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Tilting at Windmills

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July 10, 2010

IF ONLY THE RIGHT WOULD LEAVE THE CONSTITUTION ALONE.... For the better part of the last couple of decades, conservatives took a fairly aggressive approach to constitutional amendments: they wanted several more.

Indeed, by the mid-point of his presidency, George W. Bush was on record supporting at least six different proposed amendments to the Constitution: (1) prohibiting flag burning; (2) victims' rights; (3) banning abortion; (4) requiring a balanced budget; (5) prohibiting same-sex marriage; and (6) allowing state-endorsed prayer in public schools. As a wise blogger noted at the time, Bush "really seems to think the Constitution is just a rough draft."

But that was several years ago, and the right's approach has shifted. Conservatives no longer prioritize adding new amendments to the Constitution; they now believe it's time to start repealing some of the old ones.

We talked last month about the growing demands among Tea Partiers to repeal the 17th amendment -- the constitutional provision that empowers the electorate to choose their own senators, rather than state legislatures doing it, as the Constitution originally mandated. Zaid Jilani noted one right-wing congressman who agrees, and wants to go even further.

Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) has been touring his northeast Georgia district as part of the Republican Party's "America Speaking Out" tour, discussing his ideas with his constituents. During a stop in Athens, Georgia, the congressman revealed some of his more radical ideas about where he wants to take the country. At one point, Broun told a constituent that Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson "started this process of socializing America" by passing the 16th and 17th amendments and endorsed repealing both of them.

Note, there was no real ambiguity about Broun's intentions. He conceded it would be "a long process," but said he wants both amendments "to be repealed fully." (The 16th amendment, by the way, created a progressive federal income tax. Nevada's Sharron Angle has also called for its repeal.)

This is becoming more and more common. On CNN yesterday, Utah's Mike Lee, the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate this year, called the 17th Amendment "a mistake," and though he doesn't think repeal is realistic, Lee is on record supporting the idea of repeal.

What's more, remember that the right has also targeted the 14th Amendment for its language mandating birthright citizenship for Americans. Some conservatives -- including Republicans Rand Paul (Ky.), Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.), and Louie Gohmert (Texas) -- have suggested an additional amendment to "modify" this language may be necessary.

The Constitutional Accountability Center's Elizabeth Wydra recently noted, "It is encouraging that so many Americans are now discussing and debating the Constitution. It is, after all, the People's document. But before Tea Party repeal efforts gather steam, 'We the People' should take a sober look at the text, history, and principles behind the amendments the Tea Party would like to do away with. Amending the Constitution is not an easy task, and generations of Americans poured blood, sweat, and treasure into adopting the amendments that Tea Party activists would now like to repeal."

If this were limited to right-wing activists, it'd be easier to dismiss. Alas, Republican officeholders and several statewide candidates are echoing the same ridiculous demands.

Given the alleged reverence for the Constitution in far-right circles, the irony is rich.

Steve Benen 11:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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Comments

Will a vigorous debate about WHY the 17th Amendment happened - because the state leges got so corrupt they were unable to fill Senate vacancies - help show that repealing it is a BAD idea? Definitely NOT. The wingnut teabaggers are so obsessed with STATES RIGHTS that they're willing to take away individual voters' rights to have full and uncorrupted representation in the Senate. /headmeetkeyboard

Posted by: PaulW on July 10, 2010 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

George W. Bush was quoted by a fellow Republican as screaming "Don't you quote the Constitution to me! It is just a goddam piece of paper!" I don't know whether the anecdote is true, but if so it perfectly sums up the governing philosophy that his loyalists wholeheartedly supported for eight years. Small wonder that despite their claims to believe in the Constitution they can't wait to finish dismantling it.

Posted by: T-Rex on July 10, 2010 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

The don't have a reverence for The Constitution as a whole.
They have a reverence for the parts they like.
And want to repeal the rest.

Yes, we all like to drive fast. Conservatives only value the accelerator, and think that's all we need, but some of us are smart enough to know why there are also brakes on cars.
Don't let them drive the car again in November!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: c u n d gulag on July 10, 2010 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

I agree that discussing and debating the Constitution would be a fine idea. Unfortunately, with the TPers and associated wingnuts, we get no such thing. They get told by Beck or Ron Paul that some amendment is the source of problems, and they grab hold like a chew toy; it becomes The Truth and there can be no debate, because they have no goddamn idea why.

