Misquoting, misinterpreting and misappropriating the Constitution

In many ways, the U.S. Constitution is like the Bible. It is all too often misquoted, misinterpreted and misappropriated to serve a particular political agenda or bias. When opinions are presented as facts and propaganda is substituted for truth, democracy and freedom are not served.

At lunch not long ago with local blogger and concealed weapons permit instructor Jim Connor, our conversation turned to the local tea party, where he serves as an officer.

“Why don’t you drop by a meeting? You might find it entertaining,” Connor said.

So I did, stopping by the latest gathering of the self-declared “grassroots” organization at their regular monthly meeting on a rainy Tuesday night at the Jesse Peterman Library in Floyd, joining 14 other county residents.

Amy laughingly suggested I might also want to stop by the Sheriff’s office beforehand and ask to borrow one of Shannon Zeman’s Kevlar vests. I opted instead to exercise my Second Amendment rights to bear arms along with my Virginia Concealed Weapons Permit.

Neither, of course, were needed. Except for a minor dust-up with longtime activist Joe Montague, who told the meeting that he “wondered if Doug Thompson had gotten to Wanda Combs” because the Floyd Press editor chose to trim the hyperbole out of one of his letters to the editor, I was treated with courtesy and respect. A couple of people approached after the meeting to question a story I wrote about the proposed county comprehensive plan and one suggested I “slanted” what I wrote because “you write like a liberal.”

Amy, who is a true liberal, got a good laugh out of that.

“They obviously don’t know you,” she said.

I suggested to Joe that he might want to get his facts straight before making such a statement in a public meeting. Contrary to the illusions held by some, I have no control over The Floyd Press or their editorial decisions. I am a private contractor who provides articles, photos and videos for their use. How the content I provide is used is their decision not mine and I don’t read the letters to the editor, much less influence how they might be edited.

Jim Connor has an incredible gift for understatement. A tea party meeting is not only entertaining but also educational, if you choose to define education as the dissemination of misinformation for use as political propaganda.

I’m not sure what rules govern the meetings of the tea party but Roberts Rules of Order are not among them. Vice Chairman Al Pearce ran the meeting, reading emails, offering opinions and often wandering off topic into rants about President Barack Obama, the Virginia Republican Party, United Nations Agenda 21 and other topics. Audience members jumped in whenever they wanted without asking or waiting to be recognized.

At another point, he launched into a rant about political correctness, telling the meeting that he didn’t believe in using the term “gays.”

“They’re homosexuals or queers, which is what they are,” he said.

Virginia’s Republican Party, Pearce declared, is engaged in a “conspiracy “to assure former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney the GOP nomination for President. Gov. Bob McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling head up this conspiracy, he says, and its all part of a grand plot by the national GOP to grease the skids for Romney.

Pearce told the meeting that the Republican Party, not state law, kept Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry off the primary ballot this year. He also said it Republican party rules, not state law, prohibits write-in ballots “in Republican primaries.”

Both statements are wrong. Virginia election law sets the rules that require a specified number of signatures from each Congressional district. It also prohibits write-ins in primary elections. The law applies to both Democratic and Republican primaries. The Virginia Republican party simply enforced state law in denying both Gingrich and Perry spots on the GOP primary ballot because they failed to collect enough signatures in each of the existing districts.

Pearce passed on other misinformation, including the claim that the county will put meters on private wells to limit the amount of water that can be pumped for residential use. No such plan exists nor has one even been discussed.

It’s not the first time I’ve witnessed Pearce pass on misinformation as fact. At a board of supervisors meeting last year, Supervisor Fred Gerald of Indian Valley asked for a moment of silent prayer in honor the the “National Day of Prayer” and Pearce blurted out from the audience that “you can’t do that because the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional.”

Not true. An atheist group did file a federal class action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the “National Day of Prayer.” A federal appeals court dismissed the challenge in April 2011. The Supreme Court has never considered nor ruled on the constitutionality of the law. The National Day of Prayer has been around since the days of George Washington, who first called for one. President Harry S. Truman issued a proclamation and asked Congress to make it the law of the land, which the House and Senate did in 1952.

