Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 10, 2010

RNC FALLS IN A HOLE, KEEPS DIGGING.... It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, hoping to inject some ugly attacks into the political bloodstream quickly, issued a statement this morning attacking Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. Like most of the things Steele says, he neglected to think the attacks through.

In particular, the embarrassing RNC chairman bashed Kagan for a record that includes "support for statements suggesting that the Constitution 'as originally drafted and conceived, was 'defective.'"

The problem, of course, was the context. Kagan supported the statement because it was used by her hero and mentor, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who was talking about a "defective" Constitution in reference to the document treating a slave as three-fifths of a person.

In effect, Steele's RNC statement was indirectly pro-slavery. Marshall was calling out a disgusting flaw in the Constitution; Kagan was endorsing Marshall's analysis; and Steele was bashing the sentiment. Not smart. It was almost certainly unintentional -- I find it hard to believe the RNC actually supports slavery -- but Steele either didn't realize what he was saying, hoped we wouldn't notice, or both.

As this started gaining attention today, the vaunted RNC communications shop decided to keep digging.

As much as Liberals want to make the concern Chairman Steele raised about Marshall and slavery, it isn't (and if it was, I'd note the Chairman admires Justice Marshall breaking barriers both as a lawyer and a justice, and helped rename BWI airport after him). It's about how Elena Kagan, who is being nominated for a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land, views the role of the courts in our society.

Yeah, sure it is. That's why Steele's original statement included this as a sub-head: "Does Kagan Still View Constitution 'As Originally Drafted And Conceived' As 'Defective'?" Maybe the part about how this relates to Kagan's views on the role of the courts in our society was hidden in the small print. Very small.

How ridiculous is this? National Review -- that's right; National Review -- published an item today. "Mr. Steele (and RNC staff), just as a little experiment, you might try thinking before you speak," it said.

Good advice. Luckily for Democrats, Steele will probably ignore the suggestion.

Steve Benen 4:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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Comments

OK, now I'm positive Steele's a Democratic plant. What a gift this man is.

Posted by: Cap'n Chucky on May 10, 2010 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

The original Constitution treated the slave as three-fifths of a person AND gave his vote to the slaveowner.

Posted by: captcrisis on May 10, 2010 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

where in the world have you gotten the assumption that michael steele thinks the allowance of american slavery in the original constitution was a defect?

i've never heard him say that. you're just typical liberal revisionists disparaging the original intent of the glorious and semi-divine founders of this great country -- and yer probably socialists to boot!

Posted by: neill on May 10, 2010 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

Since when is "liberal" a proper noun?

Posted by: sacman701 on May 10, 2010 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

Except it will be repeated verbatim with absolutely no attempt by the MSM to point out the fallacy. I will be accepted an generate a Luntz-o-gram talking point . Dija hear, that Kagan Thinks the Constitution 'as originally drafted and conceived, was 'defective.'"

That is all you will hear and you know I am right because the liberal media has to provide some negative feedback or they won't be able to find any screaming heads to do a he said she said

Posted by: john R on May 10, 2010 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

Pretty soon we'll be treated to the antics of simiens in the zoo who don't agree with the patrons, and then show their disagreement by flinging feces at the interlopers - this time, to the Republicans we've already heard from, the main interloper is the duly elected president of the United States! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on May 10, 2010 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

So much for the value of a Liberal Arts degree from an accredited university or college. What does Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA offer instead? Lynchburg...I'm not kidding. Look it up. Founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell,(fallwell from grace?)
You can't make this stuff up!

Posted by: st john on May 10, 2010 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

Holy cow, Condi Rice said the same thing barely two years ago:

"Black Americans were a founding population," she said. "Africans and Europeans came here and founded this country together -- Europeans by choice and Africans in chains. That's not a very pretty reality of our founding."

As a result, Miss Rice told editors and reporters at The Washington Times, "descendants of slaves did not get much of a head start, and I think you continue to see some of the effects of that. That particular birth defect makes it hard for us to confront it, hard for us to talk about it, and hard for us to realize that it has continuing relevance for who we are today," she said.

http://is.gd/c3bBt

Posted by: Ara on May 10, 2010 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, kevo, that's quite a tirade. I feel like I should be reading that in tiny, scrawled handwriting on the inside of a toilet paper roll at a mental institution. Keep up the good work!

