The Right Wing’s Constitutional Fetish
Gabriel Winant at Salon puts the so-called “constitutionalists” in perspective. The GOP stepped in it when it accused SCOTUS nominee Elena Kagan of not loving the Constitution because she once quoted the late Justice Thurgood Marshall calling it “defective.” Tea partiers running around in Revolutionary War garb may not be up on just how things were back then.
There is something upsetting about how eager folks on the right have been to say it’s all been downhill since the 1780s. Sure, if called on it, as in the Marshall-Kagan business, they’ll backtrack and say that they obviously think emancipation and women’s suffrage were good things. But they appear mainly unperturbed about the fact that in 1792, the percentage of the population with full citizenship was probably less than one-fourth. It’s an afterthought.
“Free enterprise,” which conservatives talk about as though they’re discussing a long-lost puppy, had a very different meaning in the 18th Century.
Lots of people were just living off their land and not doing much buying or selling, and to drag them into the market required using state power. This was the stance of the northern, Federalist “Founders,” mainly — John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, etc. Small government was the populist stance, and was in particular a Thomas Jefferson specialty.
The biggest problem with waxing poetic about our beloved founders and the great love of country that conservatives think is lost on “the liberals” is that they’re nostalgic for a myth.
Even if the past had been a free market paradise, it still only would’ve applied to the small fraction who were seen as full human beings and allowed rights as such. It’s hardly a free market if you’re forced to work in the fields for no pay, or forbidden from owning property. Casually dismissing these things because they get in the way of worship of the original Constitution seems revealing of something worse than being uninformed. It’s almost as if the crucial rights enshrined in the Constitution only matter for white guys.Click here for reuse options!
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