I don't usually take on Charles Krauthammer's idiocy, but I really don't think today's column should get a pass, especially from liberals. In The World According To Krauthammer, liberals are anti-constitutional, revisionist idiots, because nothing pleases Krauthammer more than attributing his own behavior to others. It's the conservative way.
The theme of Krauthammer's today crazy is "Constitutionalism", which he lauds as enlightenment ascendant. Reviewing events which have taken place since Wednesday, when most, but not all, of the new Congress with the New Conservative Majority was sworn into office, we have the following:
- A selective reading of the Constitution on the floor of the House of Representatives, after which...
- It was discovered that Pete Sessions (R-TX) and newbie Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA) missed the swearing-in because they were attending a fundraiser elsewhere in the Capitol, and oops! they cast votes without being duly sworn. After that discovery...
- The Rules Committee meeting was then interrupted so that Rep. David Dreier could find a way around the problem of their votes counting when they had not been duly sworn, after which...
- Drier finally arrives at a half-baked solution via Thomas Jefferson's congressional manual, settling on the explanation that Fitzpatrick and Sessions were "within proximity of the Speaker of the House" when taking the oath of office.
If this is Constitutionalism, I've got six feet pointing in all directions.
This strange fetish conservatives are having with the Constitution seems to resemble the same problem fundamentalist Christians wrestle with when confronted with biblical contradiction. They cannot reconcile or consistently argue portions of it, so they ignore those, while placing undue emphasis on other passages. But what really annoys me about their fetish is the specious claim that liberals have disdain and disrespect for the Constitution and conservatives are it's True Defenders.
What crap. Now watch what Krauthammer uses as his arguments about us badass liberals:
For decades, Democrats and Republicans fought over who owns the American flag. Now they're fighting over who owns the Constitution.
The flag debates began during the Vietnam era when leftist radicals made the fatal error of burning it. For decades since, non-suicidal liberals have tried to undo the damage. Demeaningly, and somewhat unfairly, they are forever having to prove their fealty to the flag.
Amazingly, though, some still couldn't get it quite right. During the last presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama, asked why he was not wearing a flag pin, answered that it represented "a substitute" for "true patriotism." Bad move. Months later, Obama quietly beat a retreat and began wearing the flag on his lapel. He does so still.
See? All one has to do to own the flag is wear it, whether they mean it or not. But wait, he goes on.
Call it constitutionalism. In essence, constitutionalism is the intellectual counterpart and spiritual progeny of the "originalism" movement in jurisprudence. Judicial "originalists" (led by Antonin Scalia and other notable conservative jurists) insist that legal interpretation be bound by the text of the Constitution as understood by those who wrote it and their contemporaries. Originalism has grown to become the major challenger to the liberal "living Constitution" school, under which high courts are channelers of the spirit of the age, free to create new constitutional principles accordingly.
I don't mean for this post to become a treatise on originalism versus a living Constitution philosophy, but Krauthammer just makes no sense. Consider the choice of Republicans to leave out certain pieces of that original document which don't suit them politically, like the 3/5ths clause, for example. Either the entire document should be interpreted in its original form (and likewise worshipped on the House floor), or else it is a living document, imperfect and subject to amendment and interpretation. But it isn't both. You can't excise pieces you don't like and then claim to be an originalist.
Unless you are Charles Krauthammer and are paid handsomely to do so, of course. Then you can, but it's still as ridiculous as it sounds. But there's more:
What originalism is to jurisprudence, constitutionalism is to governance: a call for restraint rooted in constitutional text. Constitutionalism as a political philosophy represents a reformed, self-regulating conservatism that bases its call for minimalist government - for reining in the willfulness of presidents and legislatures - in the words and meaning of the Constitution.
Hence that highly symbolic moment on Thursday when the 112th House of Representatives opened with a reading of the Constitution.
Or at least, the parts of the Constitution they liked.
Alex Altman's rebuttal to this originalist constitutionalism gobbledegook points out the empty rhetoric under Krauthammer's posturing:
That's one reason why the fetishizing of the Constitution is unsettling. It's not that it isn't worthy of veneration or study. It's that too often, the Constitution is wielded as a political cudgel, even if, as Garrett Epps wrote this week at the Atlantic, the cudgelers fail to grasp the document's finer points. Both parties are desperate to claim themselves as the true descendants of the framers, and they drape themselves in the constitution like a political safety blanket, since it's one of the only unassailable quantities in contemporary politics. (Among the others, I count jobs, capitalism, liberty, faith and not a whole lot else.)
Consider one example of how the Constitution gets hauled out for partisan arguments. At Commentary Magazine today, Pete Wehner, a former Bush Administration and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, writes: "For many modern-day liberals, the Constitution is, at best, a piece of quaint, even irrelevant, parchment." In the context of his argument, this swipe follows from a discussion of how liberals' dismissal of the today's reading as a "gimmick" shows they don't take the document seriously.
Just like Krauthammer did in his closer:
In the interim, the cynics had best tread carefully. Some liberals are already disdaining the new constitutionalism, denigrating the document's relevance and sneering at its public recitation. They sneer at their political peril. In choosing to focus on a majestic document that bears both study and recitation, the reformed conservatism of the Obama era has found itself not just a symbol but an anchor.
But what Mr. Neocon fails to comprehend is this: Liberals aren't sneering at the Constitution, or even at its reading. Liberals are sneering at conservatives empty, hollow, dishonest attempts to wrap themselves in it while they rake in the big bucks with the hand not holding it. Well, that and the fact that conservatives may hear the words but they don't live. Kind of like those fundamentalist Christians.
Same fetish, different document.