Eliot Spitzer used his last day at CNN to take a shot at cable news and decry the debt ceiling debate as a "new low for American politics" – although he himself was embroiled in an ugly scandal as governor of New York only three years ago. And he made sure to include a lengthy Constitutional conversation with two of his favorite guests, liberals Fareed Zakaria and Simon Schama.
Schama, a professor of History at Columbia University, has criticized the Tea Party's reverence for the Founders' "infallibility," and snorted that they believed the Constitution to be "quasi-biblical revelation." The Columbia University professor wrote in a June 26 Newsweek piece that "True history is the enemy of reverence."
Zakaria, as NewsBusters reported, has insisted that the Constitution needs to be updated to the 21st century. The CNN analyst has especially found fault with the Second Amendment – which he derided as a "grammatical mess" – and with the "undemocratic" state representation in the Senate.
Both guests joined Spitzer for a liberal conversation about the Constitution – and a gripe session about what needs to be changed. Spitzer, no friend of the Tea Party, set Zakaria up to criticize their interpretation of the founding document. "So, the Tea Party's invocation of the Constitution – is it ahistorical?" he asked. "Does it misinterpret, at its essence, what this Constitution has been for the entirety of our nation's history?"
Zakaria praised the Tea Party's reverence for the document, but added that they have an overly-simplistic, "monolithic" view of the Constitution. "It really is this brief document that allows you to fill in the blanks over the last 222 years, filled with disagreements from the Founding Fathers onward," he noted.
"And so the idea that you can magically say the Constitution says this, and it – you know, people keep saying, well, what would Madison have said about modern drug policy, what would Washington – I mean, who knows? The world they knew was so different."
Simon Schama agreed that the Framers themselves did not agree on everything, and called for not an official Constitutional convention, but a "convention of debate" about how the Constitution should be interpreted.
A transcript of the segment, which aired on July 6 at 8:46 p.m. EDT, is as follows:
ELIOT SPITZER: So, the Tea Party's invocation of the Constitution – is it ahistorical? Does it misinterpret, at its essence, what this Constitution has been for the entirety of our nation's history?
FAREED ZAKARIA, host, Fareed Zakaria GPS: Well, I think that they are right to recognize that America is unique and that it has, at its core, not a blood and soil nationalism, but a document, a document about political ideas. And we should cherish them and we should debate them. But where they're wrong, I think, is in thinking it points in any one simple monolithic direction.
It really is this brief document that allows you to fill in the blanks over the last 222 years, filled with disagreements from the Founding Fathers onward. And so the idea that you can magically say the Constitution says this, and it – you know, people keep saying, well, what would Madison have said about modern drug policy, what would Washington – I mean, who knows? The world they knew was so different. But, of course, you have to -- you have to, you know, whether you call it modernize it or interpret it differently, of course you have to do that.
SIMON SCHAMA, History professor, Columbia University: There is one very good thing I think that could happen out of the Tea Party obsession with the Constitution. I agree with Fareed that when we're talking about what the framers had in mind, we're talking an extremely polarized debate amongst them. The good thing that could happen would be, I think, since we are now faced with a moment in American history when there's radical polarization, there are two halves of the country who have unutterably, incommensurably different views about what the federal government should be, let us have – not literally a constitutional convention – but let us have a great convention of debate on that very subject – because sure as hell, we will not get it in the election next year.
ZAKARIA: For example, I mean, I don't think Americans think about the fact that the Constitution has also left us with some very peculiar situations. We think we're the most democratic country in the world, right? But we have an upper house now, the Senate, that is probably the most undemocratic, the most unrepresentative upper house in the world.
SPITZER: Because of the allocations, to state the obvious, each state gets two votes regardless of how many – 36 million people in California, half a million in Wyoming.
ZAKARIA: Right. So if I were to say to you that people who own property should have 72 votes for every one vote that people don't, you'd say that's crazy. But people in Wyoming have 72 votes for every vote that a Californian has. It's in complete violation of one man, one vote. And it's in the Constitution.
SCHAMA: Dick Cheney's obviously responsible for that. (Laughter)
SPITZER: Well, let me end this fascinating conversation by observing that the debate about the Constitution and the education about the Constitution that we all need is precisely what, I hope, folks get by listening to you to understand the historical roots of what is a much more subtle, organic document than the wooden, monolithic and linear document that they hear about so often. I hope we get that. All right. Folks, thank you so much. Fareed, Simon, always great to have you here.
Two of the most erudite people you can ever have a conversation with. What a joy to be with them.