When Did It Become Okay for Conservatives to Piss on the Constitution?
I’m not sure precisely when it happened, but nowadays it seems that the defining feature of the far-right conservative movement is an obsession with unconstitutionality – and what an ugly, revealing obsession it is.
Begin with abortion, a classic right-wing infatuation. For movement conservatives, much of the abortion issue revolves around the notion that a crooked, too-big-for-its-britches Supreme Court condoned baby killing through Roe v. Wade. (That’s why in 2007 John McCain said the decision should be overturned in order to curry favor with the Christian Right). True, pro-lifers oppose abortion on moral grounds, but many of them also argue that Roe v. Wade is unconstitutional and should be stricken from the books. As they see it, the Roe decision is a prime example of “liberal activist judges” who “legislate from the bench” and corrupt our nation’s founding principles.
This isn’t news, of course. But fast forward to more recent measures, such as health care reform – different words, same tune. Conservatives want to overturn reform , with top Republican leaders in the House backing a repeal of the law – in part because the individual mandate baked into reform (which requires people to purchase health insurance) is, you guessed it, unconstitutional.
In the case of health care, it’s not the Supreme Court, but rather Congress, that has supposedly overstepped its bounds. That’s two major progressive wins of the past few decades branded as unconstitutional. But why stop there? According to far-right extremists, you know what else is supposedly unconstitutional? The Census. U.S. membership in the United Nations. Also, Social Security. And the 14th Amendment (!).
In crazy right-wing activist world, anything remotely progressive is condemned as unconstitutional, whereas something like Proposition 8 is completely kosher – even though Prop 8 was recently stricken down as unconstitutional in federal court. Similarly confounding is the fact that limiting freedom of religion – as evidenced by some of the more radical comments surrounding the Ground Zero mosque controversy – appears to be a-ok in conservative land. But the Census? Totally fascist!
Reforms don’t even have to be recent to be rebranded as unconstitutional by mega-conservatives. After all, Social Security passed in 1935, and the 14th Amendment in 1868. Which begs the question: how far back were the “good old days” to which conservatives want us to return, exactly? Back to a British colony?
The hubbub among conservatives over the constitutionality of the 14th Amendment – which expands the definition of citizenship to incorporate everyone born or naturalized in the U.S., and reaffirms the rights and privileges of U.S. citizens – is particularly alarming. Back in the 19th century, the amendment was passed to give blacks citizenship after the Civil War by overriding the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision (which stated that blacks could never be American citizens). It’s stipulations of due process and equal protection were meant to protect the welfare of blacks because at the time, many Southern states were enforcing “Black Codes” to restrict ex-slaves’ basic freedoms. In short, this is an amendment rich with historical and moral meaning. The 14th Amendment captures our institutions’ capacity to redress wrongs and expand freedom. Yet here are House Republicans, sponsoring a 2009 bill that violates the amendment by advocating the deportation of immigrant children born on U.S. soil. Deporting people born in the U.S. without due cause is clearly unconstitutional. But once again, because it’s politically desirable to conservatives, the Constitution suddenly becomes irrelevant.
Enough is enough. Playing politics with the Constitution is dirty pool. The foundational documents of the United Stats are not props. But as conservatism gets more conservative – and Republican leaders gravitate rightward to grab votes – right-wing politics has become increasingly fixated with self-serving claims of unconstitutionality in order to further its own aims and strike down progressive successes. This perversion of the Constitution for naked, political self-interest is alarming – and is really and truly a trend among modern conservatism, even beyond the cases I’ve mentioned here.
Here’s what I say: for a bunch of self-professed patriots, these conservatives are being downright un-American. Seeking to curtail civil liberties and religious freedom while rolling back health care, womens’ rights, and citizenship? That’s not why my parents came to this country. The U.S. was not build on hypocrisy, paranoia, and regressive thinking. So to the Tea Partiers, the House GOP, and the rest of the extremists that sacrifice our national spirit for the sake of conservative messaging: don’t piss on my Constitution and tell me it’s raining.
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