Posted by: Redshift on July 10, 2010 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

"Given the alleged reverence for the Constitution in far-right circles, the irony is rich"

I suspect what you have is reverence for the original intent of the Founding Fathers- a fundamentalism like fundamentalists' approach to the Bible. Any changes after day 1 are inherently suspect.

Posted by: Johnny Canuck on July 10, 2010 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

Power belongs with the powerful. That's why they have it. Anyway, God controls everything. So if they weren't supposed to have the power, He wouldn't allow it. So if you dont' like the order of things, you are defying God and you deserve your just punishment.

KIll the 16th Amendment so the rich and powerful get even richer. Kill the 17th so the powerful get to choose those of their status and worth to direct and control the small people. Kill the 14th so that a dis-empowered, intimidated, easily abused underclass remains healthy enough to easily exploit for business purposes. By God, it is our right and the order of things to dominate and subjugate.

Posted by: Repig point of View on July 10, 2010 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

@Johnny Canuck

Neither the religious fundamentalists' interpretation of the Bible nor the teabagger's interpretation of the Constitution have anything whatsoever to do with "original intent" of the writers. Neither group has the mental capacity to study history nor understand any perspective other than their own narrow viewpoint.

Posted by: cr on July 10, 2010 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

Broun thinks presidents pass constitutional amendments? What a maroon.

Posted by: navamske on July 10, 2010 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

The outcome of Senator selection by state legislatures might be surprising in some cases. The state legislature in Tennessee remained Democratic long after the switch of most southern conservatives to the Republican Party. In 2008 Republicans finally got a one-vote majority in the House - they thought. They had a new Speaker picked out, but one Republican broke ranks, though he did not change party. He was elected speaker with the votes of all the Democrats. Presumably he did not get these votes for nothing, and if a US Senate seat had been up, that would probably have been part of the bargain. Lots of other state legislatures show similar irresponsibility.

Posted by: skeptonomist on July 10, 2010 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

It'd be tough but I'd be willing to trade in the 17th for limitations on the 2nd.

Posted by: leo on July 10, 2010 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

Let's start a movement to repeal "The Forgotten Third" Amendment. Just for the fun of it, since no one ever seems to use it;> Although, as soon as it's gone the Republicans will try to trim the budget by quartering soldiers in our houses.

Posted by: martin on July 10, 2010 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

The 17th amendment, which gives power more directly to the people, would seem like a good thing to Tea Partiers. What exactly is fueling their animus toward it? Are there Democrats getting elected in conservative states where the state legislature would change the outcome?

Posted by: tomb on July 10, 2010 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

Can we start calling them Antebellum Constitutionalists?

Posted by: hells littlest angel on July 10, 2010 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

The only Amendment the Right cares about is the 2nd, and sometimes the 10th, when it suits their selfish, Neandrethal purposes.

Posted by: Sam Simple on July 10, 2010 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

While we're getting rid of amendments, let's consider the 2nd. Then we won't have firefights in Louisiana churches.

Posted by: Randy on July 10, 2010 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

"At one point, Broun told a constituent that Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson "started this process of socializing America" by passing the 16th and 17th amendments and endorsed repealing both of them."

Yes, by all means, bring back the Gilded Age.

Or maybe Broun wants to go really old school: just scrap the Constitution, and return to the Articles of Confederation, then they can have true states rights.

Posted by: 2Manchu on July 10, 2010 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

What seems to trump all the sound and fury from the extreme right on what the federal government is or is not permitted to do under the Constitution is this bit in the Preamble, that one of the duties is to "promote the general welfare..."

Posted by: Ned Pepper on July 10, 2010 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

The amendment Broun would REALLY like to get rid of is the 13th.

Posted by: JMG on July 10, 2010 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

This is not all benign silliness as Steve thinks most RW behavior is. The right knows the long term demographics don't favor them. There are a couple of different ways they can subvert this hideous, amoral eruption of democracy and they are keeping their options open. One of which, Steve won't think is possible until they invade Poland.

Posted by: Michael7843853 on July 10, 2010 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

For years (make that decades) it has amused me that I've heard -- from the same people -- both reverence for the Constitution and enthusiasm for a new constitutional convention. I live in Maricopa County, if that tells you anything.

