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March 13, 2014 12:20 PM George Wallace, Constitutional Conservative

By Ed Kilgore

I was googling around for some samples of George Wallace’s rhetoric on affirmative action to make a point about racial evasions in connection with the last post about Paul Ryan and his allusions to lazy “inner-city” men, when I ran across a Wallace speech delivered on July 4, 1964, two days after enactment of the Civil Rights Act. I was struck immediately by the congruence of Wallace’s rhetoric with that of today’s “constitutional conservatives,” who likewise identify the expansion of federal legislative and judicial power with the destruction of the work of the Founders. A sample:

We come here today in deference to the memory of those stalwart patroits who on July 4, 1776, pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to establish and defend the proposition that governments are created by the people, empowered by the people, derive their just powers from the consent of the people, and must forever remain subservient to the will of the people.
Today, 188 years later, we celebrate that occasion and find inspiration and determination and courage to preserve and protect the great principles of freedom enunciated in the Declaration of Independence.
It is therefore a cruel irony that the President of the United States has only yesterday signed into law the most monstrous piece of legislation ever enacted by the United States Congress.
It is a fraud, a sham, and a hoax. This bill will live in infamy. To sign it into law at any time is tragic. To do so upon the eve of the celebration of our independence insults the intelligence of the American people.
It dishonors the memory of countless thousands of our dead who offered up their very lives in defense of principles which this bill destroys.
Never before in the history of this nation have so many human and property rights been destroyed by a single enactment of the Congress. It is an act of tyranny. It is the assassin’s knife stuck in the back of liberty.
With this assassin’s knife and a blackjack in the hand of the Federal force-cult, the left-wing liberals will try to force us back into bondage. Bondage to a tyranny more brutal than that imposed by the British monarchy which claimed power to rule over the lives of our forefathers under sanction of the Divine Right of kings.
Today, this tyranny is imposed by the central government which claims the right to rule over our lives under sanction of the omnipotent black-robed despots who sit on the bench of the United States Supreme Court….
[I]t is not a Civil Rights Bill. It is a Federal Penal Code. It creates Federal crimes which would take volumes to list and years to tabulate because it affects the lives of 192 million American citizens. Every person in every walk and station of life and every aspect of our daily lives becomes subject to the criminal provisions of this bill.
It threatens our freedom of speech, of assembly, or association, and makes the exercise of these Freedoms a federal crime under certain conditions.
It affects our political rights, our right to trial by jury, our right to the full use and enjoyment of our private property, the freedom from search and seizure of our private property and possessions, the freedom from harassment by Federal police and, in short, all the rights of individuals inherent in a society of free men…..

Like today’s neo-nullificationists, Wallace disclaimed any obligation to obey federal laws incompatible with his view of the eternal guarantees of the Constitution:

I am not about to be a party to anything having to do with the law that is going to destroy individual freedom and liberty in this country.
I am having nothing to do with enforcing a law that will destroy our free enterprise system.
I am having nothing to do with enforcing a law that will destroy neighborhood schools.
I am having nothing to do with enforcing a law that will destroy the rights of private property.
I am having nothing to do with enforcing a law that destroys your right—and my right—to choose my neighbors—or to sell my house to whomever I choose….
The liberal left-wingers have passed it. Now let them employ some pinknik social engineers in Washington, D.C., To figure out what to do with it.

Change the references to the Civil Rights Act to the Affordable Care Act or “socialist” economic policies or infringements on “religious liberty,” and the rhetoric is remarkably similar. So, too, is the allegation of national brainwashing by liberal media elites:

It would have been impossible for the American people to have been deceived by the sponsors of this bill had there been a responsible american press to tell the people exactly what the bill contained. If they had had the integrity and the guts to tell the truth, this bill would never have been enacted.
Whoever heard of truth put to the worst in free and open encounter? We couldn’t get the truth to the American people.
You and I know that that’s extremely difficult to do where our newspapers are owned by out-of-state interests. Newspapers which are run and operated by left-wing liberals, Communist sympathizers, and members of the Americans for Democratic Action and other Communist front organizations with high sounding names.
However, we will not be intimidated by the vultures of the liberal left-wing press. We will not be deceived by their lies and distortions of truth. We will not be swayed by their brutal attacks upon the character and reputation of any honest citizen who dares stand up and fight for liberty.

Yeah, we’ve been here before. No wonder Rand Paul used to routinely deplore the Civil Rights Act as an assault on liberty before he cut his losses and backed off. So did Wallace when political realities so dictated.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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