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Tilting at Windmills

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August 3, 2010

IF ONLY THE RIGHT WOULD LEAVE THE CONSTITUTION ALONE, CONT'D.... We talked a few weeks ago about the right's approach to the U.S. Constitution, specifically, its desire to fiddle with it, adding more amendments while scrapping some old ones. As the GOP's interest in giving the 14th amendment a touch-up intensifies, let's take stock of where we are.

By my count, Republican leaders, including George W. Bush, endorsed six different new amendments to the Constitution over the last decade: (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. Jon Chait runs a similar list today, and notes a few I missed, including amendments to require legislative supermajorities to raise taxes, a "parental rights" amendment, a term-limits amendment, and in one instance, an amendment to give Washington, D.C., a single voting representative.

Taken together, that's 10 constitutional amendments proposed, endorsed, and/or introduced by leading Republicans over the last decade.

I'd call this many things, but "constitutional conservatism" -- a phrase repeated ad nauseum by Bachmann and the Tea Party crowd -- it isn't.

On top of the new amendments the right has requested, there's also the existing amendments the right wants to "fix." That means scrapping the 17th Amendment, repealing the 16th Amendment, getting rid of at least one part of the 14th Amendment, and "restoring" the "original" 13th Amendment.

It's as if the right has begun to look at the entire Constitution as little more than a rough draft, in desperate need of deft conservative editing. (What could possibly go wrong?)

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.

Of course, 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. In recent weeks, both Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called for the partial repeal of the 14th Amendment, for crying out loud.

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

Steve Benen 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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Uh, wasn't one of the major objections to Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court that she agreed with Thurgood Marshall's statement that the Constitution, as originally drafted was 'flawed' or 'imperfect' (I'm too lazy to get the exact wording)?

And now these same nuts who oppose Kagan for no real reason whatsoever are themselves wanting to make wholescale changes to the Constitution?

How can there be such a large group of people who believe they're right about absolutely everything, when so many of the things they're 'right' about a contradictory?

Posted by: David Bailey on August 3, 2010 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

More like "crackpot conservatism" ...

Posted by: G.Kerby on August 3, 2010 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

In recent weeks, both Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) both called for the partial repeal of the 14th Amendment, for crying out loud.

Actually, I doubt that's true. They're simply adopting the current right-wing line that the Fourteenth Amendment doesn't cover children of undocumented immigrants because they're not under US "jurisdiction." That those children are, in fact, under US jurisdiction has been established by longstanding judicial precedent--but we know about those activist judges, right? Precedents can be undone, with the right judiciary. An actual amendment isn't in the cards, but we've got years of base-mobilizing and fund-raising hay to make.

Posted by: David in Nashville on August 3, 2010 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

There is no coherence to American conservatism anymore (if there ever was).

It's a conglomeration of robber baron thieves, nihilists and the angry and ignorant.

The barons just want to rob us blind.

The nihilist just want to destroy America. For no other reason than to prove they can.

And the angry and ignorant think they are being deprived of something that's theirs, even if they have no idea what it is.

Posted by: Gummo on August 3, 2010 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Lately I've witnessed what I can only explain as exercises of America's simpletons - the Sarah Palins among us who don't quite know how to think in terms suitable to the complexities we face as 21st century beings.

Sure these Paliniados can master pointing and clicking through Facebook and Twitter, and can even conform their simple ideas to such formats of limited social intercourse. But relying on their judgment when the big ticket items of foreign policy, economic fair play and federal policies to care for our aging infrastructure are in play is societal euthanasia.

The Far Right's whim and caprice are showing for all to see - strict Constitutionalists flexibly using the Constitution to their preference! Power to rule is their concern! Not furthering our democratic experiment through political compromise has been the focus of the Republican party these past two years - we shouldn't expect anything different this election cycle.

