David Potts: Enforcing the Constitution Is Our Responsibility

One of the largest, if not the largest, fault lines dividing American politics today is that between progressives and liberals — and by liberals, I mean conservatives. Since the theme of this post is the need to restore some honesty to philosophical debate, I am starting by attempting to reclaim the word “liberal” from the radicals who hijacked it early in the twentieth century.
How can someone be a conservative and a liberal at the same time? Because the definition of “conservative” varies from society to society, since in each society, those who call themselves conservative are seeking to conserve institutions and traditions that are unique to that society. In the United States, the values that conservatives seek to preserve are classically liberal — individual liberty, limited government, and the rule of law. By contrast, the modern left in America identifies itself with collectivism, pragmatism, and an activist government. These values make up what used to be called “progressivism,” a term that many people on the left, including Hillary Clinton are trying to reclaim.
The distinctions between liberals, conservatives, and progressives are interesting, but not nearly as important as developing an honest appraisal of the Constitution and the irrelevance of this document to modern American government. For while there is legitimate debate to be had about the proper role of government, no objective, fair-minded observer can come to any conclusion other than that the federal government long ago exceeded the lawful bounds placed upon it by the Constitution, and almost no public officials give any thought whatsoever to whether or not federal programs being debated come within the Constitutional purview of the federal government. In fact, virtually all persons elected to public office today perjure themselves as their first official act, when they take an oath to uphold the Constitution while having absolutely no intention of actually doing so.
At the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a woman famously approached Benjamin Franklin and asked what form of government the convention had provided for the nation, a republic or a monarchy. Franklin replied “a republic — if you can keep it.” I’ve always been fascinated by that quote, because Franklin was clearly placing the responsibility of preserving constitutional government on the citizenry, not on the judiciary or any other branch of the government. The idea of leaving the interpretation of the Constitution solely to any branch of the federal government is ludicrous on its face. The Constitution is the law that regulates the federal government, and giving the federal government the final say on its application is as ridiculous as allowing British Petroleum to interpret the laws and regulations governing offshore drilling. But this is what we citizens have done. We take the latest pronouncements from the Supreme Court as gospel because we are, in the main, constitutionally illiterate. Even in law schools, future lawyers don’t study the Constitution; they study “Constitutional Law,” the collection of court decisions that purport to interpret and flesh out the Constitution but instead bury it under a huge pile of judicial manure. In one particularly egregious case, Wickard v. Filburn, the Supreme Court ruled that a farmer who grew wheat without federal permission to feed his own family and livestock could be prosecuted for a federal crime based on Congress’ authority over interstate commerce. Note that there was no commerce involved, and the wheat not only did not cross state lines, it never left the farmer’s property. When the Supreme Court calls that interstate commerce, it becomes very hard to take the body seriously.
The position of the Constitution today is very similar to that of the Bible in the Middle Ages. The medieval church considered lay people incompetent to read the Bible for themselves. The Bible had been translated from Hebrew and Greek into Latin and, as far as the Church was concerned, that was the way it would stay. Some of the earliest Protestant martyrs, centuries before Martin Luther, were convicted of heresy for the crime of translating scripture into English, German, or some other language that people actually used. People were not supposed to read the Bible; they were supposed to listen to whatever the clergy told them about the Bible and accept that as holy writ.
Among many people in the United States, today, the Constitution is seen as equally dangerous in the hands of the hoi polloi. Last year, the Rhode Island Tea Party was threatened with expulsion from the Bristol Fourth of July Parade for the crime of passing out booklets that contained the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. One publisher is currently selling a copy of the Constitution with the philosophical equivalent of the surgeon general’s warning on the first page. The disclaimer states, “This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and interpersonal relations have changed since this book was written before allowing them to read this classic work.”
Benjamin Franklin said “a republic — if you can keep it.” As with many things, the ultimate responsibility for the performance of government rests with us, the electorate. It is up to us to educate ourselves about our Constitution and to measure the performance of our elected officials against it. I suspect many Americans would just as soon junk the Constitution and continue on our present path, but they should at least consider the consequences and make that decision deliberately. If we pretend that we are currently governing ourselves according to the Constitution, then we are just lying to ourselves. Finally, there is very little point in repeatedly criticizing elected officials if the voters are unwilling to do anything about their actions. Politicians may be a collection of crooks and poltroons, but we hired them.

