Is the Constitution Senile?

January 3, 2011

The congressional Republicans’ decision to read the Constitution aloud on the floor of Congress has forced some Constitution-contemptuous liberals further out of the closet, which is an instructive development to behold.

Blogger Ezra Klein of The Washington Post told MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell that the constitutional reading is “a gimmick,” and “the issue of the Constitution is not that people don’t read the text and think they’re following; the issue with the Constitution is that the text is confusing because it was written more than 100 years ago and what people believe it says differs from person to person and differs depending on what they want to get done.”

Columnist E.J. Dionne, also with The Washington Post, expressed similar irreverence for our founding document. Dionne lamented that the tea party movement has treated the Constitution “as the equivalent of sacred scripture. Yet as Gordon Wood, the widely admired historian of the Revolutionary era has noted, we ‘can recognize the extraordinary character of the Founding Fathers while also knowing that those 18th-century political leaders were not outside history. … They were as enmeshed in historical circumstances as we are, they had no special divine insight into politics, and their thinking was certainly not free of passion, ignorance, and foolishness.'”

Dionne’s (and Wood’s) assessment is quite a far cry from that of former British Prime Minister William Gladstone, who observed, “The American Constitution is, so far as I can see, the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.”

Though no one should argue that we should turn our respect for the Constitution into idolatry, there is every reason to believe that our Constitution is indeed unique, both in the brilliant structure of limited government it established and in its practical effect of creating the freest, strongest and most prosperous nation in history.

One doesn’t have to believe America was directly established by God to recognize that the Framers were largely animated by a Christian worldview and generally shared the biblical “insight” concerning man’s fallen nature — an insight that contributed as much as anything else to their blueprint for government.

As if choreographed to coincide with the liberals’ dissing of the Constitution, ex-boxer turned Senate majority leader Harry Reid has threatened to amend long-established Senate Rule 22, which requires 60 votes to invoke cloture on a bill. Reid’s scheme is to pretend that the Senate is not a continuous body whose rules remain in force unless changed by a supermajority of senators, but a body that requires that rules be approved every two years when a new Congress convenes.

Common sense alone exposes Reid’s malignant stunt for what it is, as incoming senators historically have not ratified Senate rules because it would have been a superfluous act. As others have noted, the Senate’s official website expressly affirms that the Senate is a continuous body: “the business of the Senate would continue from Congress to Congress without interruption.” Indeed, a Senate rule change as recently as 2007 followed the traditional Senate procedure.

The practical effect of Reid’s cynical ploy would be that rules could be changed at the start of any session with a simple majority vote, which would be a convenient result for Senate Democrats, who are none too pleased with the “shellacking” their party received in the November congressional elections.

But there is a method to the Democrats’ mad consistency. The relative disrespect liberals Klein and Dionne demonstrate follows from the liberal view of the Constitution as “a living document,” whose provisions the courts can rewrite at will. It is compatible with Barack Obama’s obvious belief that the document is powerless to prevent the federal government from engaging in activities it prohibits, such as requiring people to purchase health insurance. It aligns with Obama’s belief that the courts can manipulate the Constitution to adjudicate “economic justice” — a euphemism for abject court-ordered income redistribution. It squares with Obama’s systematic usurpation of congressional authority in his appointment of unaccountable czars, his executive order frenzy, his administrative law end runs, his de facto moratorium on offshore drilling, and his conspiracy with legislators to corrupt the legislative process (as he did with Obamacare).

The common thread running through all of these examples is the liberals’ end-justifies-the-means mentality, which, as we are witnessing, is a green light for tyranny and a smothering of liberty and democratic principles in the name of promoting them.

Liberals will mock conservatives for their stodgy nationalism and their fealty to a document that is more than 200 years old. But their arrogance and mockery just serve to confirm their disrespect for our founding institutions. More importantly, they underscore the enormity of the stakes involved and strengthen our resolve to politically defeat liberals and crush their systematic assault on our liberties.