Thursday, January 06, 2011

Rights and the Constitution

In 1991 Reason Magazine interviewed Nadine Strossen, the newly elected president of the ACLU. At one point they asked her about gun rights and the second amendment. She began by talking about the meaning of a "well regulated militia" but then added:

Putting all that aside, I don't want to dwell on constitutional analysis, because our view has never been that civil liberties are necessarily coextensive with constitutional rights. Conversely, I guess the fact that something is mentioned in the Constitution doesn't necessarily mean that it is a fundamental civil liberty.

In other words, the ACLU has its own definition of civil rights. The Bill of Rights and the Constitution are simply tools to be used but they are imperfect. The ACLU would pick and choose the parts that it supported and ignore the parts that it did not agree with.

Does this sound familiar? Is there any chance that this attitude is widespread among the progressives?

That would explain why a simply reading of the Constitution in the House of Representatives would send them into such a tizzy. Dahlia Lithwick of Slate refers to it as a fetish. She in turn links to this piece by Robert Parry which refers to the "Tea Party's myth-based assertions". You would think that a straight reading of the Constitution would dispel any myths about its contents. Instead it is Perry who makes a number of myth-based assertions about the Tea Party and it's goals. The Tea Party has a low regard for George W. Bush but Parry seems to think that he is making a killer argument when he cites (or invents) constitutional abuses by Bush.

The New York Times ran an editorial yesterday complaining the reading:
The empty gestures are officially intended to set a new tone in Washington, to demonstrate — presumably to the Republicans' Tea Party supporters — that things are about to be done very differently. But it is far from clear what message is being sent by, for instance, reading aloud the nation's foundational document. Is this group of Republicans really trying to suggest that they care more deeply about the Constitution than anyone else and will follow it more closely?
In any case, it is a presumptuous and self-righteous act, suggesting that they alone understand the true meaning of a text that the founders wisely left open to generations of reinterpretation. Certainly the Republican leadership is not trying to suggest that African-Americans still be counted as three-fifths of a person.
You would think that critics of the reading would want people reminded of the 3/5s compromise since it showed that the document was not infallible and needed future amendment (note - amendment, not reinterpretation).
But, to answer the first question, yes, this group of Republicans is trying to suggest that they care more deeply about the Constitution. The fact that the Democrats refused to justify the constitutional justification for the individual mandate proves that. It also proves that the modern Democrats care more for advancing their agenda than for working within constitutional constraints.
Like the ACLU, the Democrats have been picking and choosing parts of the Constitution in order to advance their agenda. Now that some Republicans suggest that they should respect the entire document they are screaming bloody murder.

Update: Then there is this from the Washington Post which is just mean.

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