Posted by: karl on July 10, 2010 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

"The 16th amendment, by the way, created a progressive federal income tax."

Not really. The 16A allows income taxes of all types to be collected w/o enumeration. But, the Supreme Court had already upheld various types of income taxes, including those on various occupations and corporations.

The infamous Pollock decision concerned state bonds and real property. It was 5-4 and probably would have gone the way of Lochner v. NY in a few years. The SC right after it passed in fact said it in effect took things back to how it was originally intended to be.

The 16A did close any debate on the question, a minority thinking income taxes were socialist and unconstitutional etc., but again, many kinds of progressive income taxes already were upheld even w/o it.

Posted by: Joe on July 10, 2010 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Yep. No Difference between Dems and Republicans. No difference at all.

Posted by: Alli on July 10, 2010 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

since the right is so dissatisfied with the Constitution, the obvious solution is for them to leave the country - go overrun another one with their mindless violent, racist, egomanical, psychotically greed obsessed drool and let this country go about returning to decency and its own values of equality and opportunity for all.

Posted by: pluege on July 10, 2010 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

These are the same people who, as kids, always wanted to change the rules of games, as they needed them, to win. They look for ways to game any system in life that they find themselves in. Money. Politics. They want guarantees that they will always be on the side that has the advantage.

Trouble is, once they have the advantage, they use it to game the system in an even stronger way toward themselves , and remove any healthy balance that keeps the system going for everybody. The result is collapse, and we are dangerously at the point of collapse now.

These children who never grew up don't care about the health of the systems that keep society going. They just want the perpetual advantage.

And they are the useful idiots that the few true power brokers keep agitated.

Posted by: jcricket on July 10, 2010 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

Will the 19th Amendment be on the target list? I'm sure the Mel Gibsons of the GOBP/TP would want it gone.

Posted by: Moxo on July 10, 2010 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

Why should the US be one of the few countries in the world to grant citizenship by place of birth?

Maybe other countries like England are correct? Maybe citizenship should be passed down from the parents.

Is Canada crazy for "Section 3(2) of the Current Act states that Canadian citizenship is not granted to a child born in Canada if, at the time of his/her birth, neither of his/her parents was a Canadian citizen or Canadian permanent resident and either parent was a diplomatic or consular officer or other representative or employee of a foreign government in Canada or an employee of such a person."????

Posted by: neil wilson on July 10, 2010 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Why, well for one reason because the founding fathers who wrote the constitution decided that was the way they wanted it to be, any grievances should be taken up with them.

Posted by: grandpajohn on July 10, 2010 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

"As a wise blogger noted at the time, Bush 'really seems to think the Constitution is just a rough draft.'"


Well, maybe not a rough draft, but it is a work in progress as long as the amendment process exists, and that's a good thing as far as I'm concerned, as is the fact that it's damned hard for us to amend it. These things should take time and deliberation and require a super-majority--they're really important, after all.

We do ourselves no favors by looking at the Constitution as holy writ. If anything, Bush's desire to amend the Constitution to fit his vision of the country ought to be applauded, not mocked, even though it's a vision I couldn't disagree with more.

Posted by: Brian Spears on July 10, 2010 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

It's interesting that, as they pertain to individuals, the existing amendments have all been enacted to EXPAND individual freedom and rights. The amendments these ignorant conservatives want would CONTRACT individual freedom by taking away rights they don't like. Of course, these brainless, angry, embittered Teabaggers don't see the irony in their screaming about "freedom" while simultaneously trying to take freedom away from those who don't share their views.

Posted by: Tom in Houston on July 10, 2010 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

What the teabaggers actually seem to be defending is the model of government created under the Articles of Confederation. Certainly, many of the arguments made by the right-wing "defenders" of the Constitution are the same arguments raised over two hundred years ago by Patrick Henry and the Anti-Federalists to oppose ratification of the Constitution.

Posted by: fradiavolo on July 10, 2010 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

Conservatives no longer prioritize adding new amendments to the Constitution; they now believe it's time to start repealing some of the old ones. -- Steve Benen

You just don't "get it", Benen. If we cut the bad amendments first, there'll then be room to add the good ones. And we'll have a balanced Constitution. See? It's just like the budget/deficit. Simple, if you let your common sense rule.

