The New and Exceptional Chosen People

Poor Ezra said something sensible on television, and naturally he is being pilloried for it. You’ve probably heard that the incoming Republican majority plans to require that every new bill introduced from now on must cite which article in the Constitution authorizes whatever it is the bill proposes to do.

A couple of days ago Ezra pointed out that the individual mandate section of the health care reform bill actually cites case law supporting its constitutionality, and that this hasn’t made a dent in the wingnuts’ opinion that it is unconstitutional. He added,

To presume that people writing what they think the Constitution means — or, in some cases, want to think it means — at the bottom of every bill will change how they legislate doesn’t demonstrate a reverence for the document. It demonstrates a disengagement with it as anything more than a symbol of what you and your ideological allies believe.

In reality, the tea party — like most everyone else — is less interested in living by the Constitution than in deciding what it means to live by the Constitution. When the constitutional disclaimers at the bottom of bills suit them, they’ll respect them. When they don’t — as we’ve seen in the case of the individual mandate — they won’t.

This is exactly right. However, this is being done to appease the teabaggers, and the teabaggers are not going to be appeased by citations of case law. They will want to see exactly where the Founding Fathers said it was all right to, for example, regulate food safety or protect endangered species.

The way many of them appear to interpret the Constitution, if the text doesn’t enumerate that very specific thing by name — say, hiring air traffic controllers — it’s unconstitutional. The fact that this would make most of the legislation passed in the past 233 years unconstitutional apparently hasn’t sunk in.

And what’s really likely to happen is that legislation will be so hopelessly snarled up in fantastical constitutional arguments that little will ever get to a floor vote. The only other possibility is that the citation will become a meaningless formality that no one takes seriously. I don’t see a middle ground there.

I already wrote a few days ago why it is blatantly insane to limit the Constitution that way. I’d add to that the teabaggers treat the Constitution as if it were dictated by God, and not written by a bunch of 18th-century men who intended it to be a basic outline of government processes and structures that future generations could use to govern themselves.

The other frightening thing about the teabaggers is their inability to understand that the document is pretty vague about a lot of things, and over the years many intelligent and patriotic people of good character have disagreed with each other over precisely what every clause means. To teabaggers, their interpretation is the only correct one — even though most of them have no better understanding of the Constitution than they do of quantum physics — and any deviation from their interpretation is not a mere disagreement, but sedition.

Then Ezra gave a television interview in which he said that the constitutional citations in the legislation would not be binding — for example, a law could still be challenged in court and declared unconstitutional, no matter what the citation says. Were that no so, it would be a rather large breach of the constitution’s separation of powers. See above about quantum physics.

Naturally, the wingnuts are now claiming that Ezra said the Constitution itself is not binding, which is not at all what he said. Which begs the question — if they can’t understand clear 21st-century English, how is it they claim to have perfect understanding of sometimes archaic 18th-century English?

Which takes me to the next point, which is that language is very dynamic and the meanings of words and phrases do change over time. That’s why it’s important to have some understanding of, for example, English common law as it existed in the late 18th century in order to appreciate what the authors of the Constitution meant. Often the particular phrase they chose was understood to mean a specific thing in the legal language of their time, and the way most 21st century readers would interpret the same phrase is entirely different.

Naturally, the usual mouth-breathers are hooting at Ezra for saying the Constitution is impossible to understand because it is old.

Which brings me to my larger point, which is that somehow in the minds of many, America and American history are somehow an extension of the Bible. The Constitution is the Fifth Gospel, and Americans are the new Chosen People. Religious faith and patriotism are seamlessly and inextricably woven together. No good can come of this.

Elsewhere — no pardon for Billy the Kid.

24 thoughts on “The New and Exceptional Chosen People

  1. “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” – the ninth amendment

    I wish these people would read the ninth amendment, but I guess that would be asking too much and they would only believe what they want to believe anyways.

  2. Which takes me to the next point, which is that language is very dynamic and the meanings of words and phrases do change over time.