When I asked Pearce during a break in the supervisors meeting where he heard the Supreme Court had declared the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional, he shrugged his shoulders and said “oh, on the radio today” but he couldn’t remember what show.

Pearce, as does any American, has a right to his opinion but when misinformed opinion is presented as fact it damages the credibility of the speaker and/or the organization he or she represents.

Another claim uttered by the vice chairman of the tea party on that rainy Tuesday night was that county sheriff Shannon Zeman, as a “constitutional officer” in Virginia, is somehow failing in his duty to enforce the Constitution of the United States.”

In fact, the term “constitutional officer” applies to five local government positions established by the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia, not the U.S. Constitution.

Virginia established “constitutional officers” in the Commonwealth’s first constitution in 1776 — the same year the Deceleration of Independence was signed. The U.S. Constitution did not come into existence until 11 years later: 1787.

As one of five state-mandated “constitutional officers” in Floyd County, Zeman, of course, takes the standard oath to uphold and enforce the laws and support both the Constitution the United States as well the Constitution of The Commonwealth of Virginia. But Zeman has his hands full with a rising crime rate and a crystal meth epidemic. He doesn’t have time to serve as a watchdog for the federal Constitution, particularly as it is so often misinterpreted by groups like the tea party.

In many ways, the U.S. Constitution is like the Bible. It is all too often misquoted, misinterpreted and misappropriated to serve a particular political agenda or bias. When biased opinions are presented as facts and propaganda is substituted for truth, democracy and freedom are not served.

Updated to add new information.

Enhanced by Zemanta

© 2004-2022 Blue Ridge Muse

22 thoughts on “Misquoting, misinterpreting and misappropriating the Constitution”

  1. Doug,
    In spite of the fact you weren’t rushed with group hugs and people standing in line to greet you, you are welcome to join us any time. The meetings are open to the public and no one has the authority to deny access to anyone.

    I have the very unpleasant duty of enforcing the rules and that includes insisting that civility and diplomacy are maintained. You may not be the most popular person in the room, but you will be shown the same respect everyone else deserves.

    Enjoy your day and be safe.

    Jim Connor

  2. I appreciated this post. Not because of the jabs at the Tea Party. I have no real interest in their meetings. Nothing political, just not something I have been attracted toward. But the case you make for misinformation is a legitimate and necessary. I see some very intelligent people become mislead by bad information and half-truths – almost daily. We live in a great time where information flows from all corners of the world. The opportunity for knowledge and understanding has never been greater. However, we must now train ourselves to be more judicious and even cynical in what we read. Question sources, seek further substantiating evidence, and above all use our God given common sense.

    As for the wild claims made by both the left, right, tea, coffee, and whatever else groups….this is the standard playbook. Drive up fear in those sympathetic to your views. In turn you gin up money, membership, and interest. Many would be wise to revisit the “boy who cried wolf”. The more you engage in this behavior the greater the erosion of your credibility.

  3. from the state code book

    § 49-1. Form of general oath required of officers.

    Every person before entering upon the discharge of any function as an
    officer of this Commonwealth shall take and subscribe the following oath: “I
    do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the
    United States, and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and that
    I will faithfully and impartially discharge all the duties incumbent upon me
    as ………. according to the best of my ability, (so help me God).”

  4. Casey

    That is the standard Oath of Office for all state officials and is not specific to “constitutional” offices. The term “constitutional” officer appies to the constitution of the Commonwealth, not the federal constitution. Sadly, that was not the way the position was presented at the meeting.

  5. Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia
    Section 7.

    All officers elected or appointed under or pursuant to this Constitution shall, before they enter on the performance of their public duties, severally take and subscribe the following oath or affirmation:

    “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge all the duties incumbent upon me as ……………….., according to the best of my ability (so help me God).”

