It is the singular measure of the extremes our nation is swinging between that our political debate so often involves the Constitution. A brilliant document and the creation of great compromise, our Constitution serves as the foundation and framing of the nation. The cement was poured and set over 200 years ago, and the framing has been added, in the form of amendments, at various intervals since that time. In our great arrogance today, we have decided that every problem requires a Constitutional remedy. This practice is apparent at the level of state politics, where activists have turned to amendments to codify attacks on marital rights. It is now becoming evident at the federal level, where both “sides” of the ideological spectrum have lined up the Constitution in their sights.
Changing the foundation and framing of our great structure is, first and foremost, an act of destruction. Demolition must occur, and in this type of work, blow back is inevitable. Typically, an amendment is added to correct an overwhelming injustice when that injustice is favored by the bulk of society. Representative Aaron Schock’s recent statements on the judicial ruling against California’s Proposition 8 (a referendum that banned gay marriage), were beside the point. He disagreed with the ruling because he stated it was against the will of the people. He is wrong because protecting individual rights, after all, is the act of protecting those classes who cannot protect themselves against the power of the majority.
The 14th Amendment was passed to ensure the rights and citizenship of ex-slaves in the aftermath of the Civil War. It needed to be passed precisely because the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Dred Scott case classified Africans as “property”. It needed to be passed because a plurality of the public would have agreed with the Court in those times. What the 14th Amendment has done over the years, is amend an give legal force to the phrase, “all men are created equal”. Amended to include women, and enforced because the equal protection and due process clauses are the foundation of American equality.
Women’s rights and the rights of ethnic minorities, the disabled and the rights of the poor, are all traced back to the 14th Amendment. Now, in a act of political theater, Republicans want to attack the amendment to open up a second front on immigration. You see, this amendment also guarantees the citizenship of children born in the United States. It is the reason that Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, born to parents in the U.S. on student visas (one might, if one was a partisan, question what Jindal’s parents were studying and how parenthood affected their student status), is eligible to run for President.
This is farcical political garbage, pure and simple. Instead of soberly addressing the real concerns and costs of illegal immigration, legislators (both Republicans and Democrats), have tap-danced around the issue and used it as both sword and shield. Now, one of those parties is upping the ante by attacking the core of American equality. The Rational Middle is of the opinion that the process for fixing this is simple, even if the practise will be difficult.
- Address the border security
- Address the status of the state to the south of us, as if that state were either Muslim or had oil resources that Dick Cheney wanted (from a funding and focus perspective, not a war perspective)
- Address the employers who have built businesses around undocumented or falsely documented workers
- Address, as only compassionate Americans can, the human cultural issues of all of the people, on the inside and outside, that simply want the American Dream
Consider this a memo to the craven political idiots of the world (Jon Kyle, I am talking specifically about YOU); stop the garbage, stop the obstruction, and get the work of the people done!
But if you thought this theme extended only to Republicans, you would be mistaken. The recent Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case gave de facto citizenship to corporations. The decision was aberrant and wrong, and represents the flawed thinking that protecting the institutions of an individual is itself a protection of individual liberty. The Rational Middle has discussed libertarianism and corporations previously, so we won’t rehash those arguments here. But this terrible decision does not need to be fixed by an amendment. In fact, the act of seeking an amendment is contrary to the goals of its proponents.
The majority of Americans think that money plays too much of a role in politics. Republicans and Democrats may view the issue through different lenses, but the result is the same. The campaign reform law that Citizens vacated was a bipartisan law. There is no overwhelming societal push for corporate money in elections that needs to be balanced by amendment. What is needed is a succession of laws and lawsuits over time, such as the Disclose Act that Republicans blocked last week, that challenge the ruling on clearer Constitutional grounds. It is called working within the process. The state attorneys general who filed a suit challenging a specific element of the health care reform law have used this tactic. While I think the lawsuit is laughable (it challenges the individual mandate, which isn’t an element that carries the force of law in the first place), the practice and procedure of these officers is entirely appropriate.
Bringing forward an amendment on corporate funding of elections does one other piece of damage that its supporters have not calculated. The very act of bringing the amendment creates the assumption, and stipulates to the point, that the Supreme Court decision was correct in its interpretation of the Constitution. Why else would you need an amendment? Liberals who make this argument are making the same strategic error, an error born of extreme reactions and breathless reflex, that conservatives make in their Constitutional over-reach. Our nation wasn’t founded as a country run by referendum, and it hasn’t prospered as a nation of constant amendment. We are a republic, which is as Alexander Hamilton defined in The Federalist, a representative democracy. Perhaps it is time to stop screaming about the falling sky and get back to the simple process that has made us great.
The Rational Middle is listening…