Calling the Tea Party's bluff

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

Last week, I endorsed a couple of ideas that riled up the reactionaries:

1) Anyone who opposes federal funding of National Public Radio should be forced to listen to it, and

2) Tea Party members should be required to take a test on the U.S. Constitution.

Judging by the responses, my comments warrant further explanation.

One person wrote, "You choose to get your news from PBS, I choose FOX. My source is able to survive without tax support, yours demands that I finance opinion that I disagree with. How is that fair?"

I've seen FOX, so I know it's biased. But I'm betting most conservative critics have never listened to NPR shows like "Morning Edition" or "All Things Considered." If they did, they would know that NPR has very little, if any, perceptible bias. They've been listening to Republican rhetoric too long. That's why NPR's opponents should actually tune in to judge for themselves. You can catch Morning Edition at 91.5 FM from 6-9 a.m. and All Things Considered from 4 to 6:30 p.m.

Some may think any news outlet that doesn't reinforce their biased view must, by necessity, be biased in the opposite direction. But that just isn't true. Really, listen to these shows some time. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by how informative and even-handed they are.

The other comment bragged that "my score on the Constitution test would beat the pants off of yours." Possibly so, but I wasn't proposing a competition. I've never pretended to be a constitutional expert — in contrast to Tea Party members who present themselves as know-it-alls. Since they seem to look down their noses at the rest of us, I just thought we should call their bluff.

Tea Partiers also fancy themselves spokespersons for the founding fathers. They toss around quotes such as, "The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself," attributed to Ben Franklin, and "The issue today is the same as it has been throughout history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite," attributed to Thomas Jefferson.

The problem, as Thomas Frank demonstrated in this month's Harper's magazine, is that neither statement, nor anything close to it, was ever uttered by either man. If Tea Partiers misquote the founding fathers, how reliable could they be on the Constitution?

Yet they act as if they can divine the framers' "intent." It's right there in the words, they lecture us, if only we took the time to read them. So I looked at the wording of the Second Amendment, which begins, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State ..." and I see their point. If the founding fathers were concerned solely with the right to keep and bear arms, they would have skipped that entire opening clause. But they went to all the trouble of including words like "well regulated." If you buy into the "originalist" philosophy, you have to assume the framers had a specific intent in mind. Clearly, then, the right to keep and bear arms was intended to be "well regulated."

The Tea Party also seems to overlook Article V of the Constitution, which states that "the Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution ..." Evidently, the founding fathers did not intend this document to be set in stone. Instead, they made provisions for it to change and evolve. That is not the impression given by the Tea Party — or by its wholly owned subsidiary, the Republican Party.

As I said, I'm no expert on the Constitution, but if I could submit one question for a test that would verify the Tea Party's undying devotion to our founding document, it would be this:

"What are the 15 most important words in the Constitution?"

Give up? In my humble interpretation, it would be the first 15 words:

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union ..." Notice that they didn't say, "We the founding fathers ..."

Judging by their demonstrated passion for divisiveness, I'm guessing most Tea Party members would come up with some other answer. The Tea Party wants to freeze this country in the late 18th century. But I believe the "intent" of the framers was that "we the people" should keep striving — together — for an ever more perfect Union.

One last thought: Given a choice between Tea Party "experts" and our current president, who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago, who would you rather have interpreting the Constitution?


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Posted: April 9th, 2011 9:48 PM

Ken- if you admit you didn't know the true meaning of the word teabagger, it just proves you aren't really all that well informed and knowledgable about what you are talking about. Maybe you should have actually interviewed a Tea Party member rather than sit back and insult, stereotype, generalize, and speculate. Unless, of course, you were afraid that they would make you look foolish, although you seem quite capable of doing that all by yourself.

Violet Aura  

Posted: April 9th, 2011 11:40 AM

The point of my remarks was to announce that I think they are all full of excrement, that to denounce the Tea Party is a big mistake because it takes the focus off YOUR party's failures (and in this case, I refer to Dems). The so-called "achievements" of Congress during the first two years underwhelm me. Most of that stuff was just trying to avoid total collapse. And the health care bill? Make me laugh and then puke. Not. good. enough. I hope Bernie Sanders runs in 2012. We need Socialism!!!

OP Resident  

Posted: April 9th, 2011 10:55 AM

Sadly, the military-industrial complex came out a big winner at the same time. There was a big increase in US arm sales to foreign nations and the Defense department's budget grow 3% and totaled $685 billion. That figure does not include funding for our nuclear weapons program or Veteran's Affairs. We've now spent more than $1 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and have 30,000 wounded vets. The 111th Congress did little to address the military madness.


Posted: April 9th, 2011 10:20 AM

Actually, I disagree that the 111th Congress "didn't accomplish much.". Even with the Republican obstruction, they still managed to pass fair pay, credit card reform, extend SCHIP, extend unemployment insurance, tax credits for first time homebuyers, and of course, health care reform.

OP Resident  

Posted: April 9th, 2011 9:59 AM

The Founding Fathers myth ignores the fact that they favored big government. Their plan was to protect the interests of the wealthy landowners, slave owners and manufacturers. The Tea Party campaigned on financial reforms but has since been exposed for it's radical social agenda.


Posted: April 8th, 2011 11:40 PM

No, Ray, the Senate Dems never had a 60 vote majority. To begin with, there are two Independents. There is also the fact that Sen. Franken wasn't sworn in until July of 2009. Then Sen. Kennedy died and was replaced with Scott Brown. There are a couple things that i am forgetting, but the gist is that there was never a Dem 60 vote majority.