    • I’m afraid I don’t understand your point here…The article above clearly states that Virginia’s Constitutional officers swear an oath to the Constitutions of both the U.S. and Virginia. I hadn’t made that clear enough in an earlier version and amended it to clarify.

      My point is that the term “constitutional officer” in Virginia applies to a position established by the Virginia Constitution 11 years before the U.S. Constitution even existed and to claim that a Virginia “constitutional officer” is a position established by the U.S. Constitution is flat out wrong.

      Without more details, it a sounds a little like you, as the new chairman of the Floyd County Board of Supervisors, are supporting the tea party perspective that the sheriff is not doing enough to provide protections under the U.S. Constitution.

      Now that would be a news story worth chasing. 🙂

  6. Oh my gosh! Casey Clinger is a Tea Party member! How did this not get reported before he was elected to the Board of Supervisors? How did this not come to light before he became chairman of the board? Where was Doug Thompson during all this? Why didn’t he dig into Casey’s past and reveal this before he amassed all this power? This needs to be investigated.

  7. Doug

    I realize your follow up post was in jest and that is how I took it. However, by the tone of the posts afterwards, it appears that other people didn’t see the smiley face at the end of your post. So… I guess I had better clarify my reasons for my post.

    As I was not at the Tea Party meeting that was the basis of your Blog, I can not say whether the fact about the oath of office was misrepresented by a Tea Party member of if it was missquoted.

    Regarding both of my posts, they were mearly ment for clarification. your original artical was fairly ambigouis as far as swearing to support the United States Constitution as well as the constitution of the Commonwealth.

    As for the matter of the Sheriff, I have nothing but respect and admoration for both the Sheriff and his Deputies. Both he, and the Commonwealth’s Attorney have had severall of the busiest years ever, with the increase in meth and the recent murders while being largly underfunded by the COMMONWEALTH. All attempts for help from the compensation board have fallen on deft ears.

  8. Tom and Shirley
    I have spoken to the Tea Party several times; I have also talked with the Teachers of Floyd County. I would speak to the Democrats if invited. In fact, I have a meeting today with the president of the local chapter of the NEA.

    The reason for my appearance that was photographed and posted on their web site was to educate them on the budget process for the county. They had invited myself and several members of the School Board but they had refused to come.

    By following your lines of reasoning, I guess everyone I meet with I will be ASSUMED as supporting. I have a question for the both of you, would you rather have an elected official that took the time to meet with anyone that asks and takes the time to answer their questions, or one that follows their own agenda and holds themselves above the ones they were elected to represent?

    • Nice try sir but I notice you didn’t answer the central question. Are you a member of the Tea Party or not? If not a member, are you a sympathizer? Or at least a carrier of the virus?

      You evasiveness strikes me as too political for my taste. I voted for you when you ran. I doubt I will do so again. I have a problem with your attempts to take the county’s banking business away from our only locally-owned bank. I have a problem with your open animosity towards the school system and its past superintendent. I have a problem with your pizza.

      I can vote for someone else next time and I like Mickey G’s pizza better anyway. But you claimed Dr. Arbogast was evasive with the Supervisors. Are you, sir, not practiciing the same kind of evasiveness with voters with your unwillingness to say if you are a member of the Tea Party?

  9. I have a bigger question for you Mr. Clinger. Why have you stabbed Sheriff Zeman in the back? By even giving the illusion that you align yourself with the Tea Party you pay lip service to their smearing of a good man. If this how you play politics? Is this how you conduct yourself as chairman of the Board of Supervisors? Stabbing the Sheriff in the back is not the kind of leadership I expect and by doing do you have lost both my respect and my vote.

  10. Oh the joys of being involved in your community. Sometimes I think it would be easier to simply sit at home instead of working to make our county a better place.
    To those who feel the need to trash elected officials I would simply say find out the facts first. This goes for all sides. I know Clinger and Zeaman to be honorable men who are working hard to make Floyd County the best it can be. I don’t understand how attending any meeting of Floyd Co citizens when invited makes someone a “carrier of the virus”, a “stooge”, a “mole”, or a “plant”. Rather when an elected official makes themselves available to the public it should be applauded. Open and available leaders produce good government. Would you rather an elected official hid under a rock and refuse to meet with anyone?

