Saturday, August 7, 2010


Constitutional scholars walking streets and packing heat claim that they must exercise (use or lose) their Second Amendment rights. So they demonstrate their defiance of Obama’s alleged intent to take away their guns. Their proof: the only gun law which Obama has signed permits guns in national parks and monuments. They perceive an insidious ploy here: a fake-out to lull gun-owners into a false sense of security, then snatch their guns when they fall asleep—a paranoid perception perhaps inspired by the re-make of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

Such Constitutional sages claim that their larger effort is to protect themselves from an over-reaching federal government threatening to take over the country and enslave its “real Americans.” They see the recent federal law to ensure that most Americans have access to affordable health insurance and thus medical care as the first shot in this attempted take-over, a clear and present danger to the not so unified states of America. They urge court challenges, state nullification, state militias, and succession. Most of this talk arises in former confederate states or states settled mainly by Southerners. It looks like the South is trying to rise again.

They want their country back, without the demographic changes long emerging, now evident, in the modern world. They want to turn back time and rewrite history. They want to return to imagined original and presumably unambiguous, unalterable meanings of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights only. However, their originalism overlooks that the Founding Fathers were not originalists! For the Constitution establishes a Supreme Court and provides for amendment. Our Constitutional sages also hoot and holler about liberty, freedom, and, recently, that “Christian nation” thing. Left out: democracy.

For some, democracy has never been popular. Yesterday, they liked a franchise limited by property qualifications, poll taxes, or literacy tests. Today, they prefer voter deception or intimidation, impediments to voter registration, and allegations of voter fraud. For others, democracy is popular when they equate the demos to white folks. Since the Civil Rights Movement, many have feared that laws abolishing segregation, promoting integration, implementing affirmative action, and ensuring voter rights have diminished whites and enhanced non-whites as citizens.

Eventually, their logic of original intent will drive these retro-Constitutionalists to try to restore that fractions-of-a-person thing. Their argument: the Constitution recognizes male whites, Indians, and “three-fifth” types; since it does not mention slaves, this fraction applies to all non-Indian people of color. Their assumption: the “demos” is predominantly male and white, and American democracy is white male rule or it is not democracy. So Constitutional originalism is code-word talk expressing modern racism, sexism, and xenophobia. In fighting “big government” and the modern world, these Constitutional retro-fitters advocate infringement, denial, or repeal of amendments extending Constitutional rights, including the vote, to racial minorities and women.

Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican senatorial candidate, preceded several Republican senators in advocating amendment or repeal of the Fourteenth Amendment, which defines citizenship and extends the Bill of Rights to the states. He approves property owners’ rights to deny food or lodging to minorities (would Jews need to wear yellow stars?). Party debates over immigration and civil rights reveal Republicans deliberating whether they support racist, sexist, and xenophobic doctrine—or representative democracy.

Republicans continue acting in support of “democracy” as white rule. They were for a democracy of all people until, with the election of a president of color, they realized that white people will no longer prevail in their circumscribed democracy. Facing long-term defeat, they offer unprecedented disrespect to an elected president and obstruct his legislation even before he proposes it in the hope that it and he will fail and thereby create an apparent example of black incompetence and inferiority. They fabricate: he is not a native-born citizen, so not qualified to be president; he is socialist, communist, fascist, or anti-American; he is a Muslim, the Anti-Christ, or God-knows-what-else. Race comes first; states’ rights, second; country, third; the Constitution, whenever, if cooked to convenience.

Of course, Republicans deny racism in their party; indeed, they accuse those who note its recent history of racism of being racists themselves or playing the “race card.” The GOP’s Andrew Breitbart is the epitome of this strategy. But the facts affirm many Republicans’ prejudice and animosity toward people of color. She whom many much admire left a Hawaiian college because, says her father, she felt uneasy amidst so many of “them.” Without her tacit appeal to “real Americans” who are fellow racists, Palin would be the answer to a Trivia question.

John Boehner’s “hell no you can’t” congressional speech expresses Republican fear that the Constitution as it is works against Republicans and that “We the People” are not who we were. Republicans are right: the Constitution we have amended; the People, enlarged and diversified. Responses to these changes reveal those who have flip-flopped on democracy and those who believe in the Constitutional rule of a reconstituted and reinvigorated demos.

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