Monday, October 25, 2010


The title of this post is meant to be provacative. But it is also true. Let's start with a simple idea and one really that cannot be legitimately disputed: Anyone who tells you they know what "The Founding Fathers" were thinking and that they have some inside track as to what they believed is lying. Plain and simple.

Anyone with the least bit of common sense can see that. There is just no way that anyone can say that they know clearly and unequivically what "The Founding Fathers" thought or wanted, because anyone with the least bit of common sense would notice that there is just no such thing as a monolithic group called "The Founding Fathers." So when you ascribe to "The Founding Fathers" this singular vision for what the United States was and should be, you are just lying out your ass because that never existed.

This is particularly troublesome for conservatives who seem to believe that they have some direct spiritual tie to "The Founding Fathers" and that they know exactly what TFFs wanted, just like they know exactly what God wants and everyone else is simply wrong. But, point out to them that the statement they cherry-picked from, say, Thomas Jefferson is not consistent with other statements Jefferson may have made, and they will state that 1) Jefferson never said that, 2) if he did he didn't mean it, and 3) you're nothing but a Nazi for pointing out that Jefferson contradicted himself.

Recently, for instance, that renowned Constitutional scholar Christine O'Donnell went to absurd lengths trying to deny separation of church and state. Leaving aside her hapless reasoning that it is not a tenet of The Constitution because the phrase as written is not directly written there, the Conservative Never Ever Right came to her defense arguing that she was not claiming that The Establishment Clause - the very first line of the First Amendment - was not there (she did, actually), but that her interpretation of The Constitution was an originalist one, and that those damn Liberals thought so little of TFFs that they would argue that 200 years worth of legal precedence had greater meaning than TFFs.

Now, we're talking Christine O'Donnell here, and let's face it, she has no idea what an originalist interpretation of The Constitution is. But let us discuss the idea of an originalist interpretation - just what does that mean exactly? That we should accept The Constitution on its face as complete and immutable? I doubt you will find many minorities who will willingly give up their right to vote so that we can have that originalist interpretation reinstated, conservative or otherwise. Yes, I know, that was granted by amendment and the only way to change the law of the land should be by amendment only - or so say conservatives, but only when it is not them doing the changing of the law.

For instance, conservatives never bring up the fact that The Constitution of the US was and is a compromise document, the most egregious example of that being the 3/5ths Compromise. Are we to ignore that? James Madison - The Father of The Constitution - placed within The Constitution a compromise which made a black man worth 3/5s of a white one. But, I hear conservatives shouting, he didn't mean it! We fixed it later through amendment! We gave blacks the right to vote through amendment! True, eventually The Constitution included the right to vote for all men and women, but the change didn't come because the Original Constitution allowed for it. It came because of the struggle and sacrifice of individuals willing to fight for it. An originalist interpretation of The Constitution would have kept out voting for all minorities forever.

And on the other side of the coin, we have Coroprate Personhood. The same conservatives who argue that we should follow their originalist interpretation of The Constitution - those very same folks who shout about how those damn Liberals are making up the law as they go - they will defend to the death this concept of corporate personhood - that somehow a corporation has the same rights as an individual, but with none of the responsibilities of the individual. This idea of Coroprate Personhood which came into being because a law clerk added a word which shouldn't have been added to a decision - THIS! Conservatives will defend as right and proper!

Madison - The Father of The Constitution - feared Democracy. Jefferson believed in a small agrarian society. Both men were dead set against having a standing army. Patrick Henry was supposedly a money-grubbing little worm of a man who barely passed law exams. Washington was a wealthy land-owner who wanted more than anything to keep his patrician's place. Thomas Paine and Aaron Burr wanted all able-bodied free men and women to be able to vote. There is no originalist interpretation of The Constitution. TFFs didn't know exactly what they wanted when it was written. Stating that it should remain static because you believe you know what they thought and what they wanted and that you are somehow right while everyone else is wrong is just the most appalling act of hubris.

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Blogger Rayfield A. Waller said...

In only a few (relatively few) words you nail down several misconceptions, conceits, and lies about the constitution, the concept of constitutional/legal precedent, and the concept of 'originalism'. I used this as a handout for my history students at Wayne State University. It caused heated debate, confusion, and in one specific case, outrage (the outraged student is a young republican--and to balance the sheet, the confused student calls himself a democrat; isn't that revealing, George? The Republican rages, while the Democrat is confused).

I assumed you would not mind non-profit educational use of your words, excluding republication, with no editing or alteration of your original composition. I plan to use this post into the forseeable future whenever we read and try to understand The Declaration of Independence in class, and when we discuss corporate personhood.

I've been too busy to read (no New Yorker, no NYTImes, no literary journals and no sci fi for the past few months--only grading papers and reading google news--yuck.

I'm glad to get back to reading you!

Ray Waller

10:26 PM  

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