Posted by: BrendanInBoston on May 10, 2010 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

for me, this plays into an interesting phenomenon in which the right wing has adopted the constitution as something like a canonical religious text. it has holiness and sanctity and meaning in its very physical substance. its views are pure and sacred (and map to what the right wing sees the American ideology is, as it is based "in their souls").
the problem with this sort of fundamentalist thinking is that it is only one way to view canonical texts. a much more reasonable position holds that canon (even, especially in religious circles) needs to be reinterpreted to remain relevant for the times. but the self-conscious nature of such exegesis in the modern period has reinforced the anxiety from the break with our glorious past, hence needing to embrace the constitution as holy, perfect, and unchanging.

Posted by: invisible_hand on May 10, 2010 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

Steele has 3/5 the brain of a normal person, black, white, yellow, or brown.

Of any quote, there are a couple you would think a black man in politics would know. Is he trying help this nomination, or just prove what we already know, Michael Steele is a dimwitted shameless political hack.

I wonder how long it will be before the RNC puts a black man in any position of power after this debacle ?

Posted by: ScottW714 on May 10, 2010 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

Steele is the gift that just keeps on giving! Like other commenters I've often wondered if he's some kind of Democratic plant; he is such a world-class buffoon it's almost hard to believe he's for real.

Posted by: electrolite on May 10, 2010 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

Steele is certainly the poster child for defective. Why is there no pushback from the left? Who is head of the DNC?

Posted by: buddy on May 10, 2010 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

He's "Steele the One!" Keep the hits coming, Chairman Steele. Good grief!

Posted by: June on May 10, 2010 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

(Oops; I should have read before posting; looks like Cap'n Chucky had the exact same thought.)

Posted by: electrolite on May 10, 2010 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

Now will someone please ask Steele if he thinks the Constitution has a defect ?

Posted by: ScottW714 on May 10, 2010 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

The Constitution as originally drafted! Would that be before or after the series of amendments came to be adopted that came to be known as the Bill of Rights? And if Steele supports slavery, does he realize that this would have included him?

Posted by: Christopher Hobe Morrison on May 10, 2010 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

sheesh, so the Black guy is pro-slavery

Posted by: Jamie on May 10, 2010 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

The Republican Party: We got black people too!

Posted by: John Henry on May 10, 2010 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

One of the most frustrating things about the 3/5s clause is that it gets confused on multiple levels: many people object because it treated slaves as less than fully human -- but of course if they HAD been counted as whole persons for the purposes of representation in Congress, that would only have deepened the crime of over-representing slave owners by 60%. Talk about adding insult to injury....

But it's the irony and hypocrisy that really stings.

More people should know that the 3/5s formula wasn't originally about slavery, but about taxes -- and the same folks who wanted slaves to count for more when it came to being represented for self-government (by their owners, ye gods!), wanted them to count for less when it came to being taxed.

In the Articles of Confederation, there was a debate about how to allocate taxes to the states. Small states naturally objected to simply dividing by 13, of course, so the debate shifted to population, in which NY and Virginia would have paid more than Rhode Island.

But Virginia and the other states with large slave populations (especially South Carolina) argued that slaves should not count AT ALL as population for tax purposes. It was a major compromise to get the ratio up to 3/5s -- which is why they kept it in the Constitution, only for representation: with slave owners neatly flip-flopping on whether it was more unjust to count slaves as whole persons or not at all.

Posted by: theAmericanist on May 10, 2010 at 5:35 PM | PERMALINK

Obviously, a major malfunction.

Lie down with rabid attack dogs ... rise up missing some body parts. Plus, you get fleas.

Posted by: Bokonon on May 10, 2010 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

Would everyone who keeps rushing in to explain the real meaning of the 3/5 compromise read the fucking threads before assuming they're the first to address this? This has been going on all day.