  11. Folks, let’s ratchet it down a bit. Lauren is right that appearing before a group does not make one a member of that group or movement.

    I know Casey and Lauren and I don’t think either is a member of the tea party. Both may agree with some of the issues or stances but I have talked with both at length about some of the extremes of the party and they agree that some of their leaders are lost in the ozone.

    I imagine Casey is being a good politician by not publicly supporting or disavowing any group, particularly one who can provide or cost votes. That’s not the way I would do it but I’m not an elected official nor would I ever want to be one.

    My comment to Casey was in jest (hence the “smiley”). The first downfall of any political movement comes when it starts taking itself too seriously.

  12. We wonder why good decent citizens don’t run for office very often. Forgive my bluntness, but this nonsense needs to stop. On all sides. There was a multiple comment discussion here questioning people’s character and honor. I almost forgot the accusations that county leaders are some type of puppets for an evil party conspiracy. Yet no one raised one point about why they disagree with the decisions or actions actually made by the supervisors in question. With the exception of pizza styling.

    It is wrong when President Obama is labeled because he once met with a person like Ayers or his pastor said some wild things. Just as it is wrong to try to degrade someone based on an appearance they made at a meeting in Floyd. Feels to much like fascism to me. We want leaders in this county who listen to ALL citizens – left, right, center, and yes even wacky (said with endearment) ones. Personally I love the wacky ones, they make life interesting.

    I may be wrong as I have little knowledge of the Tea Party in this area, but my sense is it is a handful of folks who get together to gripe. Nothing wrong with that. But I believe they may be made out to be a powerful boogie man, when in actuality they have trouble conducting a meeting.

    In summary, it is much easier to label a person as a “stooge” or “plant” than it is to actually engage them on an issue or matter. This is getting to be a well used trick in our political system. I wasn’t aware it had made it to the local level. The first job of a good political opponent is to define your adversary. Obama is a socialist. Bush is a dunce. Once you have them defined, you can dismiss them outright. Who in the world thinks this is productive? Give these men a chance to lead. Engage them at their meetings. Listen to their positions. Disagree when appropriate. Find common ground whenever possible. Our community will be better served.

  13. I have to admit I was absolutely stunned at the comments about this post. Moles? Plants? Spies? If I am not mistaken, the Cold War ended decades ago. Attacking people because they don’t think the same as you? I have always believed that people fear what they do not understand. We need to seek out the truth for ourselves and not take as absolutes things that are said and rumored and heresay. We owe it not only to ourselves and our family, but to our community and country.

    For those of you who are not exactly Tea Party supporters and feel they are subversive or “out there” – have you ever been to a meeting? Have you seen first hand what goes on in these meetings? Have you spoken to any members to hear their beliefs and thoughts? Do you go to ANY political meetings? It is easy to sit back and complain about how things are and how they should be, but it is not so easy to participate in the process. Take a stand! Get involved! You might be surprised at what happens.

  14. Janet:

    I too was not happy with the tone of some of the comments but I have to tell you that what I heard at the tea party meeting at the library Tuesday night was a textbook example of paranoia from people who fear what they don’t understand.

    I have attended tea party meetings and talked with the group’s leaders and members. The misinformation and claims of conspiracies and plots that spill out is startling and stretches credibility.

    If the tea party in Floyd County (or anywhere else) wants to be taken seriously it needs to stop spouting conspiracy theories about meters on private wells, United Nations plots and what not. The local party’s leaders have to stop seeing a bogeyman under every bush.

    The various conspiracies claimed at the meeting made the Cold War seem tame. It might not be a stretch for some to think the TP is capable of planting “moles” since the tone used in many of the comments sounded a lot like war with various entities, including the government, gays and God knows who else.

    Pot, meet kettle. Kettle, meet pot.


Comments are closed.

© 2021 Blue Ridge Muse