    Like the teabaggers’ relationship to the Second Amendment. We don’t really need militias like the amendment spells it out, but calling for responsible gun ownership isn’t exactly the same as calling for a repeal of the amendment, is it?

  3. Its all so preposterous I don’t even know where to start. I keep on hoping we aren’t really living here today – this must be a big long dream and these people can’t really be so stupid. And yet I’m sitting in front of a computer writing this sentence…

  4. Lynne,
    Nothing to fear. Jeeeeebus will save us all! After all, we are God’s exceptional, CHOSEN people.
    And maha’s right. They do think that The Constitution was written by the Founding Fathers after they got the words for it directly from God via a packet carried over by the French Navy from what was left of God’s last great chosen people and their ruler, Louis the XIVth, the late (by then) Sun King. I guess God must have tried the British and King Geroge IInd & IIIrd in the meantime, but found them wanting, as did we, which is why WE must be HIS Chosen People. And the French Navy must have been really slow (maybe that’s why they hate the French), because we had “The Articles of Confederation” for a while until God got Jeff, Mad, Wash, that old deviant Franklin, and crew the words.
    And doesn’t it occur to these people that if the damned Constitution was perfect in every way, then the founders wouldn’t have allowed future generations to AMEND it, now would they?
    I mean, these same people had no problem when “The Word of God” was amended by their “New Testament,” even though all they seem to like is the smiting, eye-for-an-eyeing and revengeful Old Dude from the earler Jewish take on it. But then, what the hell do Jews know, right? By your “logic,” wouldn’t they then be like the Founding Fath… And amendments are like the New Tes… Never mind, too many heads will explode, and EMS workers already have enough to do in the next 24+ hours.
    The Constitution is a set of basic ground rules, kind of like the most rudimentary plan for building a structure people can live in. You can either take those plans and build a run-dwon hovel, or a modern sky-scraper, with all of the amenities. It seems that a lot of people in this country seem to think that the hovel is the right choice – for everyone but themselves, of course.
    Wake up, SHEEPLE!
    Jesus ain’t comin’ no matter how hard you pray. Not on a plane, not on a snowplow (sorry, NYers), and not even on the oft-mentiond bicycle. He ain’t even gonna come down a golden staircase, accompanied by choirs of singing angels, like some old drag queen with a retinue at the Gay Pride Parade in NYC, SF, or the Florida Keys. So get over it, and yourselves.
    We can all try to live with one another and all of our eccentricities, which is what the Constitution is all about, or we can all kill each other. Your way has been the latter way, since time immemorial. Maybe if we all tried to live together, life may be a bit more pleasant – and that’s why theres no mixing of church and state, imbeciles. But no, you Christianista assholes, who see the Virgin Mary in old toast you brought home from The Waffle House 10 years ago, insist that everygoddamnedfuckingthing be your way, and when people don’t agree, you go back to the old tried and true – ‘Smite the Unbelievers!’ and send them onto the the Hell Highway in the express lanes! Smite me? Smite Me?
    Peace, out…

    And yes, I know that if there’s a Hell, those last few paragraphs just punched my ticket. Oh well, smug and rightious was never up my alley anyway. And, besides, Hell would give me something to bitch about for the rest of eternity.

  5. They really do seem to believe that the Constitution comes right out of the Ten Commandments. And that the Ten Commandments are the first time that anyone, anywhere, ever said that it was wrong to kill people or bear false witness.

    • And that the Ten Commandments are the first time that anyone, anywhere, ever said that it was wrong to kill people or bear false witness.

      Bearing false witness was a big no no in the Law Code of Hammurabi, which is older than the 10Cs. False accusations of a serious offense could be punished by execution. However, I understand that making bad beer also was punishable by execution. The criminal justice system of the time lacked a certain degree of nuance.

  6. The criminal justice system of the time lacked a certain degree of nuance.

    Do you remember the SNL skit Theodoric of York? I still laugh at that skit. Some 11th century religious cretin pondering the punishment of a defendant caught in adultery when a prior offense for lying had resulted in the defendant having his tongue cut off.

