The Sophistry of Coons’ Professed Loyalty to the Constitution

October 14, 2010

It is interesting and disappointing that so many politicians treat “faith” — at least the Christian faith — as a poison pill they cannot touch, much less swallow. Republicans often run from it because of PC intimidation, and Democrats because it’s in their DNA to do so.

There was a revealing exchange touching on this subject in the Delaware U.S. Senate debate between Christine O’Donnell and Chris Coons. O’Donnell said, “But regardless of my personal faith, when I go down to Washington, D.C., it is the Constitution that I will defend and it is by the Constitution that I will make all of my decisions, and that will be the standard-bearer for every piece of legislation that I will vote on.”

I don’t want to be hard on O’Donnell, whom I admire and support, but I think she articulated her position inartfully here, probably because of unnecessary defensiveness about the potential role of her Christian faith in her governance.

I suspect what she meant was that though she stands by her faith unapologetically, she would not permit it to trump the Constitution if there were a conflict between the two (a needless concern). I am convinced she did not mean that her worldview would not guide her legislative preferences.

The Constitution establishes parameters within which Congress can legislate and forbids it to legislate on matters over which it has neither enumerated powers nor powers arising from the “necessary and proper” clause. I assume O’Donnell meant that she would honor those constitutional guidelines but wasn’t speaking to what would guide her policy advocacy within those parameters.

For the reality is that everyone’s worldview guides his policy preferences; it would be impossible for it not to. The idea that we don’t legislate morality is a mindless mantra divorced from reality. Virtually every vote a legislator casts and every decision an executive makes is influenced in some way by his worldview, whether it be Judeo-Christian, secular humanist, Marxist, atheist or otherwise.

This becomes clearer when we examine Coons’ shallow position on the matter. He assures us that his faith is a central part of many private decisions he makes, but, he says, “The aspects of my faith that are religious doctrine don’t influence the decisions that I’ve made for the public in my 10 years in county office.”

On what basis, then, does Coons support various aspects of the liberal agenda, from radical wealth redistribution to Obamacare to environmental legislation? Do his moral beliefs play no role in how he formulates his policy preferences? If not, what does he base them on?

If so, do those moral beliefs proceed from his “religious doctrine” or from precepts of secularism or the orthodoxy of ideological liberalism?

One cannot credibly argue that moral beliefs play no role in people’s policy preferences. Liberals are nothing if not moral scolds, always painting conservatives as uncompassionate, bigoted, intolerant and greedy. If they are not invoking their brand of morality in judging conservatives, what are they doing?

Coons smarmily derided O’Donnell in questioning whether she supports the “Constitution as passed by the Founders, the Constitution of 1920, 1930, the Constitution of 1975 (or) the Constitution of today.” He assured us that he supports today’s Constitution, and he thinks it’s very important to know where O’Donnell stands on “protecting a woman’s right to choose, protecting reproductive freedom,” prayer and evolution.

Coons said he is “someone who stands firmly behind the Constitution as it stands today,” and he wants to know “what sort of judges (O’Donnell) would confirm.” After all, he told us self-righteously, he respects “stare decisis, the decided cases, the case law that governs the United States.”

Such sophistry. Coons supports Supreme Court precedent that exists today, such as Roe v. Wade and the line of cases regulating the states’ right to outlaw abortion as a matter of constitutional fidelity, but he condemns O’Donnell and others who would confirm judges who would reverse that precedent.

In other words, based on his worldview, which supports abortion, Coons treats Supreme Court precedent supporting that position as sacrosanct, but not decisions that would contradict it. If his fealty were to the Constitution, he would reject Roe as outrageously contrary to that foundational document and as an egregious example of judicial lawmaking. And if it’s just court precedent he honors, then he cannot fairly condemn O’Donnell for confirming judges who would reverse Roe with their newly established precedent.

Obviously, Coons, like other liberals, cloaks his end-justifies-the-means pursuit in high-minded terms, such as loyalty to the Constitution, but it is nothing more than his policy preferences guided by his worldview and absolutely untethered by constitutional constraints.

Unlike O’Donnell, Coons’ worldview preferences would trump any fealty he has to the Constitution. That said, there is no need for O’Donnell — or any other Christian conservative — to deny that her worldview would guide her legislative advocacy.