If American voters allow any of the creeps running under the Republican brand back into the halls of government, we'll be in for a lot of hurt and misery - that is unless we all can figure out how to make $250,000 a year by the time November rolls around! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on August 3, 2010 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

David hit the nail. Great fund raising crap to spew. And it can work. The presumptive new senator from Utah, Mike Lee, believes in the "original intent" interpretation of the constitution - but how you square that with amendments is beyond me. Bob Bennett voted against the flag burning amendment, and guess what - great ammo to take him down was provided - and used, by very far right wingers in the Utah Rep. party.

Posted by: bigtuna on August 3, 2010 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

Actually I'm happy to hear of all these proposed amendments. This is the approach of people who believe in rule of law.

I don't want any of these amendments to pass, but I'd rather have this kind of debate 100 times over than watch attempts to subvert the Constitution via "executive privlege" or etc.

Posted by: mattt on August 3, 2010 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

Sometimes the Founders of Our Country didn't get their original intent right, so we're just correcting their mistakes.

Posted by: dr2chase on August 3, 2010 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

I don't want any of these amendments to pass, but I'd rather have this kind of debate 100 times over than watch attempts to subvert the Constitution via "executive privlege" or etc.

Which is exactly how Cuccinelli and McDonnell are trying to extend the Arizona law to Virginia - by executive order

Posted by: andy on August 3, 2010 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

Except for the 2nd Amendment, and maybe the part of the First that makes this a Christian nation, the rightwingers are only interested in the "original, unamended Constitution" [was it Meese who said that?]. Amendments are just tampering with original intent. The more amendments they eliminate, the closer they are to the original.

Posted by: martin on August 3, 2010 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

Now might be a good time to give this Onion piece a re-read: Area Man Passionate Defender Of What He Imagines Constitution To Be.

Posted by: Blue Girl on August 3, 2010 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

What's especially galling about the amendments the right proposes is that, with the exception of the "flag-burning" amendment, they would all be impossibly vague and delegate significant authority to courts to interpret their provisions. Given that they claim the amendments are necessary to prevent activist courts from doing crazy things, it's kind of a problem. But these amendments are just red meat, and of course there's never been a serious attempt to actually change the Const. along these lines. They're just things to say to get acclamation from crowds.

Posted by: Ron Mexico on August 3, 2010 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

A lot of these douche bags that are so worried about every nuance of the constitution are the same ball sacks that talk about secession and violent gov't overthrow. Must be something in the water that effects them.

Posted by: Gandalf on August 3, 2010 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

martin @2:40 is right, the whole idea is Regression - go back to the old 'original intent' times, when good old 'all-American' folks were in charge.

Posted by: Ohioan on August 3, 2010 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

A better strategy than making fun of Republicans would be to figure out why there is no Democratic party grassroots actively trying to offer their own amendments.

Dems are always playing defense.

First stop would be to change election day to Saturday. Second stop would be to limit interference in elections by non-"natural" persons (i.e. corporations).

Should also try to figure out why the Repub grassroots folks get their senior elected members to jump on board vocally and publicly.

Posted by: Observer on August 3, 2010 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Now, let's not be comfortable with reason.

Just because the Constitution does say anyone born in US territory is a citizen doesn't mean that most people really think that's reasonable.

It was obviously reasonable in 150 years ago, but I don't think most people actually see it that way anymore.

I think most people think it is actually highly rational that children of illegal aliens should not have automatic citizenship rights, and this is definitely the Tea Baggers best issue.

We can't just dismiss it out of hand.

I think it will be necessary to propose a direct address to the question that actually will modify the 14th Amendment and the we will have to be seen dividing their good point from the rest of their nonsense and avoid giving them some kind of vindication.

Posted by: cld on August 3, 2010 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

To repeat, I don't trust the GOP's motives but seriously - after all this time since the Civil War and slavery (the essential need for such a clause) do we really need to keep saying, a baby born within our boundaries is ipso facto "a US citizen." Really? Babies born to visiting tourists too? Why?

Some commenters in an earlier thread said that most of the world does not follow such a glib route to citizenship. We should require at least one parent for *automatic* citizenship and an application process for others. BTW I would grant duly legal adoption as equivalent to "parenthood," and we could allow citizenship packaging with parents who later become citizens, etc.

