Liberals Angry That Conservatives Revere Constitution
In a recent article, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne whined that “For too long, progressives have allowed conservatives to monopolize claims of fealty to our unifying national document.” He goes on to talk about how conservatives and TEA Party-types walk around with their pocket Constitutions and cite its passages in defense of their political positions, and declares it is high time that liberals use the Constitution to rebut conservative political arguments.
Reading the article, I was reminded of a recent debate with a liberal friend who was blasting the Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, saying that it was setting a dangerous precedent to allow people to exempt themselves from laws based on religious objections, in this case “denying” women of their birth control. In response, I asked him to cite the passage of the Constitution which guarantees women the “right” to taxpayer-funded birth control. He responded by saying that the Constitution is not the only source we rely on to determine what government can and should do.
Actually, that is the ONLY thing that we can rely on to determine the proper role of government.
And therein lies the massive gulf between the conservative and liberal understandings of the Constitution. Liberals see the Constitution as a “living” document which can be amended by judicial interpretation to bring it more in line with societal and cultural preferences, a document infinitely malleable with endless interpretations.
Conservatives, on the other hand, see the Constitution as the solid, immoveable foundation of American law, unchanged by the shifting winds of society’s fickle tastes and intemperate, momentary desires. The Founders created this incredible document with a deep insight into human nature, and the political successes and failures of past forms of governments. They understood that it is the nature of men in power to acquire more power, so they gave us three branches and two levels of government, and created a power struggle between each so that any encroachment on power by one branch or power would trigger a vigorous defense (theoretically) by the branch or level being encroached upon.
They also gave us an amendment process in order to change the Constitution as the times required, but made the process intentionally laborious and of necessity only accomplished by obtaining a wide consensus from each of the several states. In this way, the foundation would stay secure, and every person could easily understand the law and stay within its bounds.
President George Washington, speaking to the Congress during his Farewell Address, perfectly captured the danger of justifying the amending of the Constitution by interpretation, saying, “If in the opinion of the people the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates, but let there be no change by usurpation; for though this in one instance may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit which the use can at any time yield.”
If that did not provide sufficient clarity, Thomas Jefferson elaborated on the proper interpretation of the language of the Constitution, declaring in an 1823 letter to William Johnson that “On every question of construction carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”
This idea of an unchanging (or rarely changing) Constitution, greatly offends liberals, who believe that their beliefs and morality are superior to everyone else’s and should not be unnecessarily encumbered by something so mundane as the consent of the less enlightened masses. This is exactly why liberals rely so heavily on the judiciary to accomplish through the courts what they cannot accomplish through the legislative process.
Yet in doing so, the left creates a dangerous dynamic, effectively strangling the legislative process which, though ugly and messy and full of vituperations and accusations, slowly but surely brings about compromise and consensus, which is critical to building respect for the law.
Liberals often say that the Constitution as the Founders envisioned it is out of date and irrelevant to our day, often citing the 2nd Amendment as an example. They say that the 2nd Amendment should be repealed or drastically curtailed because the Founders, who won the Revolutionary War with muskets and cannon, could never have envisioned a day when citizens had access to semi-automatic handguns and rifles, which can fire bullets as fast as you can pull the trigger.
By that same logic we should repeal the free speech provisions of the First Amendment, since the Founders could certainly never have envisioned radio and television, much less email, blogs, the internet, Facebook and Twitter, and all of the other ways we have to communicate now.
Yet all of that misses the greater point, which is that the Constitution, which has governed our nation for nearly two and a half centuries (and which can fit on a pocket-sized pamphlet, as compared to the Internal Revenue Code, which is the length of ten King James Bibles), is brilliant in its simplicity. It doesn’t have to delve into technology and cultural changes because it is based on an understanding of human nature, which has not changed for thousands of years. Man is still driven by ambition, love, greed, enlightenment, envy, and general self-interest. The Constitution accounted for these factors and devised a form of government which minimized the ability of man, whether individually or under the false legitimacy of large groups, from injuring one another.
The Constitution which is amendable through interpretation by a judiciary that supplants its political philosophies for the unambiguous language of the original document is not a foundation of granite, but of gelatin, providing no consistency for those it would govern. Herein lies the wisdom of the strict constructionist interpretation of the Constitution.
So to my liberal friends, I join in with Mr. Dionne in the call for you to become better acquainted with the Constitution. If there are portions of the Constitution you feel are no longer relevant and need changing, make the intellectual and moral case for it in the court of public opinion, and then let it be manifest through the legislative amendment process. But please, stop using the judiciary as an unelected oligarchy which imposes its will on hundreds of millions of Americans.