AP’s Ben Evans waxes partisan and ignorant on Constitution
In a curious piece published by Ben Evans of the Associated Press (AP: Republicans Wax Hot and Cold on Constitution), Republicans are portrayed as having less respect for the United States Constitution than do Democrats. It could be Evans has noticed one of the prime grievances the Tea Party has with RINOs (Republicans in name only), or it could something less impartial.
First, Evans portrays Republicans as inconsistent on their professed respect for the venerable document and by the end of the piece it seems their only interest in amending it is political posturing. Of course, with Democrats wanting fewer changes to the Constitution (27 proposed amendments, compared to the 42 proposed by Republicans), apparently the reader is supposed to conclude that when Congressional Republicans speak of honoring the constitution and of being “strict Constitutionalists” that this means the entire documents is sacrosanct and it not to be touched. The truth is, today there are problems not only with what has been done to the core of America’s laws in the letter, but also in the spirit.
If this news story were to mention the concern about RINOs, one of several concerns that unify the Tea Party movement, the report would be refreshingly thorough. But, alas the only picture we get from this story is that Republicans are pandering, opportunistic, hypocritical politicians, while Democrats are utterly honorable. Then there is that one little detail about the Constitution that the GOP is not given credit for: the amendment process is part of it too.
The founders wrote extensively about the Constitution and their reasoning for crafting it the way they did, as well as government in general. For example, the Federalist papers address the delicate balance of power between the people, the states and the federal government (Federalist #63). Many Americans don’t know that the Senate was originally appointed by state legislatures, not elected by the people. The 17th Amendment changed this, and in doing so also fundamentally altered this fragile balance. Conservatives generally contend such change damaged that balance, and that it needs to be restored as it was originally. One need not “divine” the intent of the founders to ascertain their plain position on the matter, as if the founders never described their concerns and thoughts in writing other than the Constitution itself. And with that historically isolationist attitude of those who denigrate “original intent” as something that has to be “divined” we have seen the Constitution morph into something very unlike what it was originally.
As already mentioned, the endeavor to repeal the 17th Amendment is not “picking and choosing” what portions of the Constitution are consistent with the original spirit. The amendment process that is part of the Constitution is a perfectly legitimate means of changing it, since the effort is to restore what conservatives believe is a fundamental and vital aspect of the brilliance of the original American concept of self government. But this issue of the 17th Amendment also shows that change is not necessarily good, thus the right wing endeavor to undo this change.
And what of the 16th Amendment, which permitted Congress to tax personal income? Most conservatives today would argue the federal income tax gives the federal government too much power. Do they have to “divine” Thomas Jefferson’s opinion on this issue?
“To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.” — Thomas Jefferson, letter to Joseph Milligan, April 6, 1816
“A wise and frugal government… shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.” — Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801
But amending the Constitution is not the only way the law of the land has been effectively changed. While the language has changed via the amendment process, there is also the interpretation of the Constitution that seems inconsistent with the original intent of the men who invented the United States. Can anyone show me where the words “a wall of separation between church and state” appear in the Constitution? They don’t. But rather than follow the explicit language in the First Amendment, that the free exercise of religion shall not be infringed, it appears that now “freedom of religion” has been interpreted to mean “freedom from religion”, with innumerable examples of its free exercise being not only infringed but repressed by our government. If hosting religious services in the Capital building was sound practice in Thomas Jefferson’s day, how is that now our Constitution supposedly requires the prohibition of prayer on the steps of the Supreme Court? This was not accomplished by conservatives, but by progressives in the name of tolerance or religious neutrality.
And if Muslims have a right to build a Mosque only a few blocks from Ground Zero in New York City (criticizing that attempt is in no way arguing they don’t have such a right) then I must protest in favor of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, whose efforts to rebuild their church crushed by the falling World Trade Center have been thwarted. One could argue their “right” to practice their religion has been infringed. Or how about the Bronx Household of Faith, a Christian group who has been denied (for 15 years) the right to rent public building space on weekends.
For generations, progressives (among both major political parties) have challenged the right of the people to defend themselves by trying to reinterpret the second amendment to their liking. Only recently has the Supreme Court made a definitive ruling on the matter, but even that isn’t enough to settle the issue for many on the left. Somehow the clear meaning of the second amendment has been lost among progressives, but at least we can channel Thomas Jefferson on this issue:
“No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms [within his own lands or tenements].” – Thomas Jefferson, draft statement for the original Constitution of the State of Virginia, not included in the final Virginia Constitution as adopted).
Is there any language in the Constitution explaining that killing unborn children is a right? Of course not. But, again, this is an issue of interpretation of the Constitution which progressives (among both major political parties) tend to support, while conservatives (among both major political parties) generally oppose.