It's childish to feel a reflexive need to always disagree with "the other." Justify your belief in the current form of that clause in A14, if you think it's still appropriate - and would you consider that maybe it isn't? Look, we're the ones who are supposed to believe in "a living constitution" and not see it as a straitjacket or perfect as is.

Posted by: Neil B on August 3, 2010 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

Not to mention that they're trying to overturn Common Law by repealing the birthright citizenship clause in the 14th Amendment. At the very start of the Republic, it was assumed that all people born in the former colonies were citizens because Common Law had always deemed that location of birth automatically entailed allegiance to that country. By the early 19th century, long before the 14th was ratified, the courts had affirmed that just as with every other country, birth in the US made one a citizen.

But, hey, the Constitution also says that treaties once ratified become the law of the land. Republicans have shown themselves more than willing to ignore various international treaty obligations, such as the prohibitions against torture and abuse of prisoners enshrined in the UN Convention Against Torture.

Posted by: smintheus on August 3, 2010 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

Observer above is completely right.

I don't think you'd need an Amendment to change Election Day to Saturday, but I think that is a totally good idea.

Posted by: cld on August 3, 2010 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

"Lately I've witnessed what I can only explain as exercises of America's simpletons - the Sarah Palins among us who don't quite know how to think in terms suitable to the complexities we face as 21st century beings." - kevo

Reminds me of this passage, from one of the great books of the past century:

"Joyfully the mobs accepted the name, took up the cry. Simpletons! Yes, yes, I'm a simpleton! Are you a simpleton? We'll build a town and we'll name it Simple Town, because by then all the smart bastards that caused this, they'll be dead! Simpletons! Let's go! This ought to show them! Anyone here not a simpleton? Get the bastard, if there is!"

- Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz

Posted by: Wes F. in Hapeville on August 3, 2010 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

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

I'm more struck by the 'party of small government'...except for of course, when we want to CONTROL you.

Posted by: SYSPROG on August 3, 2010 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

"What's especially galling about the amendments the right proposes is that, with the exception of the "flag-burning" amendment, they would all be impossibly vague and delegate significant authority to courts to interpret their provisions"

Does the word "penumbra" strike a chord? Don't lay this totally on the Right

Posted by: dgstock1947 on August 3, 2010 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

+1 for smintheus

Posted by: Marko on August 3, 2010 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

"Of course, if this were limited to right-wing activists, it'd be easier to dismiss."

But aren't all Republicans (including office holders) now right-wing activists?

Posted by: SaintZak on August 3, 2010 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK
ad nauseum

Just so you know, Steve, the phrase is "ad nauseam", with an a. Nauseum doesn't exist, either in English or Latin.

Posted by: noncarb on August 3, 2010 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

If the conservajesus right wing ever repealed the 14th, the consequences would be dire. We couldn't deport the people who were born in the U.S. to parents of illegal immigrants. Where would they go? They would have no country, no citizenship anywhere in the world.

Would the rightwingers want to make them criminals? By no fault of their own? That's irrational and preposterous!

Does the right wing believe that the home country of the illegal parents would accept these offspring as citizens? We couldn't force that on another country! What if the parents are from two different countries? How would this repeal be handled in that situation?

I suspect that the right-wingers haven't thought through the consequences of this frenzied zealotry. They're merely at the soundbite stage, where it sounds great to the idgits in the pointy tricorner hats and American flag blouses. Singing Lee Greenwood songs. And who want us all to praying to the Jeebus in every public school classroom.

God help us.

Posted by: cb on August 3, 2010 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

Regarding changing the 14th Amendment, if the child is not a citizen of the United States, what country is he or she a citizen of? What if one parent is a legal resident or citizen of the United States and the other isn't? What if the child is the result of rape or incest?

The Republicans are supposed to be the ones who were all about thinking of the children; that they would do everything they possibly could to prevent abortions and bring that precious life into the world. Changing the law would lead to more abortions: if an undocumented immigrant becomes pregnant -- it's not always planned, y'know -- and sees that there's no chance the child will be granted citizenship, rather than carry the child to term, the next stop is an abortion clinic, or worse. And if the child is born, how many of them will be abandoned on doorsteps or dumped in trash cans?