Posted by: exlibra on July 10, 2010 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

The right knows the long term demographics don't favor them.

its not demographics that undermine the right - its knowledge and information: the more people know of the insidious criminal ignorant authoritarian right view of the world, the less they want anything to do with them.

It is the information age - people can access more views, more rapidly than ever before. The right is wholly about ignorance - its how they get what they want - no intelligent decent person would ever support the right. The tea baggers are complete morons. the religious right can only appeal to those willing to live with blind, unquestioning allegiance.

changing the Constitution can not save the right. The ignorant ways are doomed.

Posted by: zoot on July 10, 2010 at 6:49 PM | PERMALINK

The entire Republican Party is a dick.

Posted by: David Bailey on July 10, 2010 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

Is Canada crazy for "Section 3(2) of the Current Act states that Canadian citizenship is not granted to a child born in Canada if, at the time of his/her birth, neither of his/her parents was a Canadian citizen or Canadian permanent resident and either parent was a diplomatic or consular officer or other representative or employee of a foreign government in Canada or an employee of such a person."????

Posted by: neil wilson on July 10, 2010 at 3:25 PM

Neil, are you sure you're saying what you think you are saying? Canada has full birthright citizenship just like the US, with an exception, which you cite, only for children born of foreign diplomats. The language is "and" not "or." Children born in Canada of foreign parents who are not diplomats have full Canadian citizenship.

Canadians just don't seem to get their panties in a knot over it.

Posted by: Thisby on July 10, 2010 at 8:50 PM | PERMALINK

jcricket@2.03, Exactly, right. And often use the other side's concern for keeping the system going to push things even more in whatever direction is currently of short-term benefit to them.

Remind me again, who are the conservatives here?

Posted by: snicker-snack on July 10, 2010 at 8:55 PM | PERMALINK

We are so smart and they are so dumb. Can anyone explain to me how come they are winning?

Posted by: JoanneinDenver on July 10, 2010 at 10:33 PM | PERMALINK

They...

We are so smart and they are so dumb. Can anyone explain to me how come they are winning?

They are winning? Since when? I see just the opposite. American history is one ongoing progressive march in which one party does everything it can to derail progress...
And fails. Over and over and over again...

I seem to recall they lost the Civil War... And that theythen subverted human progress by birthing the KKK and Jim Crow. And from that moment on: It's been the same slow sure pattern: The Dems offer progress and the Reps offer regression:

From woman voting to Social Security...
From Blacks in the military to Gays getting married...
From public libraries to public schools....
From banning DDT to protecting endangered species...
They... lost and lost and lost and lost...

Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Leonard Pitts had a recent column that gets at this historical flow from a bittersweet angle. It is a must read, Rand Paul: The same old story:

"I abhor racism, I think it's a bad business decision to ever exclude anybody from your restaurant, but at the same time, I do believe in private ownership.'' -- Rand Paul
If you notice, they have never been on our side.
"They'' meaning social conservatives. "Our'' meaning African-American people.
They were not there in the century after the Civil War, as conservative Southern Democrats violently repressed would-be black voters, made a shadow government of the Ku Klux Klan, turned a deaf ear to the howling of lynch mobs and lynch victims. They have not been there in the half century since, as conservative Southern Republicans fought affirmative action, poverty programs and attempts to ban the American swastika, i.e., the Confederate battle flag, from public lands.
They have never been on our side and always, they have claimed "principle'' to justify it. So remarks like the one above that got Kentucky senatorial candidate Rand Paul in trouble last week are surprising only in the sense that one is surprised to hear an oldie on the radio one hasn't heard in awhile...

Posted by: koreyel on July 11, 2010 at 12:42 AM | PERMALINK

As long as we're in the mood to tweak the constitution, it may be time to remember the Equal Right to Govern Amendment, introduced by Orrin Hatch in 2003. Sometimes called the "Ahnold Amendment", it would have made it legal for a foreign-born naturalized U.S. citizen become president, if they were a citizen for at least 20 years. That'd shut up the birthers!

Posted by: Daniel Kim on July 11, 2010 at 2:04 AM | PERMALINK

All but a couple of Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee strongly support ending geographical birthright citizenship. I would be very surprised if the House tries to act on this next year.