  7. Maha, you and I and lots of other people know about the Law Code of Hammurabi, and the Babylonian Genesis, many, many other documents and writings from lots of other civilizations in the middle east and during the “biblical” time periods. The Tea Pariters and cohorts, on the other hand, either do not want to know or deny the relevance of these materials. For them the Bible was dictated into an ancient form of tape recorder for transcribing. And facts have a liberal bias….

  8. I visited a terrific exhibit on Ben Franklin yesterday. Among his many achievements, he was the oldest person at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 – he was in his early 80s, senior to all the other particpants. Too weak to speak, a friend delivered a short speech on his behalf. Excerpts:

    “I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others…

    “Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors, I sacrifice to the public good. I have never whispered a syllable of them abroad. Within these walls they were born, and here they shall die. If every one of us in returning to our Constituents were to report the objections he has had to it, and endeavor to gain partizans in support of them, we might prevent its being generally received, and thereby lose all the salutary effects & great advantages resulting naturally in our favor among foreign Nations as well as among ourselves, from our real or apparent unanimity…”

    Other quotes:

    “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

    The wingnuts who treat the Constitution as The Word of God obviously don’t understand or care for any of the subtleties you mention. They simply have been programmed to hate any collective action (that would restrain the oligarchs) and to resist change. Their simpleminded understanding of the Constitution is just a hook the olgarchs use to keep things in place.

    As I walked through the Franlin exhibit, trying to grapple with Franklin’s life and writings, I was reminded of how the people in Idiocracy regarded anyone who spoke intelligently as a fag (their word choice). They couldn’t hear what was being said, just as your arguments are way too subtle for today’s dull minds.

  9. That Ezra! Such an elite! As if mere facts mattered! We are Americans! We are exceptional! Words mean what we want them to mean, as some old queen said.

    I have been reading Ezra for some time as a resulting of finding him recommended here. This outburst of ‘bagger rage just adds to his credentials, and should propel him to further glory on MSNBC. It will be fodder for much discussion, and will add a new chaper to the Faux bible’s parade of sinners. How many years do you want to bet this will swirl in the commode of Faux “research” on biased reporting?

    Can’t wait for Colbert’s take!

  10. WOW!! youse guys are really throwin’ some ideas around.
    I’m hopein’ Jesus comes back riding a pogo stick, that would be real cool, maybe he’d do some back flips, etc., since he could do anything he wants.Hide the crucifix, that scene might piss him off.
    I was watching
    FOX N’ Friends earlier this week, the show features a good looking blonde chick with two big boobs, one seated at each side of her.They discuss what they think is politics, very strange rabbit hole.
    Maha mentioned “bad beer”, exactly what is “bad beer”? Corona kinda of sucks, but it’s not really “bad” as in “evil”.( I prefer “Bohemia”, goes great with pozole and fish tacos)
    When one of the founders said “fetch me a switch” was he think about electricity?
    We are in for a fun new year; the magical mystery tour is coming to take you away……………………
    Hey, it got real nice in Fl, going kayaking in Weeki Wachee tomorrow, gonna hug a manatee or two.’Wish y’all were here!
    I’ll get back to painting now….

  11. The teabaggers treat the Constitution as if it were dictated by God

    This is Authoritarian Wingnut 101, in religion or politics. Proclaim that this document is SACRED (Bible, Constitution, Federalist Papers, speech by St. Ronald) and we must OBEY IT TO THE LETTER, and by the way I am the only one who can channel the original REAL fundamentalist interpretation, so obey me as if it were God/George Washington speaking. It’s a low tactic by moral cowards to silence the very concept of debate and competing ideas.

  12. I suppose the wingnuts will be able to point out to us exactly which article in the Constitution authorizes warrantless wiretapping, detention without trial and waterboarding.

  13. As I read history, the Constitution replaced the Articles of the Confederation. The main flaw with the earlier document was that there was no central government or authority with the power to enter into treaties, borrow or tax. The Convention was called to amend the original document, BTW, and they threw it out, which is one reason why there haven’t been Constitutional Conventions since. ANYTHING can happen.

