First Principles

In search of the Unified Theory of Conservatism

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Ignorant Liberal Attacks on the Reading of the Constitution Show Why It Badly Needed To Be Read

January 8th, 2011 · 2 Comments

The Constitution is not a difficult document to read, or even to understand.  Sure, there has been much debate over the years.  But in the last 80 years or so, much of the debate is not about what it means, but about how to get around what it means without actually amending the document.

But now the gig is largely up.  Americans are waking up to the fact they they still live in a country with a Constitution which limits what the government can do, and are using it as the shield against government overreach that it was intended to be.

The liberal response to this is to alternatively sneer at “fetishizing” the document (to read an understand a law is now supposed to be akin to an embarrassing sexual predilection?), or to “explain” how the Republicans just don’t really understand what the Constitution really means.  In doing so, they fall into one of two categories:  The shamelessly dishonest, or the criminally stupid.  (Some even try for both.)

Most of the sneering comes from the dishonest allegation that the Republicans “left parts out.

Having decided to spend their first moments in power proclaiming their devotion to the Constitution, Republican leaders might at least have read the whole thing. The part, for instance, where slaves “bound to service” are counted as three-fifths of a person. The part where fugitive slaves cannot gain their freedom by escaping to a free state. Or the part where ordinary citizens do not actually get a direct vote for their senator.

The problem with this accusation, of course, is one of tense.   Republicans read the Constitution AS IT IS, not as it once was.  They read law, not history.  The infamous “3/5ths of a person” provision is no more part of the Constitution than the 18-year-old drinking age is part of the Nevada Revised Statutes.

And what does it say about “progressives” that they are so focused on looking backwards at the extinct bad instead of the existing good?

And then there is this gem:

When they chose to deliberately drop the sections that became obsolete or offensive, and which were later amended, they missed a chance to demonstrate that this document is not nailed to the door of the past. It remains vital precisely because it can be reimagined.

NO, NO, NO!!!

The Constitution doesn’t get “reimagined,” it gets AMENDED.  That’s how it works.  The amendment process is in there, and it has worked 27 times.  There are actually several different ways to change it even, if it needs changing.  But what’s not an option is to close your eyes and simply “imagine” it to be different.  Otherwise, there is not point whatsoever to writing it or any other law down in the first place.  Of course, then we have liberals trying to pretend their code words don’t mean what they actually mean:

Ignoring the three-fifths compromise also stands in diametric opposition to the pragmatic idea that the Constitution is a “living document” that follows the trajectory of Americans’ hearts and minds.

Wrong.  In reading the current version, the Republicans did exactly what the liberals accuse them of not doing – they showed that part of the brilliance of the document is that it can and does change.  No actual conservative thinks the Constitution is above amendment or beyond improvement.  (I, for one, would like to see an amendment clarifying and re-limiting the Commerce Clause.)  But we understand that the process matters, and that changing the nation’s legal framework should take more than, well, the mere imagining of an oligarchic elite.  And we also understand that when liberals say “living document,” they mean they want it to mean something it doesn’t, and don’t want to have to get the American People on board to change it legitimately.

Do Believers in the Constitution Think Women Aren’t People?

Apparently so, if you read this dishonest little hit piece:

Here we have a perfect example of what’s so very wrong about so-called originalism, the theory Scalia claims to follow. The idea is that the Constitution should be interpreted according to its authors’ original intent, no changes allowed.

Maybe he will explain that because he thinks the Constitution is stuck in the era when it was written, married women have no legal existence. Perhaps he will tell Bachmann that the Constitution offers no protection against laws that would keep her at home under her husband’s wing.

So many strawmen.

Nobody, no Originalist certainly, and definitely not Antonin Scalia, thinks that the Constitution is “no changes allowed.”  It’s just that there is a process to make those changes that should be followed.

And if you actually read the interview from Scalia, his point is that you don’t need to change the Constitution to keep up with society.  That’s why you have things called legislatures and other things called statutes.  And he further points out that we have done exactly that.  Just because the Constitution allows us to do stupid things doesn’t mean we HAVE to do them.

Only a mind-numbingly ignorant understanding of the Constitution would think that if the entire Court was made up of Scalias, that women would somehow be back in chains, figurative or otherwise.  It’s an indictment so hysterical, so illogical, and so dishonest that it makes a more powerful argument in favor of the Originalist philosophy than any coming from an actual adherent ever could.

A Sacred Document

One of the criticisms was that it was being read like a “sacred text.”

As if we should not revere a set of laws so enduring, one that has created the most free, most prosperous nation in the history of the planet.   But reverence isn’t the same thing as worship, and I fail to see how the line was crossed.  The Constitution is extraordinary, but definitely sets up a secular government.

But the philosophy that underlies the Constitution is not without its divine component.  The rights it is designed to protect (as opposed to granting) are rights our Founders believes we were “endowed” with by our “Creator,” and thus were beyond the reach of any legitimate mortal government.  I happen to think that’s a good thing, and it’s worth remembering from time to time.

It certainly is better than the alternative, which sees human as mere cogs in a societal machine, some of which can be eliminated in order to form a more perfect society


I’m glad the Constitution is being discussed as the structural document it was meant to be.  For far too long, we have simply ignored the document and its limits on what government is (or at least should be) allowed to do, to the detriment of our nation and our liberties.  I have new hope that now that it’s being seriously discussed once again as a restraint on government, the wisdom of it’s foundational philosophy will become apparent to all.

To that end, I appreciate the weak and lame arguments attacking the Constitution and the Conservatives who stand behind it.  The contrast serves the cause of liberty nicely.

Tags: Constitutional Law