In recent years, conservative Republicans have become surprisingly aggressive in shaping an agenda to change the U.S. Constitution. In 2010, we heard from a variety of far-right candidates, many of whom won, who talked about scrapping the 17th Amendment, getting rid of at least one part of the 14th Amendment, “restoring” the “original” 13th Amendment, and proposing dozens of new amendments.

And then there’s the 16th Amendment, ratified in 1913, which made the federal income tax possible. This, too, is high on the far-right list of targets, and has drawn the ire of a certain Texas governor. Greg Sargent had a good piece on this yesterday.

If I were one of the reporters covering Rick Perry’s campaign travels, I’d try to make some news by asking: Do you still stand by your proposal in your book to repeal the 16th Amendment and replace the income tax with an alternative tax system? Do you still believe your book’s claim that 16th Amendment is “the great milestone on the road to serfdom?” […]

Perry clearly states [in his book] that “we should restrict the unlimited source of revenue that the federal government has used to grow beyond its constitutionally prescribed powers.” How? Here’s what Perry suggests, in addition to scrapping the current tax code:

“Another option would be to repeal the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution (providing the power for the income tax) altogether, and then pursue an alternative model of taxation such as a national sales tax or the Fair Tax.”

The Perry campaign apparently doesn’t want to talk to Greg about this, and the candidate who allegedly never backs down suddenly no longer stands behind the book he published just nine months ago.

But the Republican presidential candidate can’t avoid these questions indefinitely — or at least, shouldn’t be allowed to by reporters covering his campaign. Indeed, the problem isn’t just Perry’s willingness to scrap the 16th Amendment, it’s also the policy radicalism behind his preferred alternative. As Brian Beutler explained this morning, the so-called “Fair Tax” plan would impose a regressive national sales tax that would necessarily “slash revenues by hundreds of billions of dollars.” Which is, of course, the point — Perry believes most of the federal government is unconstitutional and wants to see it eliminated.

David Savage has more along these lines today, outlining Perry’s constitutional worldview, which casts doubt on the legality of everything from Social Security to the minimum wage to child-labor laws.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.