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Russ
Russ
11 years ago

Tea Party was threatened with expulsion from the Bristol Fourth of July Parade for the crime of passing out booklets that contained the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

So you now admit that it was the Tea Party who was passing out the Heritage Foundation solicitation! I’m glad that’s finally cleared up, after all the bs denials last summer.
The marketing material you folks handed out clearly solicited funds for that right-wing organization (I still have the copy handed to me) in violation of the parade rules, never mind that the floats were not supposed to hand anything out for the safety of the numerous kids present including my then 3 year-old. I guess some folks think the 4th is too good a marketing opportunity to pass up over a few inconvenient rules.
I’m not sure what the point was to the rest of the post. Frankly, the idea that citizens need to “enforce” the Constitution is a little disconcerting. How quickly will we see a more explicit call to violence?
Oh, and the part about Hillary as arch-progressive was pretty “hillary-ous”. I was kind of with you until then that so-called liberals in this country aren’t any different than conservatives. A picture is worth a thousand words.

SWAZOOL
SWAZOOL
11 years ago

I always thought it was funny that the RI Tea Party gave out a copy of the Constitution when it was in the 4th of July parade, why not give out the Declaration of Independence?
I guess it shows that they are/were always misguided or misinformed at best. I was sort of hoping they would show up to First Night with a copy of the Magna Carta.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

No, the handout contained the the Declaration, the Constitution, and a solicitation to join (and send money to) the Heritage Foundation. That last one is what these Teapublican spin doctors conveniently leave out so as to appear more aggrieved to the dittohead crowd, who won’t bother to check.

Patrick
Patrick
11 years ago

“So you now admit that it was the Tea Party…”
Russ, who is David Potts? Is he a member of the Tea Party? Or is he someone posting an Engaged Citizen entry with some fuzzy memory of the details last year.
Maybe he should have written that the RI Tea Party “was accused of”. And I don’t see where he says they did, he said they were threatened with expulsion. I think it was later cleared up that it was a separate group, not affiliated with the Tea Party. But hey, if you just want to lump all groups together that have similar thoughts, I’m sure that’s a very slippery slope that you don’t really want to go down.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

Nope, the denials continue! But let’s not pretend that this blog is not affiliated with the RI Teapublicans. At best, we’ve learned that Potts is woefully uninformed about what he chose to write.
For those not familiar with the so-called “separate group” who just happened to be strolling by the Tea Party see this post…
I Cannot Tell a Lie?
The links to the description of who was on the float, etc. and the photo of Kairnes in the “parade group” appear to have been taken down from the Tea Party site (shock!). In fairness, let me know if it’s still there. The site appears to have been recently redesigned (yuck, don’t you wingnuts have any Web designers in the mix?). Maybe later I’ll update the RIF post with my copy of the photo.

Marc
11 years ago

Oh Russ, “let’s not pretend that this blog is not affiliated with the RI Teapublicans”. Generally speaking, it is true that the AR contributors agree with the ideas of many of the various local tea parties and the state tea party. So if by “affiliated” you mean “agree with some/many/most/all of their ideas”, then I suppose that, speaking for myself, I’m also affiliated with, in no particular order, RIRA, the RIGOP, The Cool Moose Party, some Democratic state legislators, Common Cause, Matt Jerzyk, Working Waterfront, the Phoenix, WRNI, the Rhode Island Interscholastic League, Soccer Rhode Island, the Ocean State Follies and Jimmy, the guy who always speaks up at the City Council meetings.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

Oh, come on! You guys must live in some kind of alternate universe.

Though Laffey talked for the longest duration and to the largest audience that evening, several others spoke during the meeting. Colleen Conley, the founder and organizer of the Rhode Island Tea Party, said the group needed to incorporate other conservative groups, such as Operation Clean Government and conservative blog anchorrising.com to work collaboratively to make Rhode Island more conservative.

That’s affiliated (associated, related, or united).
What’s funny is that Potts glances on something that progressives have in common with you 10thers, Wickard v. Filburn. The case is frequently cited as to why the feds can override state law in medical marijuana legislation. Granted, its much more fun for David to repeat Glenn Beck talking points about how all progressive hate liberty, blah, blah, blah.

David Potts
David Potts
11 years ago

For the record: I was in fact just going off my own recollection of the events of last July 4th, which came from reading news reports of the controversy. I didn’t recall that the Heritage Foundation solicitation played a big role in the parade organizers’ complaints but I could be wrong. Actually I recall that my impression was that the organizers were more offended by the involvement of the Tea Party itself than by the content of anything that might have been distributed. It seems the Tea Party people were viewed as uncouth interlopers by the solid citizens who regard the parade as their personal plaything. That being said I have no personal knowledge as, although I am sympathetic to the Tea Party, I am not associated with it, am not a member of it and have never attended any Tea Party events. I certainly am not authorized to speak on its behalf. As for Glen Beck, I have no idea which talking points you are referring to as I personally am not a fan. I don’t listen to his radio show nor do I watch his TV show. In fact I don’t even have cable so I miss out on much of what is said on Fox News and MSNBC. I mostly listen to NPR and occasionally tune into local talk radio. I find the syndicated shows, including Rush and Sean Hannity, completely uninteresting. My first encounter with Wickard v. Filbin was in a constitutional law class in law school and the cynicism and complete lack of respect for the plain meaning of the Constitution shocked me at the time and continues to do so today. I mention it in this context because I don’t think a lot of people fully grasp the extent to which the Supreme Court… Read more »

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

I’m still trying to figure all this out.I belong to the John Birch Society,the NRA,Disabled American Veterans,and the American Philatelic Society(stamp collectors)and RIILE.
I have also voted Democrat at least as often as I’ve voted Republican.
Where ya been ,Russ?On a Gaza flotilla?LOL.Don’t have a cow-it’s a joke.I don’t really care what goes on in that little toublespot called the Middle East.

