SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, October 18, 2011—On the fundamental ideological battle of the day, liberals are on the defensive. They may have good intentions, but they find themselves on the losing side of the constitutionality argument.
The resurgent Right has capitalized on this major Democratic weakness.
Such an obvious vulnerability prompted a piece in The American Prospect under the title “The Constitution: a Love Story.” It reads like campy romance.
In it author Garrett Epps mocks Republicans for reading the United States Constitution at the commencement of the 112th Congress.
“The version they ordered read was, in fact, stripped of language the leadership considered “superseded by amendment,” even though those measures are still in the text. Some are embarrassing. The provisions protecting slavery, for example, call into question the infallibility of the Founding Fathers. Since one of the standard conservative talking points is that the “original intent” of the framers is an infallible guide to wisdom, the fallible parts were better left unmentioned.
Amazingly, the point of the column is to demonstrate that liberals truly love the Constitution, while conservatives want to destroy it.
That it was even controversial to suggest that Congress ought to read its authoritative document is a testament to just how dismissive liberals are of the Constitution. In contrast, conservatives have always offered it their allegiance and devotion.
Contrary to what Epps writes, nobody in the conservative movement believes in the infallibility of the framers. But American conservatism holds that the founding generation were, above all, statesmen who were able to craft a governing system that defied all odds and has stood the test of time. It has been a model for nations founded since, and a success by any standard.
It is particularly revered by the Right because it represents the bedrock principle of American conservatism: limited government. In fact, that is its main purpose– to outline what the government can and cannot do.
There is just no disputing the fact that the convention in Philadelphia sought to create a government that was stronger and more effective than that under the Articles of Confederation, but one that was still true to the principles upon which the Declaration was adopted and the Revolution fought.
It all comes back to enumerating and limiting the power of the state, an inconvenience to liberals.
In fact, a recent Pew study found that those on the Left tend to favor a reinterpretation of the Constitution. Sixty-five percent of Democrats think the Constitution should be read according to what it means today. That figure jumps to 80% for self-described “solid liberals.”
While nobody on the Right claims that there was consensus on every issue facing the American People in 1789, the liberal point of view suffers a major flaw. If it’s difficult to determine what the Constitution meant when it was written, then it is impossible to determine what it means now. At least conservatives are curious about what the founders would have thought about modern problems.
Conservatives study the Constitution because they love it, and they find wisdom in it. Liberals study the Constitution so they can figure out how to get around it.
Putting it in the rosiest terms, liberals want to solve societal problems. If the Constitution impedes them, then it means the Constitution is flawed. The conservative starts at the other end and asks, “what does the Constitution allows us to do?”
To put it bluntly, liberals wish they didn’t have to deal with the Constitution.
Yet Epps thinks they can win the day as defenders of constitutionalism:
“…one would think that progressives would flock to the banner of the Constitution. This is a fight we can win, after all; last I checked, the Constitution was reasonably popular. We have to be willing to fight the battle, though.
His problem is that liberals can’t fight the battle because their heart isn’t in it. Neither is their head. Consider his telling of the Balanced Budget Amendment, which he says, guts “one of the central aims for which the Founders in Philadelphia wrote the document.”
It might surprise Epps and other liberals to learn that the federal government did not have constitutional authority to collect taxes on people’s income until the 16th Amendment was ratified in 1913.
Again, the central purpose of the Constitution was to limit governmental power over the individual. Yet liberals like Epps don’t distinguish between the government and the People. To them, anything the government does, no matter how egregious, can be blithely excused as a product of democracy.
In this respect, Epps critique is backward. Far from thinking the founders infallible, conservatives understand better than most the faults of men, especially when given authority over another. That is precisely why they erected so many safeguards against their own power.
Ironically, while they deride the founders out of one side of their mouths, liberals preach the infallibility of the government they created.
Liberals are weak on the Constitution. If they insist on fighting the Right on that ground, it is a fight they are sure to lose.
Learn more about the author at Rich-Stowell.com.
Rich is a teacher and a soldier. He is the author of Nine Weeks: A Teacher’s Education in Army Basic Training; Tunnel Club; and Not Another Boring Textbook: A High School Students’ Guide to their Inner Conservative, which you can follow on Facebook.
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