WASHINGTON, September 3, 2012 — There’s a new theme emerging in the established media. The theme is simple: Tea Party conservatives don’t know what’s in the Constitution.
First the media tried to demonize the growing Liberty movement as radicals. When that failed, the left created the Occupy Wall Street movement to provide a counterweight. OWS fizzled. Then they proclaimed the Tea Party dead. It’s clearly not. Now this.
An early instance of this new tactic was a YouTube video in which someone with a camera asks Constitutional questions of people at a Tea Party rally. It’s like a Jay Leno man-on-the-street interview except that it’s not — it is targeted. With Jay, sometimes people get the right answers. Not so in this video. It aims to make Tea Party people look like idiots. But consider this: What did the videographers do with the correct answers? Did no one get it right?
A recent Washington Times/JZ Analytics poll aimed to find out what people really knew about the Constitution. Analyzing that poll, writer Stephen Dinan proclaimed, “Embracers of the Constitution are baffled by what’s really in it.” The poll reports that people believe there are rights in the Constitution that aren’t really there. To be fair, what the poll really says — and Dinan reports — is that Tea Partiers don’t know the Constitution any better than other Americans.
The question highlighted by the poll is what rights are in the Constitution and whether Americans, Tea Party types or not, know what they are. Here’s the problem with that question: the Constitution itself doesn’t contain a list of the people’s rights. In short, it’s a trick question.
The purpose and content of the Constitution is to describe the form and functions of the federal government. It says what that government may do and what it cannot do.
Where are the rights of the people in the Constitution? That was the critique of the anti-federalists at the state ratifying conventions in 1787. As a result of those conventions the Constitution was ratified but twelve amendments were proposed.
Ten of those were enacted by the First Congress; they are the Bill of Rights. Those amendments guarantee some specific rights of the people by denying the government the ability to take them away. Just to make sure, the Ninth and Tenth Amendments state that the powers not specifically given to government are retained by the people or by the states.
Those rights are not in the body of the Constitution, they are in the Bill of Rights. Contrary to what Progressives think, those rights are not ours by virtue of being or not being in the Constitution. They come from Nature and nature’s God, and that’s not in the Constitution at all, but rather in the Declaration of Independence.
As Tea Party Constitutional conservatives know, rights given by government can also be taken away by government. Our natural rights precede government; they cannot be legitimately be taken away.
The 1936 Soviet constitution gave its citizens a list of rights. These are civil rights, as opposed to natural rights. They included collective social and economic rights such as the right to work, rest and leisure, health protection, care in old age and sickness, housing, education, and cultural benefits. Freedom of religion was also guaranteed.
In practice, of course, the rights were conspicuous by their absence.
Everyone had a job, but the joke was “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.” Everyone had health care but it was crude by U.S. standards: the sort of thing we can look forward to if Obamacare isn’t repealed. Only a very few churches remained open and only old women could risk being seen going into them. When government guarantees your rights, you get what the government decides to give you.
Interestingly, President Roosevelt proposed a Second Bill of Rights in a January 1944 speech. He said that we needed those government-guaranteed rights because we were not equal enough in our pursuit of happiness. Those rights included employment, with a “living wage,” freedom from unfair competition and monopolies, housing, medical care, education and social security.
Perhaps FDR’s list is why Progressives believe that a right to education is in the Constitution when it is not. If you wonder where modern Progressives get their ideas, look no further than FDR’s list. If you think the list looks a lot like Stalin’s 1936 list, it does.
Since our Constitution was written, there have been other lists of rights drawn up as well. In every case — whether it is the British Bill of Rights or the French Revolutionary Declaration of the Rights of Man — those rights were guaranteed by government and with a change of government comes a change of rights.
What we have in this country is unique.
It is the Constitution that rules, not the Congress, not the president, and not the Supreme Court. The government must obey the law no less than the people. When government does not obey the law, it loses its legitimacy.
Constitutional conservatives know this fact, even if we all don’t have every word and phrase of the Constitution memorized.
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