Marc
11 years ago

Ahhh Russ, Conley “said the group needed to incorporate other conservative groups” not that they had, and if you caught the Violent Round Table that Justin, Andrew and I were on shortly after that report, you may remember that we explained there was no formal relationship. I simply think that “affiliated” denotes a formality of relationship that doesn’t quite exist on our end. But whatever. If you think it’s a “gotcha” to claim we’re affiliated with a variety of groups because we may agree on a variety of issues, more power to you.
BTW, for all affiliates, the secret code for our next meeting is “Bildeburg”.

Swazool
Swazool
11 years ago

I don’t know what is better, watching people argue if it was the tea party or not or watching people try to distance themselves from the tea party. Either way the teabaggers loose.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

Why are progressives so obsessed with Glenn Beck lately? Are they really so afraid of the fool that they have to rail against him in every single political conversation?
Anytime a progressive hears that I’m a libertarian or a fiscal conservative now all I hear is “You watch Glenn Beck, you get marching orders from Glenn Beck, you use Glenn Beck’s talking points, etc.”
I don’t watch f’ing Glenn Beck. I’ve seen maybe four 10-minute segments of his show in total, because my friends post them on Facebook when he cries or says something stupid. I have no interest in him as a person or what he has to say about anything. How can I borrow talking points from him if I don’t even watch him?
Correct me if I’m wrong, but since he’s so popular with a wide audience, I seriously doubt that Glenn Beck is a minarchist libertarian.
You don’t see me tarring every single liberal person I come across as stealing from that self-righteous egomaniac and liar Keith Olbermann or the queen of smug Rachel Maddow. A lot of them probably do but I’ll at least give them the benefit of the doubt.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

Yeah, I’m a bit remiss on my Violent Round Table listening (I do tune in to the program once in awhile). I get your point, Marc, although I’m guessing that if we took a look at donations to the blog I’d see prominent RI Tea Partiers but not Jerzyk. We can argue semantics, but at least I think it’s clear I didn’t pull that from thin air.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

David, the news coverage was pretty clear on what the problem was:

Handouts are prohibited during the parade because of the danger posed if spectators — especially children — run up to get them, according to the parade chairman, Judith Squires…
[RI Tea Party Treasurer, Marina] Peterson said the rules prohibit solicitation and the U.S. Constitution is not a solicitation. Tavares said Peterson was playing with words.

Of course it was a solicitation (as I pointed out at the time), which is why the spin switched to the comical, “that’s not our group” line.
As to Beck, your framing is straight out of his daily talking points. As if I sit around thinking, what would Woodrow Wilson do? And as if Hillary Clinton is somehow a progressive despite her being awash in corporate cash and as reliable a militarist as any in the Senate. As William Blum said:

Activists have to remind the American people of what they’ve already learned but seem to have forgotten: that they don’t want more government, or less government; they don’t want big government, or small government; they want government on their side.

Now that’s progressive.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

“Anytime a progressive hears that I’m a libertarian or a fiscal conservative now…”
You don’t get that from me, Dan. In fact, I usually go to lengths to avoid lumping in actual libertarians with these faux-Constitutionalists (umm, LINOs?).

David Potts
David Potts
11 years ago

I’m not going to argue about what was, at most, a minor point. The main point, which hasn’t seriously been disputed yet, is that whether you like the present direction of our government or not, there is no reasonable way to square it with the language of the Constitution and many of us seem afraid to face that fact. I would just like the American voter to be honest and deliberate about this. If we’re going to abandon the idea of a limited federal government then we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. We should probably stop having our elected officials take oaths to uphold the Constitution.
As for Hillary Clinton, she began a campaign during the Bush administration to reclaim the title progressive for the American left. She claimed the right had irretrievably defamed the name liberal and made it a negative term. You’re right about her corporatist and militarist tendencies but those are in no way incompatible with progressivism as history clearly shows.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

