Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The United States Constitution: Read it and Weep

The problem with the Tea Party's new Constitution fetish is that it's hopelessly selective. As Robert Parry notes, the folks who will be reading the Constitution aloud this week can't read the parts permitting slavery or prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment using only their inside voices, while shouting their support for the 10th Amendment. They don't get to support Madison and renounce Jefferson, then claim to be restoring the vision of "the Framers." Either the Founders got it right the first time they calibrated the balance of power between the federal government and the states, or they got it so wrong that we need to pass a "Repeal Amendment" to fix it. And unless Tea Party Republicans are willing to stand proud and announce that they adore and revere the whole Constitution as written, except for the First, 14, 16th, and 17th amendments, which totally blow, they should admit right now that they are in the same conundrum as everyone else: This document no more commands the specific policies they espouse than it commands the specific policies their opponents support.
From "Read it and Weep, How the Tea Party's fetish for the Constitution as written may get it into trouble,"by Dahlia Lithwick. Slate. January 4, 2011. Read the entire essay here.


Larry Tinsley said...

Both sides of the debate have a problem quoting the Constitution to project what they *want* to see in it instead of looking for what *is* in it.

For every "health care is unconstitutional" line I hear, there is a counter "the 2nd Amendment was for militias" or "the Constitution calls for separation of church and state." But I shouldn't need to remind that the discourse has been that way since 1790. Has something to do with that stuff Abe said.

But what troubles me about Mrs. Lithwick's essay is the participants in the debate she records. Absolutely no sources indicating any "Tea Party" authority has advanced the notions she attributes to them. Maybe they have, but we don't see it in her writing. Sort of like stuffing an 800 pound straw man to sit in the room.

James F. Epperson said...

Mrs. Lithwick is a journalist writing a column, not an historian writing a research paper. In the latter case she would be expected to source everything; in the former, she should not be expected to source things that are common knowledge. I saw no claims that twitched my antennae of doubt.

Andy Hall said...

In today's political arena, it sometimes seems that those who scream loudest about the sanctity of the Constitution often have the least basic knowledge of it. Not a differing interpretation or application of it, but being aware of the words on the page. I recently came across an example on a secessionist website that claimed the 14th Amendment -- the one that made citizens of freed slaves after the Civil War and is the basis for birthright citizenship -- is responsible not only for the phenomenon of so-called "anchor babies," but was also the basis for taking prayer out of public schools, removing the 10 Commandments from courtrooms, Roe v. Wade, and the 2003 decision that struck down state laws criminalizing gay sex. Who knew the lil' ol' 14th Amendment was behind all that?

[bangs head on desk]

James F. Epperson said...

Mr. Hall---I believe what you are describing is a simple confusion of the 14th Amendment with the 4th, which is indeed the basis for the "right of privacy" doctrine that is the underpinning for some of what you mention (although I don't see how it would apply to prayer in schools; that's a First Amendment issue).

Andy Hall said...