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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Set Of Beliefs : Pt. I - The Constitution

I am working on a short blog series directed at the Tea Baggers and a group called Declaration Entertainment whom believes that Hollywood - in conjunction with shadowy, foreign investors - have been launching a massive and unchecked propaganda and attack campaign designed to make Americans believe their country is "evil".

In a multi-part series hosted by Bill Whittle, Declaration attempts to show that the Tea Baggers aren't filled with radical, reactionary, or even violent, uneducated, and especially not racist, people. In point of fact, Whittle - in a rather holier-than-thou bit of posturing - attempts to portray the Tea Baggers as people of compassion and caring who have nothing but the best in mind for their country.

While I will debut the first part in my rebuttal to this marginally interesting approach to damage control next week, I have been inspired to do a bit of clarification of my own. And while this is largely predicated on a rather intense, and often heated, debate that I have been having with a friend I had lost touch with soon after he left the college he and I both attended, I should point out that what I have to say will come into play with Whittle's attempts to burnish the image of the Tea Baggers he claims to represent.

I guess I should start with the basics - the premiere Founding Document of our country: The Constitution.

There's a common misconception amongst conservatives and libertarians that liberals/progressives have nothing but abject hatred and disregard for The Constitution. This, for lack of a more apropos term, is complete and utter bullshit.

Where we, and our detractors, differ is that we - myself very much included - see The Constitution as a "living document", so did those that amended The Constitution to end slavery and grant women the right to vote. Those people knew that the socio-political time that they lived in required that our country go through what virtually all conservatives and libertarians have openly and irrationally feared sine the Obama administration was put into power - a fundamental change.

However, the interpretation of The Constitution - by all sides of the ideological spectrum - can be a very contentious issue. From the "Tenthers" to those that wish to repeal the "14th Amendment", The Constitution is - by and large - seen as more of a "living document" by the modern conservative movement and their libertarian counterparts than most liberals/progressives. I say this based on the fact that they wish to "fundamentally transform" it more than anyone.

In terms of interpretation, here is a brief list of what I feel The Constitution says about modern America.

- We are all granted freedom of speech, not freedom from consequences of said speech

- We are granted freedom of religion, and freedom from government telling us what part religion plays in our country

- We are granted freedom of the press - no matter if you are a member of Fox"News", MSNBC, or a blogger such as myself. We all have an right to ask the questions we feel are important to us from elected officials or the ordinary citizen of our country and report on them.

- We are granted freedom of assembly - even if your group doesn't agree with another. This goes back to the "speech" issue, I believe, as it is not free from the consequences resultant from your gatherings intent.

- We have the right to challenge our government, to support our government, and to rally support for or against. This freedom, just as much or even more so - considering our current socio-political climate - is filled with contentious debate and attacks that have quite literally challenged all previous freedoms listed.

- I support the right to bear arms, though I believe that stringent and realistic regulation is necessary. Any non-military personnel has no real and discernible "need" for an automatic weapon. I also believe that there should be a rigorous background check prior to purchasing a firearm or being one that sells firearms. That being said, I believe that all permits for "gun shows" should go through a multi-level vetting process, as most of the illegal firearms in America are purchased in such environments.

- To add to a previous bullet-point, I believe that church and state are completely and explicitly separate. This is, for many liberals/progressive, clear not just because of the First Amendment, but because many of the "framers" and "authors" of The Constitution were - in point of fact - not Christians. Several of these men, most notably Thomas Jefferson, wrote on multiple occasions about the separation of Church and State. Though many who do not agree with this as I do will often reference who specific states within the original union had formed their own "religion" prior to the authorization of The Constitution, it is a logical extension that government - of any level - should not venture into the realm of religion.

- And in my view that The Constitution is a "living document", I feel that recent Supreme Court decisions regarding "speech" ( Citizens United vs. The FEC ) has completely distorted the First Amendment, as I believe that money is not speech, merely a way to purchase influence. If I hold a five dollar bill in the air, it doesn't speak for me. If I give five dollars to a think tank or PAC that espouses a particular belief, I am not speaking myself, but allowing someone else to speak for me so that I may be anonymous. Essentially, I would be paying for someone else to speak louder than another, as well as removing myself from being held accountable for my actions.

The "framers" and "founders" - whom conservatives and libertarians continually reference without regard to how time directly effects life - had no idea that advances in the sciences would transform our country. They had no clue that one day people would travel through the air in planes, or move form place to place in cars, trains, cycles, or motorized transportation of any fashion. Their initial document was written to reflect their time. While it's general concept is still applied today, it was not written for the multitude of advancements that we have seen since.

To look at The Constitution from a "static" or "strict" perspective is not only foolish but short sighted.


Troy Camplin said...

