Skip to main content

A constant talking point used by the right relates to the "Constitution as written", and it is commonly employed to decry progressive government programs that Republicans don't like.  "Welfare, Medicare, Social Security, etc. are not authorized under the Constitution as written!"  A classic example of this is George Will's article written last year on the danger of unlimited government.  In this article he espouses a number of absurd ideas, ideas that are still being pushed by the GOP today.  Will's entire premise centers around the debate over an evolving government, but basic facts demonstrate that there simply can be no debate over whether the Constitution must evolve.

Any time you hear anybody talk about the Constitution as written or the intent of the Founding Fathers with the intent to use the notion to discredit progressive programs, ask the following:

"Do you think women should be allowed to vote?"

"Do you support slavery?"

When they obviously answer in the negative to these questions, you have your immediate response:

"So, you support an evolving Constitution as our society progresses."

It is not that society always progresses - we only have to look at repeal of Great Depression era financial regulation and the subsequent collapse of our economy to realize that we can and do fall back to less effective methods of self-governance.  Still, Constitutional Amendments provide clear examples of the necessity of an evolving Constitution.  In fact, the Constitution literally asserts the necessity of change by containing within it a mechanism for change.

The rest of Will's article (I hope you didn't read it) is absolutely absurd, and it's possible to define progressivism in a much more appealing way.

"Progressivism is the premise that there are fundamental societal problems that can be dealt with through a social compact and collective action for the good of all.  These problems include poverty, caring for our elderly, protecting our environment, educating our children, and regulating our financial system to ensure that it operates in a fair and predictable manner.  The goal of progressivism is to promote a meritocratic society in which success is based on one's work ethic and ability and not on one's ancestry or ability to defraud the system."

America's problems are due in large part to Republican ideology.  Our public debt, the debt that you and I and our children are saddled with, was mostly accrued under Republican presidents after massive tax cuts, primarily targeting the wealthy, were legislated.  This is clearly demonstrated by looking at our debt over time.  It begins to skyrocket in the early 1980s after Reaganomics became all the rage among conservatives.

We absolutely need vigorous debate on the role of government, States vs. Federal powers, the goals of our welfare programs and how best to meet them.  However, any Republican who claims that we should use the Constitution "as written" is operating from a critically flawed perspective.  If your worldview does not permit the notion of an "evolving Constitution", you are literally stuck in the 18th century.  Elevating the Constitution to the same level as a religious text is deranged and should be labeled as such.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

    •  For accuracy sake, update to include (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      theatre goon, VClib

      when people say the Constitution as written, the Constitution includes the Amendments.

      Asserting that statements to the effect of "the Constitution as written" does not include amendments makes your point look silly, instead of being the worthwhile point it could be.

      The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

      by nextstep on Tue Jun 21, 2011 at 11:31:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I would like to salute the Constitution (0+ / 0-)

    any kind of document that works for over 200 years must be brilliant.

    Unfortunately there are people now who feel they're not bound by it, they've wrested control of power and we're in a pickle.

    We need a new generation of honor-bound patriots who truly love the idea of what the country has symbolized. Sadly it's clear that this deterioration has been almost as long in the making but now, today, in 2011, it's at a critical point.

    Our best route, I believe, is getting ourselves heard, as loudly as possible.

  •  The Constitution has a built in (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    coffeetalk, chiefofdees, theatre goon

    evolution mechanism, it's called the Amendment process.

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Tue Jun 21, 2011 at 07:13:17 PM PDT

    •  It Also Implies That's Not Always Necessary (0+ / 0-)
      Amendment IX
      The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

      Seems to me to imply that there are other ways society could come to recognize a right. Not that it wouldn't be safest to amend it in.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Tue Jun 21, 2011 at 07:21:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  As a proponent of a Living Constitution (0+ / 0-)

    I am glad you support the concept.

    I think the argument in its favor is stronger than you suggest. That in fact a Living Constitution is in fact the originalist intent.

    I have written on this subject on a number of occasions.

    •  I can't believe there's even a debate (0+ / 0-)

      It seems so blindingly obvious, and yet there are people who get paid good money to suggest that an evolving Constitution might be bad.

      How long have you been contributing to DKos?  I feel like I remember your name from way back in 2003-2004, when I was one of the silent lurkers who got hooked on this site during the runup to the Iraq War, when this site was one of the few sources of information not pushing the imperial perspective.

      •  evolving can be good or bad (0+ / 0-)

        bringing back slavery would be bad evolution.

        But the method by which it evolves is also important. Had the constitution 'evolved' by a judge deciding that women had a right to vote in 1870, that would have been an abuse of his office and an illegitimate mutation.

  •  as writtern (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nextstep, theatre goon, VClib
    "Do you think women should be allowed to vote?"

    "Do you support slavery?"

    yes and no.

    Of course those are both supportable by the constitution as (now) written, because the ammendments are also written.

    But before the 14th and 19th ammendments were passed the document did not support those positions.

    Ammendments are the legitmate way for the document to evolve.

    Maybe i'd put it that i believe in an ammendable constitution, not an evolving one.

    •  hmmm, that feels like semantic games (0+ / 0-)

      Amending the constitution is evolving it, I'd say.  How would you distinguish between an evolving constitution and amending it?

