Back to the Constitution?

I recently ran across an “open letter” to conservatives which said, “Right now, liberals are waging an all-out assault on our nation’s founding principles at the polls, in the courts, in our culture, and in academia…” The letter went on to urge conservatives to fight to return government to the principles of the Constitution.

My first thought was to dismiss what was clearly a rhetorical attack on “liberals” designed to get conservatives to contribute money, but then I got to thinking about the phrase, “our nation’s founding principles.”

What were some of those founding principles?

Besides the ones everyone cites, such as freedom of the press, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, separation of church and state, trial by jury, there are a few others that “originalists” and conservatives tend to overlook.

Some of those “founding principles” so often overlooked by so-called traditionalists include: (1) limitation of the right to vote to white males, and usually to white land-holding males; (2) slavery; (3) additional voting power to slave-holding states, and particularly slave-holders, because for purposes of representation, each “other person” (i.e., slave) counted for 3/5 of a person; and (4) the selection of senators by state legislatures.

Do these “conservatives” really want to go back to slavery and limited white male sufferage? And if they don’t, what do they mean by “founding principles”? Perhaps to a balanced budget? Except the Constitution doesn’t enshrine anything like a balanced budget, and conservatives for years have been pressing for just such a Constitutional amendment.

But if these conservative originalists believe in going back to the original principles, why are they proposing any changes? Or are they just talking about changes they believe are in accord with those principles?

Even the Founding Fathers believed that times would change; that’s why the Constitution itself provides a process for amendment and change.

All of which suggests that the “conservatives” aren’t really interested in original Constitutionalism, but in a highly selective version of our nation’s founding principles. I don’t have a problem with them choosing principles based on their belief about which are most important; but I do have a problem with them representing what they want as being in accord with the Founding Fathers and excoriating those who see differing principles as the most important as being traitors to the Constitution.

I also have a problem with Americans who swallow such misrepresentation, because it shows that they really don’t know what’s really in the Constitution and don’t care enough to learn… or to call out politicians who engage in such misrepresentation.

10 thoughts on “Back to the Constitution?”

  1. shannon says:

    Critical thinking skills are in short supply across the electorate. I’m in Texas and one of the candidates claims to defend the Constitution. I haven’t heard of anyone trying to repeal it. Also, he claims he defends the Second Amendment. There is no credible attempt to repeal the Second Amendment, to my knowledge. Many people would like to change the interpretation, but that is not nearly as appealing to the base and certainly doesn’t fit in a tweet. My personal favorite, which doesn’t relate to the Constitution, are the signs that say “Keep America Safe, Vote Republican” as if fellow citizens are trying to destroy it. There are many more ambiguous or misleading slogans, and I’m sure the left has them, too, but those are the ones I see most frequently.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      The left, and especially the far left, is (in the view of many, such as myself) trying to destroy anything resembling western capitalist society with limited government. They give every appearance of wanting unlimited, absolute power, all needs met via government, universal basic income (why work, if you can get someone else to?), the sick notion that we’re in no way superior to third world dictatorships, etc. And of course they’d really like that absolute power to be worldwide, not based on anything so distasteful to them as nations.

      If that perception is even partly true, they are dangerous.

      Not all of them are trying to do it by rioting or shouting down those of different views from themselves; but their leaders are pandering to those that will; by comparison, the folks Trump panders to are more like a bowling league of beer drinkers than anything radical.

      Oh, and yes, I’d like to see the 17th Amendment (direct election of senators) repealed. Senators were meant to represent the state governments, not be representatives-at-large. That change throws a lot of things out of balance. For all that the states are provincial and often corrupt or racist, they’re still _supposed_ to be somewhat sovereign, at least up to the point of the most egregious abuses. The whole world is supposed to be provincial – communities and regions and nations, not some sort of impossible global homogenized society (except the left doesn’t even want that, they want a chunky mix as long as it marginalizes western culture and tradition).

      So is it really hyperbole to declare that the left is either treasonous/evil or dangerously ignorant? I don’t think so; I think it’s entirely too justified.

      1. Frank Raymond says:

        Setting up the “extreme” Left or Right as the litmus test of whether Liberalism or Conservatism is worthwhile is sophistry.

        Somehow, we as a culture, have to resurrect compromise and civility from the jaws of this rhetoric and introduce some common sense back into government and our national discourse.

        I can believe that our borders should be protected and effective without being a Nazi. I can also believe that we need to work on healthcare, both as a cost and as something that should be universally available to our citizenry (like clean water)…without being a communist.

        I don’t think I have all the answers, nor have I heard of ANYONE ELSE who has…but the tone and direction of national politics is wrong, distasteful and increasingly becoming the message instead of the medium.

        1. R. Hamilton says:

          While not all Democrat voters or local candidates/officeholders are extremists, most of the Democrat federal candidates/officeholders and candidates IMO are extremist, in a way that most comparable Republicans are not.

          The notion of parity or “balance” between moderates is lovely; but that’s not what we’ve got right now.

          1. Frank says:

            I’m not suggesting, nor would I anticipate, parity between any groups. What I am talking about is that we should be able to discuss our opinions, and therefore our differences of opinion(s), with some amount of civility and mutual respect. If that could occur…which it did, not so long ago…then we could more easily understand the bases of those disagreements. What I continually pick up is that both extremes are dogmatic, finding “the other side wrong” as a knee-jerk, and then putting their arguments together to fit the conclusions already drawn.

            I don’t think this a panacea or “magic bullet” that will fix all our problems, but it would make the chore of trying to fix the problems a lot more tolerable and, IMO, present the best (or at least better)context to attempt to find middle ground.

            As LEM has so often stated, these problems are complex and won’t be solved by sound bite sized answers. Based on that, it seems reasonable to infer the answers will probably be somewhat complex, and having both extremes (Left and Right) playing the current game of hyperbole, “oneupsmanship,” and wrapping the entire argument into a 30 second or less sound bite…isn’t working.

            I find this blog more conducive to learning than listening to the political “news.” Maybe that’s because of the people involved…or maybe it’s because it’s hard to talk over someone in writing…food for thought.

          2. I have to disagree here. I find most “comparable” Republican candidates and office-holders are as extreme as those on the Democrat side. The fact that you do not may be more representative of your views than of the views of those Republicans. There’s a certain degree of subjectivity involved.

  2. Hannibal says:

    “There are many more ambiguous or misleading slogans, and I’m sure the left has them too..”

    Nope. Just from the Reds.

  3. Tom says:

    I thought that I could not understand the Republicans demands about the US adhering to the Constitution because they were referring to the “Confederate Constitution”.

  4. kiv says:

    I generally understand “the principles of the Constitution” to mean Natural Rights and a Federal government with well-defined, limited powers.

    The Constitution itself is a political document, and thus a compromise.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      I agree, assuming “natural rights” to mean rights that are inherent such that government may recognize or deny them, but does not create them, and is exceeding its authority if it denies them. The usual metaphysics (of a Creator superior to all human authority) simplifies that notion, but is not strictly necessary for the utility of the notion, namely that government that violates “natural rights” is not legitimate.

      And also assuming that “natural rights” includes not having obstacles OTHER THAN ability to pay (preferably without favoritism) placed in the way of obtaining the necessities of survival, but does NOT include having them guaranteed regardless of ability to pay. For government to say that selling food to a certain class of persons is illegal, would be wrong; but to say that government must ensure that everyone has food is NOT required.
      (That does not deny the desirability of voluntary PRIVATE assistance to those in need, nor some public obligation to those injured in the line of duty while in public service.)

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