Rick Perry Believes in a Liberal Conspiracy Against the Constitution

In his recent book Fed Up!, the new Republican front-runner found treason everywhere

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Texas Governor Perry gestures during the Republican presidential candidates debate in Tampa / Reuters

Anyone who disagrees with Rick Perry is part of the Big Conspiracy. Ben Bernanke is "treasonous." Climate scientists are scamming grant money. Supporters of Social Security aren't wrong, or confused, or simply reasoning differently than Perry -- they are telling a "monstrous lie." 

So it's not surprising that Perry's view of the Constitution is conspiratorial as well. At Monday's tea-party debate, he was asked about his statements in Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington that Social Security is and always has been unconstitutional. He said he'd rather talk about current matters than "spend a lot of time talking about what those folks were doing back in the '30s and '40s."

But in the book he does just that. It turns out that the last century has been -- well, a conspiracy, a plot by progressives, liberals, and sinister Supreme Court justices such as Anthony M. Kennedy, "who wakes up each day basking in the glow of the power to swing the Court."  (Note that even as conservative a figure as Kennedy is not simply mistaken, or of a different opinion -- he must have evil motives.)

This vast conspiracy stretches back a century. First, "the American people mistakenly empowered the federal government during a fit of populist rage in the early twentieth century by giving it an unlimited source of income (the Sixteenth Amendment) and by changing the way senators are elected (the Seventeenth Amendment)."  This was a brilliant success for conspirators whose "idea of change is to exploit fear in order to exercise greater control rather than watching to see where the American imagination takes us."

According to Perry, there actually was some kind of Depression, but the government's response was not compassion or an attempt at recover; it was another plot.  "An arrogant President Roosevelt and an emboldened Congress saw the opportunity to use a crisis to expand Washington's influence," and the result was not jobs and hope for millions, but further steps toward dictatorship.  No result of his treason is more damaging than Social Security, "a crumbling monument to the failure of the New Deal" that we have "been forced to accept for more than 70 years now."

Fed Up! represents Perry's claim to be a constitutional thinker. Readers must judge for themselves the elegance and force of his logic. But after reading the book, a fair-minded reader of Fed Up! might easily conclude that by the time Rick Perry gets through preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution, there will hardly be one clause left standing on another.

Perry's constitutional preservation begins with a deletion and an insertion. First, the deletion: As Perry reads the Commerce Clause, it doesn't include the word "commerce." That word may be in the Clause, but it doesn't mean "commerce" if that involves "the states' 'purely internal affairs'"--a restriction that is not in the original text.

The insertion comes in the Tenth Amendment.  That provision, he says, provides that "all powers not specifically granted to the federal government are reserved to the states and to the people."  That is, of course, not what the silly Amendment says.  The word "specifically," isn't there--nor is "explicitly," or "expressly" or any other of the words of limitation "Tenthers" try to sneak into it.  James Madison, the author of the Bill of Rights,  explained that it had been left out  because "it was impossible to confine a government to the exercise of express powers, there must necessarily be admitted powers by implication."  But if you just look at the Constitution as if it said "specifically," you realize that any regulation of health care, labor, the environment, or pensions is completely unconstitutional.

The next reform comes in the role of that nest of traitors, the Supreme Court. "[W]e allowed the Supreme Court and its lower courts to assume a role not envisioned for them by the Founders.  We allowed them to become policy makers by judicial fiat."  When did that happen? Remarkably enough, it was not during the Gilded Age, when the Court aggressively invalidated any federal or state regulation of the economy.  That was a glorious time by and large, where the Court used its role "as the guardian of the rule of law and of our most basic founding principles."  Things went south only after the Court began to approve laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act and Social Security.

Presented by

Garrett Epps is a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He teaches constitutional law and creative writing for law students at the University of Baltimore. His latest book is American Justice 2014: Nine Clashing Visions on the Supreme Court.

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