      •  The semantics goes as follows: (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        asinine

        (or at least how I've always understood it) - The constitution as a "living constitution" means that even when specific wording of amendments doesn't change, that wording is reinterpreted (within the judgment of the Supreme Court) in accordance with the times we live in, as opposed to interpreting it strictly in accordance with the original intent of the framers.

        I lean heavily toward "living document", but I understand the arguments for why it's potentially a dangerous situation.  That said, for Scalia's and Thomas' love of "original intent", I don't see the People being allowed to bear arms in the form of cruise missiles anytime soon.

        But can the original document evolve?  As evidenced by your examples of the 13th and 19th, that's what the amendment process is for.

        That George Will article is completely idiotic, but that's written for an idiotic Palin-esque audience:

        He repudiated the Founders' idea that government is instituted to protect pre-existing and timeless natural rights, promising "the re-definition of these rights in terms of a changing and growing social order."

        Yes George, the Founders' were flawed, racist, wealthy, misogynists who created a Constitution that was in direct contradiction to their "all men are created equal" rallying cry.

        ---
        I look at you all; see the love there that's sleeping. - G.H.
        I really love a lot, but I fight the one's that fight me. - M.I.A.

        by hey mister on Tue Jun 21, 2011 at 08:49:54 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  ammending is pretty obvious (0+ / 0-)

        and is certainly legit. If the courts were to make the exact same change, that would be illegitmate.

        Had the SC ruled slavery unconstitutional before the 14th ammendment, that would have altered the constitution invalidly.

  •  If It's Promotion of the General Welfare Then (0+ / 0-)

    it's IN the Constitution as written, isn't it?, twice, once as a founding premise of the entire system and later as a power of Congress for which it is empowered to levy taxes and duties to pay for it.

    Since Madison, President years after writing the original draft, vetoed a faith-based initiative to fund churches feeding the poor, specifically identified that as a government duty, I'd say you can't get intent more original intent than that in the case of welfare at least.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Tue Jun 21, 2011 at 07:25:20 PM PDT

  •  Here's what Ben Franklin told me (0+ / 0-)

    Beliefs that don't appeal to reason are unreasonable.

    by Sam Wise Gingy on Tue Jun 21, 2011 at 07:29:54 PM PDT

  •  Most conservatives are unaware of (0+ / 0-)

    Annotated US Constitutions which includes all of the court rulings on how the US Constitution has been interpreted.

    Example:

    First Amendment

    FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGION

    “The Free Exercise Clause . . . withdraws from legislative power, state and federal, the exertion of any restraint on the free exercise of religion. Its purpose is to secure religious liberty in the individual by prohibiting any invasions there by civil authority.”178 It bars “governmental regulation of religious beliefs as such,”179 prohibiting misuse of secular governmental programs “to impede the observance of one or all religions or . . . to discriminate invidiously between religions . . . even though the burden may be characterized as being only indirect.”180 Freedom of conscience is the basis of the free exercise clause, and government may not penalize or discriminate against an individual or a group of individuals because of their religious views nor may it compel persons to affirm any particular beliefs.181 Interpretation is complicated, however, by the fact that exercise of religion usually entails ritual or other practices that constitute “conduct” rather than pure “belief.” When it comes to protecting conduct as free exercise, the Court has been inconsistent.182 It has long been held that the Free Exercise[p.1006]Clause does not necessarily prevent government from requiring the doing of some act or forbidding the doing of some act merely because religious beliefs underlie the conduct in question.183 What has changed over the years is the Court’s willingness to hold that some religiously motivated conduct is protected from generally applicable prohibitions.

    What you find after that is all the court cases and their implications.

    http://www.law.cornell.edu/...

    Beliefs that don't appeal to reason are unreasonable.

    by Sam Wise Gingy on Tue Jun 21, 2011 at 07:35:34 PM PDT

  •  Everybody agrees the Constitution should (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    eatbeans, theatre goon, VClib

    "evolve."  The bigger question is how to do that -- and who gets to decide what that evolution is.

    Using the amendment process is the democratic way, under the premise that the Constitution is a democratic document, and that everything in the Constitution is there because, and only because, the people (through their representatives) voted to put it there.  The theory is that, if the people want the Constitution to say something, they should put it in the Constitution. there are some pitfalls, of course, since amendment is often very difficult (intentionally so, since the thought was the Constitution should only reflect those things about which there was real consensus (thus the super majorities).  

    On the other hand, the view that the Supreme Court should decide the direction and scope of the evolution also has some advantages and pitfalls.  Of course, it gives a tremendous amount of power to the nine judges on the Supreme Court.  That's very good when 5 or more of the judges agree with you, very bad when they don't, as FDR found out.  The SCOTUS that originally found some of the New Deal unconstitutional "found' rights that weren't written in the document such as the "right" to freedom of contract, which they  used to invalidate things like the 40 hour work week, if i remember correctly.

    The question is not whether the Constitution evolves -- it does.  The question is who decides the direction and scope of that evolution -- the people (through amendment) or five of  the nine justices -- right now, Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Kennedy.  

    •  I like your thinking (0+ / 0-)

      Unfortunately, there is a vocal minority espousing the notion that the constitution shouldn't evolve as a means of attacking progressive policy, as evidenced by Will's column.  My dad sent me this article and called it thought provoking, and my response to him was similar to what I wrote here, so I figured that this might be one of the rhetorical tactics used by conservatives.  Part of the culture war is our engagement with our conservative friends and family, and in this case the strategy seems very clear cut.

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site