Ray Simpson from Oak Park  

Posted: April 8th, 2011 10:56 PM

Violet, Sorry but you are ignoring or you forget that for 2 years Dems had 60 votes in the Senate. Filibuster proof and still didn't get much done. Budget was never brought up because they were afraid to record a vote.

@Violet Aura  

Posted: April 8th, 2011 2:06 PM

Absolutely there were reasons why nothing much was accomplished in Congress in Obama's first two terms! It's called the filibuster, and it was applied without hesitation by the Republicans in the Senate, with the complicity of certain Blue Dog Dems, to prevent any such accomplishments.

Daniel Foley from River Forest  

Posted: April 8th, 2011 1:45 PM

While reading the print article I was very surprised to see the phrase 'Tea Bagger' used in a family paper. What struck me is that Mr. trainor seemed to spike his usual dribble about how liberals are somehow smarter than conservatives with steroids. If liberals such as Ken were so smart, they would have heard that phrase used by one of their many heroes on msnbc. To their credit, NPR is smart enought not to be that overt or insulting with their name calling.


Posted: April 6th, 2011 3:55 PM

Hey Ken, you mean the same president who taught constitutional law without ever having to apply it in a real courtroom?


Posted: April 6th, 2011 3:53 PM

I have read Ken Trainor's editorials (usually good for the bottom of the birdcage) and I know that he is biased.

Violet Aura  

Posted: April 6th, 2011 11:03 AM

Actually, there was a recent civics test and the highest scores were from conservatives. This jibes with my experiences, as well. As for diviseness, you have got to be kidding me! I have read all sorts of comments online by so-called liberals, who have switched the object of their scorn from Dubya to Boner & compay. Of course they neglect to look at the inconvenient truth that the first two Obama years were with a Dem-led Congress. There were reasons why nothing much was accomplished, of course.


Posted: April 6th, 2011 10:42 AM

Ken, I am a conservative and frequently listener to NPR in the belief that intelligent people can disagree. Your assertion that the programming does not have a "perceptible" bias only affirms the confirmation bias of the listener. The discussions frequently begin from a point of view that "all social programs are good, capitalism is greed, and 'tea baggers' are mean, racist, know it alls". Hey, just like your column! Hopefully you consider your piece opinion, and not reporting, as should NPR


Posted: April 6th, 2011 10:27 AM

It's interesting that the constitution test question you propose is one whose answer is very much a matter of opinion. Similarly, interpretations of the constitution will vary from person to person. The point of your letter seems to be that you disagree with the Tea Party. That's great, good for you. But why exactly should the propogation of your opinion should be funded by taxpayer dollars while someone else's should not be?

Ray Simpson from Oak Park  

Posted: April 6th, 2011 10:01 AM

PBS owns property that is very valuable. The children's programing licensing could support the whole network. Why demand tax money for a profitable venture? Debt management requires letting operations like PBS succeed or fail on their own. Obama was listed as a constitutional lecturer, yet, I have never heard anyone who has ever attended one of his lectures. Perhaps he was just "PRESENT"

Ken Trainor from Oak Park  

Posted: April 6th, 2011 9:46 AM

Actually, I'm proud to say I didn't know the sexual/slang definition of "teabagger." I'll change the text online. Don't want to distract from the real discussion.  

Posted: April 6th, 2011 9:14 AM

I'll bet if I wrote out the definition of "teabagger" this entry would get pulled. Honestly you are either ignorant or intentionlly offensive. Perhaps you get a shiver up your leg when you write or say the word? You may want to take heed from this quote from one of your latest columns on Tom Dunnington: Dunnington's philosophy of living can be distilled to a triple mantra: %u2022Make no judgments %u2022Make no comparisons %u2022Give up your need to understand.

Nelson Taruc from Oak Park  

Posted: April 6th, 2011 9:05 AM

Matt, you can't prove Obama is intelligent. No one's seen his college transcripts. However, there is evidence Obama may not be the sharpest tool in the shed: Google "Obama without teleprompter videos" and see. I like how you divert focus by injecting Palin and her kids into the mix, even though Palin's balanced more government budgets than Obama ever will.

Nelson Taruc from Oak Park  

Posted: April 6th, 2011 9:04 AM

But before the Palin haters hijack these comments, let's get back to the core issue: My open request to anyone is to recommend the best book, written by a liberal constitutional lawyer or scholar, that clearly analyzes the purpose and limits of the U.S. Constitution so I can read it. In exchange, I ask that you read "Liberty and Tyranny" by constitutional lawyer Mark Levin to understand how conservatives interpret the purpose and limits of the U.S. Constitution.

Ray Simpson from Oak Park  

Posted: April 6th, 2011 8:44 AM

When you use the pejorative "Teabagger" you need to explore the meaning of what you claim. A simple Google search will give you the reason that Tea Party supporters are so offended by your insensitive reference. The holier than thou position, you profess, isn't supported by the ignorance of your argument.

Matt from Oak Park  

Posted: April 6th, 2011 12:28 AM

I will take a single intelligent man who misspoke once yet has a firm grasp of history and the Constitution. Far better him than a group of people that do not get that socialism and communism are not the same thing. Better him than a woman who uses her children as political props and then condemns foes for commenting on them. How has compromise become a sin to the Tea Party? Purity has been the watchword for the fearful and tyrannical. Progress is made through discussion not echo chambers.

Nelson Taruc  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 11:24 PM

Mr. Trainor, to answer your question regarding your "last thought" ... I would choose the person who wasn't dumb enough to think the U.S. has 58 states.

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