My primary objection here is your false conflation of conservatives and libertarians, to which I will get in a moment. Second, I don't think that anyone would argue that the Constitution isn't living in the sense of being able to amend it. Of course one can amend it. In fact, many argue that if you want to do all the things you want to do with the government you should at least try to pass an amendment to allow you to do it first, rather than trying to justify it through bizarre interpretations of some pretty clear language (one may be able to make an argument for a "right to privacy" from the Constitution, but I cannot find it anywhere in the 14th amendment). When either conservatives or libertarians complain about the "living document" interpretation, they object to the imposition of one's ideology onto the Constitution regardless of what is in fact in the document. For example: a simple provision preventing the states from setting up trade barriers against each other -- the interstate commerce clause -- has been interpreted to allow the federal government to control every aspect of the economy (by liberals and conservatives alike). The 10th amendment is as much a part of the Constitution as the 1st -- it is a part of the law of the land, and it should receive the same level of legal respect as the rest. It is ignored because those in government do not want the people to have power (which is what it grants in saying that whatever rights are retained by the people will remain with them, even if not explicitly laid out in the rest of the Constitution).

Troy Camplin said...

Now back to the conflation of conservatives and libertarians. While one can certainly find certain kinds of conservatives who would disagree with your bullet points on the Constitution, you won't find any libertarians who would (except some of your amendments to the 2nd amendment, as libertarians would argue that if anyone shouldn't have automatic weapons, it is the government). I have seen as many liberals as conservatives demanding that there be no consequences to their speech. You typically only hear libertarians consistently arguing for both freedom of speech and consequences for what speech. I would also argue that you could not be more wrong about the issue of money and speech. From a practical standpoint, the wealthy with their wealth will always be able to give themselves a more prominent soapbox on which to stand to make their points. If you want to give them more speech than you and me, then restricting donations to allow others to speak for us is the way to do it. That has, in fact, been the actual consequence. The more restrictions we have put on money as speech, the more powerful the wealthy have become. I can't do much, but if I can get a thousand people to donate $100 to a common cause, we now have $100,000 to make our ideas more public. That's no small thing. More than this, there is no freedom of the press without money to run the presses. Money is never far from the 1st amendment, as it is necessary for much of it to be realized in the first place.

Troy Camplin said...

As for the sciences, what does an advance in the sciences have to do with governance or social order? Nothing. Except insofar as the technology developed from the sciences have often allowed our governments to be even more repressive than the Founders ever imagined, making the protections they tried to put into the Constitution more important than ever. Again, conservatives are fine with this -- almost as fine with it as are liberals (the recent TSA rules are evidence that both conservatives and liberals are oppressive, with the criticism coming from one side or the other simply because the opposition is in charge). I have heard the science argument before -- it basically boils down to the argument that we now have the technology to really rule people with an iron fist. However, complexity science shows quite the opposite: that the world is so deeply, inherently complex that it cannot be controlled or designed or ordered as the left would like for it to be. It is self-ordering, self-organizing. And this is something where liberals and conservatives are in complete agreement and in opposition to libertarians. Libertarians assert that the entire universe -- physical, biological, psychological, and social -- is self-ordering; religious conservatives and liberals agree that the world requires an orderer. The only difference between the two is that religious conservatives believe the physical and biological world required an orderer, while liberals believe the social world requires an orderer. Both are at best intelligent designers -- at worst, creationists. The only difference is that the liberals have replaced God with themselves.

aironlater said...

I'll try to address your grievances as brief as possible, seeing as how this is how I am also framing this series.

First, to say that I am claiming conservatives and libertarians are one in the same is to completely miss the point. I merely placed their names side by side, as they are - from my experiences - very much on the opposite end of the spectrum from liberals and progressives - two other groups that also differ from one another, although I placed their names together in a similar fashion. And while conservatives and libertarian ideals do dovetail on a variety of issues, I fully realize that they are exclusive groups.

In terms of language and the interpretation of such, I would think that you - as a poet - would be more open to that idea. By that, I mean I find it odd that you're insistence that simply because the words "separation of church and state" and "right to privacy" aren't explicitly inscribed onto the parchment that is the Constitution that that means you believe they don't, won't, and can't exist. Lastly, I think it is completely relevant that I should use advancements in science and technology to show that America - not just as a nation, but as a culture - has advanced beyond the Framers wildest imaginations to conclude that the Constitution has to be interpreted for a particular moment in time. After all, the basic metric for viewing a civilizations advancement is both science and technology. As an aside to your last comment, I would have to offer this - and pardon me if you find my statement overtly snarky or churlish - if you honestly think that liberals/progressives or the entire Left are either sitting on their hands or simply up in arms regarding TSA screenings based on who is in power at the moment, you really should be paying more attention.

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