Posted by: K on July 11, 2010 at 3:18 AM | PERMALINK

-a bit late to this party, but I have to give a 'right on, bro!' to koreyel on this.

Posted by: DAY on July 11, 2010 at 5:20 AM | PERMALINK

tHIS IS OFF SUBJECT, BUT A SUGGESTION.
I just watched an Orrin Hatch town hall meeting on the Young Turks website, he had an angry audience who wanted something done about the banks, as we know he has protected them all along so he had his back to the wall.
After watching I sent a strongly worded email to him that his performance in the senate will be closely watched, and we will be expecting him to work with the president to enact strong reform. If we all could let him know perhaps it would get through to him that he is on the wrong side and he will stop stalling reform.

Posted by: jJS on July 11, 2010 at 7:43 AM | PERMALINK

There's no irony. The far-right reveres the Constitution circa 1787. It's all downhill since then...

Posted by: Mass Hysteria on July 11, 2010 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

Don't forget the 14th. They want to annul that one too.

Personally, though, I'd be behind eliminating the 16th... ;-)

Posted by: zappawannabe on July 11, 2010 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

I'd be happy with just one amendment to the US Constitution; forbid transfer payments, wealth and income redistribution by the Federal Government.

Posted by: Denver on July 11, 2010 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

" go overrun another one with their mindless violent, racist, egomanical, psychotically greed obsessed drool and let this country go about returning to decency and its own values of equality and opportunity for all. "

Aren't you talking about the left here?

Please, the right actually respects the Consitutional process. It's the left that attempts to distrort and pervert the constitutional process through the bastardization of law with leftist, activist judges plucked from ivory towers and running home behind gated homes.

The fact of the matter is that the agenda of right far more parallels that of the Founding Fathers. You know it, and you can't run from it. It's true.

What percentage of Americans attended church in that era? owned a gun? believed the federal government had the authority to steal close to 50% of an individual's income and then belongings when he passed?

Many of you on here are authoritarians, lockstep autoritarians. And repugnant excuses for the offspring of Sons of Liberty.

Posted by: CMartel02 on July 11, 2010 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

And perhaps the leftists should take a moment to read the Constitution and realize amendments have already been appealed from the Constitution, but I supposed that's okay because "progressives" dared to do it.

Unfortunatley, our latter day "Progressives" are fundamentally vulgar Nietzschians: they don't believe in morality and understand human relations only in terms of the will to power. The knuckle-draggers certainly don't believe in the concept of freedom. And they're not willng to fight for it. On that you can depend. They will, however, enslave the masses to their will or stab those who stand in their way in the back, however.

Posted by: JMJones on July 11, 2010 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

The author is obviously unaware of public record. That public record shows 39 states have applied for an Article V Convention call with the aim of repeal of the 16th Amendment. So much his argument this is a movement limited to just a few. The applications can be read at www.foavc.org. This is only one issue. The over 700 public record citations for a convention call can be read here also. Congress is mandated to call a convention if 34 states apply with 34 applications.

The reason the convention has not been called? Congress refuses to obey the Constitution and call one.

Posted by: Bill Walker on July 11, 2010 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

Really, is the author that freaking stupid. Amendments can be proposed every damn day, that doesn't mean they'll be ratified in the manner the CONSTITUTION requires. That's called being a strict Constitutionalist. The founders made it difficult on purpose. Oh, and FYI, George Bush, while he had an R behind his name, wasn't necessarily a conservative. The reason why most of you "elites" make up these stupid assumptions is you spend all your time in the Beltway echo chamber. Get out into the real world, broaden your horizons. You just might learn something and cast off some of those prejudices you have.

Posted by: Cindie on July 11, 2010 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

At least they were attempting to amend the constitution, not ignore it.

Posted by: pacific_waters on July 11, 2010 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen:

Given the alleged reverence for the Constitution in far-right circles, the irony is rich.

To be fair, the right usually doesn't claim to revere the entire constitution, just the original body - and some of the first ten amendments, when convenient.

The rest, they either want to do away with or don't care about.

Of course, the claim is just that: a claim. Realistically, most Conservatives/Republicans aren't too fond of the Constitution at all. We're talking about a group of people who, circa 1765 - 1815, largely would have been Tories and Royalists, monarchy being the default conservative position at the time.

.

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