Constitution scholar shares insight

Tea partiers gather in Naples, discuss role of government

10:02 PM, Oct. 2, 2011

One of the basic tenets of the tea party is a strict interpretation of the United States Constitution.

Now, just over a year away from next year’s presidential election, tea party members are making it a central subject of the 2012 campaign.

As an example, it was the theme Friday night in Naples when 22 tea partiers gathered to listen to Andrew Joppa, a college professor for 30 years who taught business and ethics and is a student of the Constitution for more than three decades.

Joppa said his classroom teaching led him to deep involvement and understanding of the Founding Fathers’ work.

“What are our characteristics? What kind of government accounts for a healthy society? I never thought it was people per se,” Joppa said.

“Our form, being the Constitution, it is who we are.”

Amid questions and statements of “How can we impeach Obama?” and “It’s time we take our country back,” Joppa offered 75 minutes of observations, personal anecdotes and hard-nosed opinions about the Constitution.

“The government was never supposed to be the large, driving horse running the country,” he said.

“Has the government far exceeded its powers? Yes it has. You can take it all the way back to Lincoln,” Joppa said, referring to how the president handled the Civil War and secession.

Joppa made a case that many presidents, both Republican and Democrat, had made decisions that were unconstitutional, yet unchallenged.

– War: “Only Congress can actually declare war.”

– Conscription: “That’s akin to slavery, isn’t it?”

– Eminent Domain: “Certainly, there is reason for the government to claim land, but they should have to pay five times more than the market value.”

– Government employees and collective bargaining: “They elect the officials and then sue them.”

Center of debate

The Constitution has been ever-present in the Republican presidential debates this year. The subject came up 45 times in the three debates, including eight times 10 days ago in Orlando. Compare that to the three debates in 2008 between John McCain and Barack Obama, when the word “Constitution” was mentioned only five times, all in the final debate.

Among the tea party’s rallying cries is the 10th Amendment, one of the original Bill of Rights, that limits federal power and is playing a starring role in challenges to Obama’s health care plan.

Event organizer Tom Macchia of Naples, founder of the Council for Constitutional Principles, said, “Unless we return to the wisdom of our Constitution, unless we shut down those politicians who are unconstitutionally buying power with other people’s money, there is no possibility that we can ever deal with the illegally created, ever expanding national debt of this great nation.”

The tea party’s outcry has spawned an opposition effort that defends current federal powers.

“Our Constitution is under attack from tea partiers and other self-professed ‘constitutional conservatives’ who have claimed the document as their own and distorted it to support their ideological agenda,” wrote Doug Kendall and Judith Schaeffer of the Constitutional Accountability Center. “Over the past two years, they have made increasingly extreme, and in some cases absurd, claims.”