Posted by: Mart on May 10, 2010 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

It's such a wrong-headed attack. Everybody knows the Constitution is flawed. It doesn't protect the flag from burning and it doesn't give full person-hood to embryos. These are very important defects worthy of national debate. They require a constitutional amendment to fix, so of course the Constitution has defects. Duh.

Posted by: danimal on May 10, 2010 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

The worst part is those traitorous Founding Fathers also believed the Constitution might well be 'flawed and fefective' which is why they wrote into the thing a way to change it. And then used that method immediately. TEN TIMES! Why, oh why, did the Founding Fathers hate America?

Posted by: Northzax on May 10, 2010 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

I guess you didn´t get the memo; the Constitution is inerrent, inspired by God, and is the founding father´s vision of a Christian nation....somehow. Ask Palin, she knows this stuff better than Steele...

Posted by: Rob Marine on May 10, 2010 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

Steele and the teabaggers have no idea what the Constitution says, or the history of the 3/5 clause for slaves. And they don't care. The Constitution is what they want it to be. Nothing more nothing less. It supports, in their simple minds, whatever they think our country should be: white, Christian, government and tax free. Except that it isn't 'our' country; it's 'their' country'. Facts don't matter.

Posted by: rrk1 on May 10, 2010 at 7:59 PM | PERMALINK

I'm concerned, like Greenwald et al, about Kagan's potential lack of progressive bonafides. But the critique seems thin on specifics, and there's a contradictory twist of her being scary from having no real record at the same time. Does anyone know, other than complaints of tepid defense of Citizens United v. FEC, that she has corporatist sympathies? IMHO and to many others, viewpoints on corporate "rights" are the most important thing right now.

Posted by: Neil B, on May 10, 2010 at 8:40 PM | PERMALINK

release the kagan!

Posted by: skippy on May 10, 2010 at 10:21 PM | PERMALINK
Steele's RNC statement was indirectly pro-slavery. Marshall was calling out a disgusting flaw in the Constitution; Kagan was endorsing Marshall's analysis; and Steele was bashing the sentiment. Not smart. It was almost certainly unintentional -- I find it hard to believe the RNC actually supports slavery -- but Steele either didn't realize what he was saying, hoped we wouldn't notice, or both.

Such an idiotic statement from Steele, whether inadvertent or (very doubtful) an indication that he supports slavery for the Black race is just one more piece of evidence that he was given his job for a single reason. He's African-American and a Republican stooge. He gets paid well along with getting all the time in the spotlight he wants to play that sick role.

It is another item of clear proof that Steele is venal, that he is an incompetent idiot and that the Republican Party is utterly happy to cynically exploit him. I wonder if African-American propagandist and alleged Economist Thomas Sowell realizes just how clear Steele presents a spotlight on the African-American Quislings who make a lucrative career of working for the conservatives in an effort to take America back to Segregation and worse.

Posted by: Rick B on May 11, 2010 at 12:03 AM | PERMALINK
I wonder how long it will be before the RNC puts a black man in any position of power after this debacle ?

Posted by: ScottW714 on May 10, 2010 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

You mean like Colin Powell as Secretary of State? Of course, when they did that they had to neuter the job of Secretary of State, which rather supports your statement.

Posted by: Rick B on May 11, 2010 at 12:11 AM | PERMALINK

The Americanist is completely wrong, as anyone can ascertain by simply reading the constitution. The 3/5 clause has nothing to do with the allocation of taxes. Rather, it has to do with the number of votes each states get in the House of Representatives and in the Electoral College. Slaves count as 3/5 of a person.


Posted by: Joe Buck on May 11, 2010 at 12:29 AM | PERMALINK
Why is there no pushback from the left? Who is head of the DNC? Posted by: buddy on May 10, 2010 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

You ask a very good question. Who IS the head of the DNC? (Tim Kaine) And is the White House muzzling him? They certainly aren't using him.

Why? And what does that tell us about the Obama White House? I'm beginning to get a very "Jimmy Carter White House" feeling. I learned long after he was defeated by Ron Reagan and the Ayatollah that Jimmy Carter had a great disdain for political party politics, so he actively worked NOT to build the Democratic Party. The Reagan Conservatives spotted the weakness and walked right in to take advantage of it.

