This weekend, hordes of political activists will gather in Daytona Beach for a tea party convention whose slogan is “Victory 2012 Begins with You.”
The tea party has never been shy about what it stands for: reduced taxation, a love of country, and living under a government that operates within its constitutional boundaries. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, since they arrived on the scene in early 2009, the tea party movement has drawn attention to a very important issue plaguing our country: the fact that America has lost sight of the constitutional principles upon which our nation was founded.
It’s uncertain whether any of the presidential candidates will make an appearance in Daytona this weekend (after all, they spent the majority of September here participating in two debates, the American Conservative Union’s CPAC-FL and the Presidency 5 straw poll). But with 29 electoral votes, Florida plays a crucial role in next year’s race.
Winning here won’t be easy. According to the recent census figures, Florida is already a majority-minority state, in which the percentage of non-Hispanic white residents has fallen below 50 percent. The real challenge the GOP nominee faces is convincing voters that he or she has a plan for keeping the state, and the nation, unified, even as its makeup drastically changes. The founders created the U.S. Constitution to serve as the common glue that holds our nation together. If the candidates are serious about beating President Obama next year, they will start talking more about their understanding of and respect for the Constitution and how that document would guide them in addressing the challenges of today.
Up to this point we’ve heard very little from the candidates about how the Constitution informs their governing principles and how it shapes their solutions to getting America’s fiscal and political house in order. If they made this pitch, Florida’s voters would be ready to listen. Voters here have a common stake in preserving the nation’s future; a future that, unless dramatically changed, looks bleak.
Americans on the whole are faced with a federal government that has overextended itself. It is a government that is heedless to its core functions, operating beyond its means and outside its constitutional limits. Over the last year, the Heritage Foundation has traveled around the country educating citizens about one solution. Saving the American dream is our recipe to fix the debt, cut spending, and restore prosperity. When we’re on the road, we hear the same message from the people we meet: It’s time to raise the stakes and demand that those running for office start discussing the issues voters really care about.
Despite PR blunders and poor debate performances, the presidential candidates are already addressing what could be considered several constitutional and fiscal issues: health care, education, Social Security and immigration, to name a few. These topics are certain to be at the center of the general election debates between Obama and the GOP nominee, so it is necessary to frame them as constitutional matters.
The candidate most likely to win is the one who understands those principles and whose message applies their meaning to today: a message that says it’s time for the federal government to get out of the way of its citizens, to let the marketplace create competition and growth, and to reintroduce the concept of limits on government intervention.
Could it be the candidates are listening to the voters this time around? Over the last several months, the various players have issued calls for the federal government to step aside, leaving decisions on education, health care and immigration enforcement up to the states. This is a good first step. Our Constitution defines the government’s core functions, but more importantly, it sets limits on government.
As Florida’s tea partiers gather this weekend to debate the issues, candidates running for office next year should keep in mind they owe it to us all to engage in an open and honest discussion about the role of the U.S. Constitution in governing and leading our nation in the 21st century.
Elizabeth Lincicome is the Southeastern regional media associate at the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in Sunshine State News