There’s this one old episode of The Jerry Springer Show from the 1990’s that I’ve always recalled precisely because it is memorably humorous. Springer’s guests included the Ku Klux Klan — an obviously and historically foul organization, yet so miniscule in its existence today that we are barely made aware of it outside of Southern Poverty Law Center fundraising literature and shows like Jerry Springer. Regardless, as this one particular Klanswoman screamingly mixed her supposed Christian faith with her hatred of blacks and Jews, an audience member stood up and asked her if she realized that Jesus was Jewish. Without hesitation, the Klanswoman immediately shot back “Jesus was an American!”
Now I’m sure in this woman’s barely literate, crazy Klan mind this all made perfect sense. That in associating all things she might deem wholesome –hating blacks and Jews, worshipping Christ — that all of this properly belongs under the catch-all patriotic banner of Americanism, despite the fact that Christ walked the earth nearly 2000 years before the ratification of the United States Constitution. But while the first impulse is to rightly laugh, it’s amusing the extent to which many Americans’ perception of their Constitution and what it stands for is no less inaccurate than the Klanswoman’s perception of Jesus and what He stood for.
Case in point — each year the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, DC presents a “Defender of the Constitution” award. The 2011 recipient is former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The New American notes the absurdity: “Giving Rumsfeld an award for defending the Constitution is a bit like giving… Charlie Sheen an award for sobriety. Rumsfeld personally authorized the imprisonment of American citizens without trial and torture of detainees. He oversaw a ‘military commissions’ system he invented that had no authority in law and violated a variety of rights protected under the Constitution. Even a cursory look at Rumsfeld’s record as Secretary of Defense during the Bush administration would demonstrate that Rumsfeld openly and directly attacked Articles I, II, and VI of the Constitution as well as the Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments.”
The entire purpose of our Constitution is to limit government’s power, delegating enumerated and specific powers to make clear that no one — not even Congress or the President — is above the rule of law. If judging the last administration purely by Constitutional standards, many might consider Bush and company among the most lawless in American history. But for the sort of conservatives who still have some bizarre, philosophically incoherent and undoubtedly partisan attachment to Bush-era figures like Rumsfeld, the actual language and meaning of the Constitution is largely beside the point. Such conservatives still consider Rumsfeld to be on “their side” and he therefore becomes a “Defender of the Constitution” in much the same way Jesus automatically becomes an American to a crazy Klanswoman. Logic and reason have virtually nothing to do with such thinking. In making such outlandish claims, both groups are operating in a primarily emotional state of mind, making it possible to allow their ideological faith to dictate their own facts. Conservatives rarely confronted any facts or questioned their logic in supporting men like Bush and Rumsfeld, so why start now? Giving Rumsfeld a “Defender of the Constitution” award at CPAC this year simply reminds us of this lingering, almost childlike blind faith — and still represents the worst of the Republican Party.
When it comes to properly understanding and recognizing the original intent of the Constitution, liberals and their current president are certainly no better and arguably even worse than Bush. When this week, a federal judge declared Obamacare to be unconstitutional, the Left began to cry that “activist judges,” of the sort conservatives usually deplore, had hijacked liberals’ cherished healthcare “reform.” Of course this judge was absolutely correct in his ruling and liberal carping about an “activist judge” is completely baseless.
The role of a federal judge is to interpret the Constitution and make decisions accordingly. If a judge makes a ruling based on his own ideology, political sympathies or for any other reason that is outside or in violation of the written text of the Constitution, then he is an activist judge. Yet for a judge to determine whether or not Congress or the President has stepped out of constitutional bounds in their measures is precisely the intended role of federal judges. It is also just what Judge Roger Vinson did this week regarding Obamacare — unless liberals can find in Article 1, Section 8 where the Founders gave the federal government the power to force citizens to purchase health insurance.
Yet for all their criticism of Bush-era violations of civil and constitutional liberties, liberals are just as willing to violate the Constitution in the name of government action the Left generally supports. One could easily imagine the Left awarding government-run healthcare architects Obama, or Nancy Pelosi, or Harry Reid, a “Defender of the Constitution” prize similar to Rumsfeld’s, despite the fact that Obamacare is in direct violation of our founding charter — as recognized by not only a federal judge but anyone with common sense. But once again, liberals’ political faith dictates their own facts.
The late Joseph Sobran, former National Review writer, once said that the Constitution for modern Americans is much like Royal Family for today’s Brits. Both are still symbolic of tradition and order, despite the fact that they’ve been almost entirely stripped of their substantive authority. To the degree that the Constitution can still limit government, Americans will be protected from Washington’s appetite for power in precisely the way the Founders intended. Yet, in order to implement their own preferred big government schemes, most on the Right and Left continue to exhibit a willingness to circumvent the Constitution at will — and without a hint of irony or shame, still pretend to “defend” it.