Class Warfare Blog

June 27, 2016

Giving the Lie to GOP Desires for “Original Intent” Constitution Interpretations

The GOP has a desire, embodied previously in the person of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, for the U.S. Constitution to be interpreted only on the basis of what the Framers intended when they drafted the document. This, of course, ignores the numerous times the Framers mentioned that they didn’t want to tie the hands of future generations, even providing the mechanism to amend the document and which they availed themselves of immediately with ten, count ‘em, ten amendments right off of the bat!

The Southern Baptist Convention has supplied a recent form of this desire for original intent in the form of a resolution:

RESOLVED, That we strongly urge the President to nominate strict constructionist judges who seek to make decisions based on the original intent of the United States Constitution and, therefore, faithfully interpret rather than make law or impose their political views on the nation . . .

This desire is just a smokescreen or, worse, it indicates the ignorance of the speakers. Too often, people in politics are perfectly happy to let others do their thinking for them and this yearning for a country defined by the “original intent of the Framers” may be one of them.

Ironically, the actions of this age’s neoliberal conservatives is acting in direct opposition to the intent of the Framers of the Constitution. Note I said “neoliberal,” not liberal. Neoliberals are acolytes of the “Free Market” who favor privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy. This is clearly a philosophy in service to oligarchs and the already wealthy.

The game plan of the neoliberals is to diminish collective actions and thinking on the part of U.S. citizens by convincing us that we are the sole determinant of our future, that we are individual actors, not groups or a society as a whole. Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the U.K. and Robin to Ronald Reagan’s Batman (The roles might have been reversed in the U.K.), had the grace to state that idea in a straightforward manner when she said: “… there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.”

Clear enough?

Does the phrase “divide and conquer” ring a bell?

Now, contrast this approach with that of the Framers of the Constitution. The Framers educated themselves on the life cycles of republics because it was clear to them from the beginning that we would be some form of self-governing republic. They were very focused on the death throes of those republics (“Half our learning is their epitaph.” Thomas Dawes, Jr.) All of the examples of republics available to them to study were, of course, failed republics (Greece, Rome, etc.). Most of the countries around the globe in the later 18th century were monarchies with kings and queens having some form of divine right to rule. There were no grand republics to model the U.S. on, all had failed at that point. So, they studied the source of the failures and tried to protect their creation from that. The lifeblood of a republic was, in their estimation, public virtue. By public virtue, they did not mean religious virtue (which may be the source of the Southern Baptist’s confusion) by public virtue they meant this:

“Public Virtue entailed firmness, courage, endurance, industry, frugal living, strength and above all, unremitting devotion to the weal of the public’s corporate self, the community of virtuous men.”
(Novus Ordo Seculorum, p. 70, my emphasis)

If I may quote John Adams (from a letter to Mercy Warren), “The must be a positive Passion for the public good, the public Interest, Honour, Power and Glory, established in the Minds of the people, or there can be no Republican Government, nor any real liberty.” The public passion, he wrote, “must be superior to all private Passions. Men must … be happy to sacrifice … their private Friendships and dearest Connections, when they stand in Competition with the Rights of Society.”

So, the GOP, whose policies are in direct contradiction to the intent of the Framers are claiming the direct opposite. The Framers wanted us to put the needs of society over individual desires, the GOP wants you to put your and your family’s needs at the top and fuck the rest, they are on their own.

It is a Brave New World indeed!

 

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4 Comments »

  1. This part of Alex Nabuam’s 2010 NY Times Op-ed I think cogently states what you are expressing here:

    The truth is that the disputatious founders — who were revolutionaries, not choir boys — seldom agreed about anything. Never has the country produced a more brilliantly argumentative, individualistic or opinionated group of politicians. Far from being a soft-spoken epoch of genteel sages, the founding period was noisy and clamorous, rife with vitriolic polemics and partisan backbiting. Instead of bequeathing to posterity a set of universally shared opinions, engraved in marble, the founders shaped a series of fiercely fought debates that reverberate down to the present day

    And there was a rough draft of the Constitution, written by Virginia’s Edmund Randolph, where two principles were laid down “that, while they never appeared in the final report of the Committee [of Detail], seem extraordinary in their wisdom and foresight more than two centuries later”, according to Historian Richard Beeman

    1. to insert essential principle only, lest the operations of government should be clogged by rendering those provisions permanent and unalterable, which ought to be accommodated to times and events, and

    2. to use simple and precise language, and general propositions, according to the example of the constitutions of the several states. (For the construction of a constitution of necessarily [sic] differs from that of the law)

    Comment by lbwoodgate — June 27, 2016 @ 9:25 am | Reply

    • I am glad those principles got into print. Would that they have been affirmed by ratification.

      Thanks, Larry!

      On Mon, Jun 27, 2016 at 9:25 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

      >

      Comment by Steve Ruis — June 27, 2016 @ 9:31 am | Reply

  2. Love to read your post!

    Comment by Sylvia — June 27, 2016 @ 10:06 am | Reply

    • Thank you; thank you very much!

      On Mon, Jun 27, 2016 at 10:06 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

      >

      Comment by Steve Ruis — June 27, 2016 @ 11:05 am | Reply


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