That's why so many experienced politicians explain that their first job is always to get elected and reelected. if they don't, none of their good ideas every get implemented. That is the definition of failure. As a person who twice voted for Carter, I strongly agree with that idea. First the politician has to win the office or he is nothing.

Posted by: Rick B on May 11, 2010 at 12:32 AM | PERMALINK

I find it hard to believe the RNC actually supports slavery -- but Steele either didn't realize what he was saying, hoped we wouldn't notice, or both.

Well, considering that the Republican Party has now basically replaced the "solid South" segregationist Democrats for the past two generations, I wouldn't necessarily toss out the first item without serious qualification. As for Steele, he knows full well that the MSM won't seriously fact check him or any other conservative on the spot, so he's free to toss out whatever bullshit he can. Even if some anchor or pundit says something about it tomorrow or the next day, he'll be on to some other random attack on Kagan ("rhymes with pagan! She hates our Christian nation!!) and it won't even register.

Posted by: jonas on May 11, 2010 at 12:51 AM | PERMALINK

Defective- having a flaw or defect, imperfect. We think of defective things as needing to be fixed. All this Glenn Beck / Tea Party fantasy stuff about the Constitution is nonsense.

If you try and operate based on the original import of the C., you're talking 18th century ideas and totally ignoring progress, evolving ideas and concepts like slavery, etc.

Isn't the more recent stuff more relevant? It wasn't the 10 Commandments written in stone handed to Moses by God on a mountain. Change is good and necessary. Saying something is unconstitutional can easily be a smokescreen saying I don't like it and disagree. I'm sure there are plenty of examples of so-called unconstitutional laws / acts (Patriot Act) that just came from conservatives and the opposing POV.

Basically Steele took her quote out of context to stoke fears and serve up a meatball for the Fox Tea Party crowd. You don't have to take it to slavery. It's just horribly out of context and dishonest. Do a google on Colbert editing Hannity's clips to make him look like a hooker a la the Acorn mess.

Posted by: Tiresias on May 11, 2010 at 1:51 AM | PERMALINK

Just a thought, Steve. How bout a cookie to keep you logged into the site? And an agree / disagree recommend flag for comments?

Posted by: Tiresias on May 11, 2010 at 1:53 AM | PERMALINK

If even the founders thought the original Constitution was perfect and infallible, then why did they write into it the process for amending it? And why was that process immediately used to create the Bill of Rights?

In fact, if that original version was perfect, didn't amending it make it imperfect? If it wasn't defective back then, then surely, all these amendments later, it must be defective now!

Posted by: Raven on May 11, 2010 at 4:53 AM | PERMALINK

Even apart from that slavery thing, by the time of the 4th presidential election, it was clear that the founders' scheme for election of presidents was unworkable, and had to be revised; hence the 12th Amendment.

Posted by: rea on May 11, 2010 at 5:01 AM | PERMALINK

Joe Buck: you didn't read my post. The 3/5s clause did not originate in the Constitution. The Founders came up with it in the Articles of Confederation when it meant something completely different, as I described.

The short point is that slave owners changed their position 180 degrees on counting slaves: they wanted 'em counted 100% for representation, and not counted at all for taxes.

See, the folks who ORIGINALLY argued that slaves should not be counted at all toward the population of a state were slave owners, when counting 'em would have meant that state would be taxed according to the total # of people living in the state. The states with very few slaves wanted 'em counted as whole persons for tax purposes. (This would have pretty much doubled or halved the tax bill for South Carolina, depending.) That was when the ratio of 3/5s was worked out, as a compromise. Slave owners didn't want 'em counted at all... at first. That was under the Articles of Confederation.

Then in the Constitution, the question changed from counting 'em for tax purposes, to counting 'em for representation and the Electoral College. So slave owners completely reversed themselves. Now they WANTED slaves counted as whole persons -- and the 3/5s ratio, which had already been negotiated, was used for a second compromise.

Thurgood Marshall was just one in a very long line of patriots who recognized that the original Constitution was defective -- I was just pointing out that the origin of this particular defect wasn't just politics, it was hypocrisy.

Capisce?

Posted by: theAmericanist on May 11, 2010 at 6:47 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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