Is "Constitutionalism" Replacing "Social Issues" for Grassroots Conservatives?

Conor Friedersdorf is working on an interesting project, "The GOP Speaks." He e-mailed questionnaires about the future of the Republican Party to county party chairs across the country. So far he's received 20 responses, and while a few are thoughtful and sane, a large portion claim Barack Obama is trampling upon the U.S. Constitution and laud Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh as sages.

I'm especially fascinated by this movement toward Constitutional originalism -- not just as a judicial ideology but as a rhetorical tool to claim that almost any social spending, from health care to the creation of green jobs, is un-American. A few choice responses to Conor's survey, which asks, "What is the most worrisome part of Barack Obama's presidency?" (These are the original responses, typos and all.)

Anonymous county chairperson: "The concern is Mr. Obama doesn't seem to have one check or balance put up against him. I realize that the congress and the senate are controlled by the Dem.s, but come on! Where is the outrage at the unconstitutionality of the programs he presents?! Is there anyone in leadership that stands for the Constitution? This is a very real wake-up call. (I see this week that we have some Republicans that are stepping up to the plate, Thank heavens!) This guy is pushing an unconstitutional, socialist agenda and I never see it mentioned."

Larry Toney, Pickens County, GA: "Not one but three. 1) violation of constitution; 2) weakening of national defense and a pandering form of foreign relations; 3) torpedoing the national economy in order to enhance the control by big government.

Gene Edwards: "His plan to fundamentally change the US as we know it and as it was envisioned by our founders. His contempt for the constitution."

Yvonne Dewey, Brazoria County, TX: "What about the Constitution? Czars are unconstitutional, as are government takeover of car manufacturers or other businesses. Obama has tried to intimidate the tea party attendees into silence. We are Nazis (odd choice of words for the Pelosi-Obamas); radicals, terrorists."

As I've written before, this type of thinking is clearly influenced by Ron Paul libertarianism and represents a real evolution in grass-roots conservatism. Remarkably, none of the county chairmen and women so far have mentioned abortion or gay marriage, which were so animating during the Bush and Clinton years.

--Dana Goldstein

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