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April 09, 2014 3:26 PM Jim DeMint, Constitutional Revisionist

By Ed Kilgore

RightWingWatch’s Brian Tashman runs across an interview with Jim DeMint in which the Heritage Foundation president and avatar of “constitutional conservatism” utters gibberish about slavery, and charitably suggests he is “confused:”

Heritage Foundation head Jim DeMint appeared on Vocal Point with Jerry Newcombe of Truth In Action Ministries last week, where he insisted that “no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves.”
DeMint, a former US senator from South Carolina, told Newcombe that “the conscience of the American people” and not the federal government was responsible for the end of slavery.
In the interview, DeMint seemed to confuse the US Constitution with the Declaration of Independence and implied that William Wilberforce, a British politician who died almost thirty years before the Civil War, did more to end American slavery than the federal government.

Here’s the relevant portion of the transcript:

Newcombe: What if somebody, let’s say you’re talking with a liberal person and they were to turn around and say, “that Founding Fathers thing worked out really well, look at that Civil War we had eighty years later.”
DeMint: Well the reason that the slaves were eventually freed was the Constitution, it was like the conscience of the American people. Unfortunately there were some court decisions like Dred Scott and others that defined some people as property, but the Constitution kept calling us back to ‘all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights’ in the minds of God. But a lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people, it did not come from the federal government. It came from a growing movement among the people, particularly people of faith, that this was wrong. People like Wilberforce who persisted for years because of his faith and because of his love for people. So no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves. In fact, it was Abraham Lincoln, the very first Republican, who took this on as a cause and a lot of it was based on a love in his heart that comes from God.

Jim’s not being “confused” here. His rap is based on a series of palpable falsehoods that are extraordinarily common in the exotic world of “constitutional conservatism:” the deliberate conflation of the Declaration of Independence with the Constitution (this is how they sneak God and “natural rights”—meaning property and fetal rights—into the latter); the idea that the Civil War was about everything other than slavery; and the claim of Lincoln’s legacy, even though the Great Emancipator was in almost every respect a “big government liberal” as compared to the states rights Democrats—DeMint’s ideological and geographical forebears who touted the Constitution even more regularly (and certainly more consistently) than today’s states rights Republicans.

For dessert, DeMint mentions Dred Scott, a hoary dog whistle to the antichoicers who like to compare that decision to Roe v. Wade.

What’s most interesting about hearing DeMint say all this stuff in one big mouthful is that it makes it so abundantly clear the man is engaging in all sorts of revisionism about well-known aspects of American—and constitutional—history. What makes it amusing is that he claims to be an “originalist.” Only if he gets to rewrite history.

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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