low-paid elected official for decades yet still bank some big money, you will have to settle for rather predictable advice on how to host a Tea Party.

Even at a party, nothing brings people together like hate, and Perry hates The Feds. Although I was distracted by his frequent digressions about how The Feds should be doing more and spending a whole lot more money on things like exploring outer space, deporting people from our space, and anything remotely related to using guns, I’m still pretty sure his intention is to argue that The Feds should do less with less.

Along the way, Fed Up! does a decent job of cataloging fiscal abuse by all sorts of folks. Indeed, no one should argue with one of the book’s themes: corruption is bad. To his credit, Governor Perry takes time to point out that during the W. Bush presidency, Republicans treated themselves to more ear-marked pork than Democrats ever have: all corruption is bad. But corrupt politicians are not why Perry is fed up.

When you look at the numbers (and trust me, he is looking at the numbers), you realize that he is fed up with children, the poor, and the elderly. They are all so damn needy! The problem is apparently not what we should do about these folks; the problem is how to get rid of our expensive federal social services programs. Because he clearly understands that our Constitution can often mean whatever we want it to mean, Governor Perry turns to the Constitution for help.

More specifically, the book intends to suggest a “constitutional” relationship between the states and the federal government that would prohibit the federal government from engaging in anything like what we today call Medicare or Social Security. However, Fed Up’s complaints with the federal government reveal a pattern: Perry can always find room for big federal power in our Constitution when he likes the policy in question. For example, although the constitution only modestly provides a federal power to “establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization,” Perry complains that The Feds are not doing and spending nearly enough to deter, fence out, find, arrest, prosecute, punish and deport illegal aliens. The Constitution doesn’t say a whole lot about Mars or space satellites, but Perry also complains The Feds are not doing and spending nearly enough on NASA. As another important example, we learn that Perry approves of and does not dispute the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act. His method of interpreting the federal/state relationship under our Constitution can be similar to my method of art criticism: “I know what I like.”

In fact, Perry himself succinctly points out that, on pretty much everything that really matters, the Constitution is, shall we say, flexible. One example Perry uses is public schools and race. He points out that at various times in our history the assignment of kids to a particular school on the basis of race has been (a) permitted, (b) forbidden, and (c) required by the Constitution, though the words of the Constitution never changed. Unfortunately, he ignores the imprecise nature of many critical aspects of the Constitution whenever it suits his overall argument. As a result, he seems constantly prepared to claim something is “constitutional” or “unconstitutional,” as if such a pronouncement should be conclusive as to the merits of any public endeavor. Of course, as we’ve just seen, he has already recognized for himself that our history teaches us such pronouncements regarding “constitutionality” are themselves too often nothing more than subjective, policy-driven opinions.

Fed Up! should remind or alert anyone of the possibility of radical action by our courts — i.e., Social Security and Medicare (or at least significant aspects of them) and other large public efforts such as federal education programs being declared unconstitutional. Sound crazy? Well, I’m pretty sure Perry believes most of those sorts of programs are unconstitutional, and, as Fed Up! points out, he only needs to convince five other guys.

Listing the powers of the federal government, Fed Up! notes the power to provide for the common defense. Of course, that’s not entirely what that provision of the Constitution says. It says: “provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.” From our first assembled federal government, our elected officials and judges have wrestled with the imprecise boundaries of the General Welfare Clause. If Fed Up! sincerely wanted to “foster a nationwide conversation” about our Constitution and national efforts to provide for children, the disabled, the unemployed, the sick, and the elderly, the book should have begun by, at the very least, expressly acknowledging that the General Welfare Clause exists.

When the Supreme Court gets ready to declare that the federal government has no right to meddle with health care, retirement, or education, why not respond with the Common Defense Clause? If all of our would-be soldiers are too sick or already dead (no health care), too busy caring and providing for their grandparents (no Social Security), or too stupid to drive a new-fangled jet or tank (no education), who is going to defend us?•

Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington

by Rick Perry

Little, Brown and Company


240 pages

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