“You’re right about her corporatist and militarist tendencies but those are in no way incompatible with progressivism as history clearly shows.”
Yeah, but I could say the same with a selective reading of history of the so-called conservatives. You’re making the mistake of believing the rhetoric of the corporate parties and corporate media. Clinton isn’t progressive, except in contrast to the even more reactionary Republican party.
The “present direction?” No, except in contrast to the even worse direction of the Bush administration. I didn’t even vote for Obama, except in the primary where I had only 2 choices by the time we got to vote.
I don’t really have a problem your premise of limited government, except that it is highly selective and therefore suspect. Anyone claiming to talk about the issue that doesn’t bring up militarism and corporatism is ignoring the elephant in the room. Heck, the two elephants in the room shooting lasers out their trunks and crapping out campaign donations.
But the part about the supposed government conspiracy to keep the text out of the hands of the hoi polloi is nonsense. Here’s the House’s publication (they must not have gotten the memo from the proto-fascist Bristol parade committee to keep the document under wraps).

Stuart
Stuart
11 years ago

That’s pretty far out calling conservatives the real liberals! Laughable, actually! The conservatives of today seem to be direct descendants of the “southern ways” after the civil war…the Southern pols and their sympathizers in the north were called conservatives while those who actually believed in republicanism (votes for most people, at least men) were called radicals. They were radical because they believed in the words enshrined in the founding of our country “that all men are created equal”. It would be a stretch which could only appeal to the uneducated to say anything other than: Conservatives today = Conservatives then. Liberals and Progressives now = Radicals then. It seems like conservatives who study their own record suddenly find themselves defending the indefensible…and so they try to “steal” the mantels of freedom from liberals, progressives and others who….really have not changed much throughout history. Liberals and deists (Jefferson, Franklin) were proud students of the Enlightenment and believed that logic and reason and science will show us the way. Again, it is a stretch to now relate todays conservative, who want to teach creationism (maybe not you, but MANY of them), want to go back to “old ways” of doing things (code for all kinds of things) and do everything they can to dispute science….instead using their selfishness to guide them In short the creed for the modern conservative simple – it is, to quote: “The modern Conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest moral philosophies; which is the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness”. I mean, what part of that is so hard to understand? That’s not a talking point….you can easily look at the things conservatives both do and say – and it is all about selfishness! In fact, they make no bones about it…..they are proud… Read more »

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

“…the values that conservatives seek to preserve are classically liberal — individual liberty, limited government, and the rule of law.”
The rule of law? I think you’re wrong about that. Jefferson and other classic liberals held that individual rights are natural rights, not derived from the state.

Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law,’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual.
–Thomas Jefferson to Isaac H. Tiffany, 1819.

Or how about Thoreau?

Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume, is to do at any time what I think right… Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well disposed are daily made the agents of injus­tice.
— Civil Disobedience, 1849

Stuart
Stuart
11 years ago

>>I don’t think a lot of people fully grasp the extent to which the Supreme Court is willing to twist clear reason and the English language in order to obtain a desired result
Bush V Gore and Corporate Personhood being the latest and greatest!
And our friend who wrote this post is not going to tell us both of these cases are what true Liberals of history would have believed in?
No way, Jose.
As to the current direction of our government, the overriding question is again “compared to what?”.
Compared to GW Bush, Obama on his worse day…and the entire Federal Government as a whole (the GOP part of congress aside) is definitely headed in a vastly better direction.
I don’t know anything else to compare it to. Nor do I think it is fair to do so. You can’t hand a large pile of chit to someone and then tell them it still stinks a few hours later when only 1/2 of it is gone.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

Obama has indeed inherited two wars and a bad economy.Iraq was getting much less intense even before he was elected.
I just don’t think he’s done much good at all.And in the foreign policy area he acts like he’s ashamed of his country.I know that doesn’t bother a one worlder like you,Stu,but it’s something no president should ever do.
Obama is dealing with problems-he’s agenda driven and has the Clinton mafia assisting him(maybe for their own purposes)along with the even more extreme leftists he has polluted the government with.
This president is a love him or hate him guy.Nobody has a ho-hum attitude about him like so many did about Eisenhower or Ford.Most of my friends who voted for him are disgusted now.
That’s how I felt about Clinton after I voted for him in his first run.I really didn’t know what a scoundrel he was.
It’s too bad that a monumental historical event such as the election of the first Black president was wasted on such an undeserving poseur.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

I MEANT to say he isn’t dealing with problems.He’s work energy challenged.In a time of economic hardship for so many,he likes to flaunt the high life,jetting off to NYC and Paris for ‘date night”,the Wednsday night cocktail parties,the golf vacations in the midst of crisis situations,and the general attitude of show over substance.
I’d hate to be Obama’s doctor-he’d never say anything specific enough to diagnose his problem.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

“Extreme leftists?” You’ve got to be kidding me. Which of Obama’s major appointments are extreme leftists? I can list dozens that are military hawks or Wall Street hotshots, even several Republicans (proof that he’s a Republican!).

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