By the way, this would also create a problem for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal: his mother was four months pregnant with him when she arrived from India. According to the wingers, that would make him an "anchor baby," no?

Posted by: Mustang Bobby on August 3, 2010 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

Have any of these ideas for changing the Constitution ever actually been introduced as legislation to amend the Constitution? If so, have any of them actually been approved by a 2/3 vote of each house of Congress and sent to the states for ratification by 3/4 of the state legislatures?

No, I thought not. If the right was serious about any of them, someone would introduce actual legislation.

Posted by: jpeckjr on August 3, 2010 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

I often wonder why you find such GOP attitudes hypocritical. They are the Confederacy redux, and their anti-Union program is perfectly consistent. In 1860 the Confederates thought they were faithful to the constitution, and the Union wasn't. 150 years later only the party labels have changed, but not the underlying attitudes in contention.

Posted by: Rong44 on August 3, 2010 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

Don't forget the equal protection clause is part of the 14th amendment. I'm sure lots of Rethugs would be happy to be rid of that pesky clause.

Posted by: jmartin on August 3, 2010 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

cld: We can't just dismiss it [efforts to modify the 14th amendment] out of hand.

Actually, I find it very easy to dismiss "out of hand" any attempts at ethnic cleansing, as this so obviously is.

Posted by: cr on August 3, 2010 at 11:20 PM | PERMALINK

Most of the constitutional changes proposed by the right are ridiculous, but that does not mean they all are. The 14th amendment was specifically intended to extend citizenship and rights to formers slaves, not voluntary immigrants. An amendment specifying the rights of immigrants in the 21st century would make sense. Not that the citizenship matter really makes much difference in immigration anyway. The real power in the Republican party probably favors immigration because it reduces wage costs, so they would like some public action that appeals to their working-class base but doesn't really have much practical effect.

Posted by: skeptonomist on August 4, 2010 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

Republican Mantra:

We love the Constitution, except for the parts that we don't. And those we will change to fit our current agenda.

Posted by: Mary Britt on August 4, 2010 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

For those who think birthright citizenship doesn't make sense, think again and look at Europe and Asia and their failure at integrating their immigrant populations, part of which is due to their tradition of granting citizenship by ethnic lines only or almost exclusively..

The best thing of the birthright citizenship is that it is objective test: you're born within the borders or not. The origin/background/legal record of your parents doesn't matter and is irrelevant at all, it promotes integration of the next generation into the fabric of society. Without it, citizenship is once again a subjective condition tied to the whims of popular sentiment, demagoguery and politics.

Remember there was a time when US born children of chinese immigrants both legal and illegal in this country were banned from being citizens or ever becoming naturalized citizens simply because of widespread racism... If this amendment is repealed then we'll see a return of those days.. Children of all minorities will be targeted.

The solution for illegal immigration will not come from changing the Constitution because the incentive to come here is JOBS not having babies.

Posted by: Reason on August 4, 2010 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK


Yes, that speaks to the insidious nature of conservative interests, where their motivation is vile but they latch onto a legitimate problem to promote it.

They seem able to manage the same trick over and over again getting their opponents to reflexively dismiss the entire subject and box themselves into a corner while the fruitcake squad ends up running the whole conversation.

Posted by: cld on August 4, 2010 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

To the list of right-wingers who were "anchor babies", who were born to parents who were not U.S. Citizens, add to the list Michelle Malkin, whose Asian parents were not citizens when they had her in the U.S.A. and thus granted her U.S. Citizenship.

Its rather amusing to see all the pro-marriage right-wingers on their fourth marriages, the anti-gay right-wingers going for male prostitutes in airport bathrooms and Rentboy.com, and now the anti-birthright citizenship right-wingers who would not now be citizens if the Fourteenth Amendment didn't have birthright citizenship when they were born in the U.S.A.

Its like right-wingers secretly want everything they claim to hate.

Posted by: Leo on August 4, 2010 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

I like your blog.

Posted by: große titten on December 8, 2010 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK



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