    I digress. Under the original document, the colonies were independently operating as countries. And it pretty much insured that one by one, colonies would be absorbed by other countries. The problem with a stronger form of government to unite the thirteen was that the governors and legislatures of each state did not want to give up power.

    Look at these two strong and opposing pressures. There had to be a strong central government, but the individual states had to be convinced that no one would step on their toes. So the language IS vague and subject to interpretation in a LOT of areas. It’s vague on purpose – so the states would pass it and so the central government would be strong enough to function.

    BTW, Thomas Jefferson, while third president questioned the authority of the SC to settle Constitutional disputes. That’s how certain the founders were in THEIR time.

    The idea that anyone can read the US Constitution and accurately discern the intent of 200 years ago AND accurately apply their lay interpretation of the intent of the founders to the problems of OUR century is delusional. You are entitled to an opinion – as I am – and those opinions have the same value. It’s for the USSC, not you or me NOR the US House of Representatives to interpret the will of the founders as applied to our problems.

  14. Off topic.
    My elderly parents and I just got done with the New Years dinner I made for us.
    A 5pm Cocktail Hour – an appetizer of large sea scallops browned in butter and red pepper flakes, and then with sauteed with some shallots and added some white wine and a hint of lemon and reduced into a sauce to drizzle on top of them. There were crackers (no, not the red-neck kind) and some home-made hummus, and black and green olives I bought – YUM!
    – I also make us all Knob Creek Bourbon Manhattans shaken – and served ‘up’ (the bourbon was a gift from my cousin, whose son’s Christening we drove to and from in the middle of “The Great Blizzard of late 2010.” He owes me at least a case for the drive, but this was a nice first installment – not that he rest is ever coming…).
    And for dinner, at 8:15 – Just to get in the mood, some oven-warmed focaccia bread to dip into an a mix of finely sliced anchovy’s, a few drops of anchovy oil, a good dose of olive oil, finely minced garlic, red pepper flakes, sea salt, roughly ground black pepper, and grated parmesan cheese.
    Dinner was Shrimp Scampi, with extra large jumbo shrimp (did George Carlin ever mention these in his routine?), and Caesar Salad with home-made dressing.
    A nice white wine was served with the meal.
    At midnight, I got us some cheap Spanish champagne, and we’ll toast the New Year in with that, some crackers (again, no, not the red-neck kind), some smoked provalone, gorganzola, and sliced apples and pears. Being who we are, my Dad and I will probably have a shot of vodka or two (or three – hic!).
    Sadly, I ran out of all of my money before I could get myself a decent bottle of port – sigh…………………

    OK. So that was my Christmas, New Years, and Russian Christmas gift for my parents (and for ME, TOO!). Next weeks UI chech will be used for my Verizon and Dell bills, and my NY State taxes, which I owe from the 401K plan I cashed out in 2009 in order to live (where was MY f-in’ tax break on that, RepubliKlans?).

    Have a VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR, ONE AND ALL!!!!!!!!!!

  15. “However, I understand that making bad beer also was punishable by execution. ”

    I can see why SERVING bad beer would be a capital offense, but every brewer, surely has a bad lot of yeast sometimes.

  16. Bad beer, a capital offense?
    Me likey that one.
    First it would get Coors off the market. Second, it would eliminate a family that contributes tons of money to the RepubliConfederate Party.
    Juss’ kiddin’!
    I am, aren’t I?

  17. And what’s really likely to happen is that legislation will be so hopelessly snarled up in fantastical constitutional arguments that little will ever get to a floor vote.

    Considering the make-up of the incoming Congress, that will most likely be a blessing. For some reason, I think of the repeal of the repeal of DADT: where do you suppose they’re going to find something in the Constitution that mandates discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation? Just for starters.

    Be sure to bring plenty of popcorn.

  18. Great post Maha. The authoritarian mindset from all these people that say they value individual liberty. They are very confusing people.

  19. Pingback: The Mahablog » The Constitution Fetish

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