One major issue uniting patriotic Americans (those who love the country for its virtues, not those who think paying taxes or that acknowledging only our country’s sins is the mark of a true patriot) is the idea that the federal government can do anything it pleases is utterly inconsistent with what it means to be an American. Do we have to “divine” our founders’ original intent on this?
“Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated.” — Thomas Jefferson
“I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.” — Thomas Jefferson
“With respect to the two words ‘general welfare,’ I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.” — James Madison in a letter to James Robertson
In 1794, when Congress appropriated $15,000 for relief of French refugees who fled from insurrection in San Domingo to Baltimore and Philadelphia, James Madison stood on the floor of the House to object saying:
“I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” — James Madison, 4 Annals of Congress 179, 1794
“[T]he government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects. It is not like the state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.” — James Madison
Statements like these are why the political right argue our federal government is ignoring (not merely misusing or misunderstanding) the 10th Amendment. The Progressive/Socialist agenda pushing for government control over an ever increasing degree of the lives of the American people grades against the clear intent of our founders. Representative Pete Stark (D-CA) probably best reveals why there is such concern about progressivism in the United States:
Those of us saying universal health care, or many other federal government programs, are unconstitutional are not saying that because we “don’t like” those programs. We say such things are unconstitutional because THEY ARE! I know of no one suggesting the income tax is unconstitutional, but I have heard people say it should be (which why they also argue the 16th should be negated by another amendment). The push for ever increasing government power is perpetrated by progressives, Republicans and Democrats alike. It is conservatives, both Republicans and Democrats, who push back against this totalitarian wave. By the way, to support the Constitutionally consistent idea of “limited government” is, by definition, NOT anti-government, which is a term used by much of the main stream press and progressive politicians to criticize the Tea Party movement.
But evidently there are somethings permissible for constitutional scholars to “divine” about original intent:
(Virginia) Sloan said that while some proposals to alter the Constitution have merit, most are little more than posturing by politicians trying to connect with voters.
“People are responding to the politics of the day, and that’s not what the framers intended,” she said. “They intended exactly the opposite — that the Constitution not be used as a political tool.”
Ms. Sloan is right that the Constitution is not supposed to be used as a political tool. However, many calls for changing the constitution today are not political posturing (at least not by grass roots citizens) but are a reaction against previous alterations or interpretations that many Americans feel were more political posturing than anything else (such as the 18th Amendment, which abolished alcohol in the United States, and then the 21st Amendment which repealed the 18th, or the distortion of the freedom of religion into the authority to quell religious expression).
It seems this news report on the GOP’s gripes about the Constitution is also an instance of political posturing. In the current political climate there is a growing desire to do something about illegal immigration (for those of you who get your news primarily from the main stream media, the conflict is not over immigration at all, only over illegal immigration – those who break the law by thwarting our admittedly problematic immigration system). Is it just coincidence that progressives in government are working to grant voting rights to criminals who’ve lost the right to vote, as well as to illegal immigrants who never had it in the first place – with polling data indicating such new voters will likely support the Democrat Party? I suppose the record breaking levels of kid-napping (a federal crime) in the state of Arizona is just a meaningless talking point. Or how about the influx of increasingly violent drug activity migrating from Mexico into bordering American states, and the increasing financial burden of entitlement programs providing government aid of all sorts to “undocumented workers” who apparently don’t pay into the federal income tax system (if they did, they’d be “documented” workers)? Is having your state government in a perpetual state of bankruptcy a good idea?
Granted, the GOP is in flux these days. Progressive Republicans disagree with conservative Republicans on many issues. Conservative Republicans are mocked and ridiculed endlessly in the main stream press while progressives are largely called “moderates” and spoken of in more favorable terms. I think Mr. Evans is right when he notes the apparent hypocrisy of the progressives in the GOP, those who support progressive abuse of the Constitution on one hand but pontificate about respecting it during an election year. But this news report is an ostensible attempt to thwart any change to the 14th Amendment before it gains much momentum. It is no coincidence that the automatic citizenship provision of the 14th Amendment is being exploited for financial gain by many illegal immigrants currently residing in the U.S. Nor is it a secret that illegal immigrants, and the millions of Americans perpetually dependent on the federal government for their own personal handouts, support Democrats more than they do Republicans. The concern of bankrupting the nation is not a mere political talking point; it is a real and legitimate concern for millions of Americans. This is why grass roots conservatives speak out against the automatic citizenship provision of the 14th Amendment, it is not an “anti-immigrant” concern, it is a concern over the numerous government benefits involved which we all have to pay for, to the point of our economic collapse. Professional politicians griping about the same issue may or may not be as sincere. Too bad the hypocrisy of journalists pretending to be impartial doesn’t get more coverage.