by John Schachter
Jonah Goldberg’s online tongue-in-cheek, ironic, satirical humor column on The Washington Post website this past weekend suffers from one major flaw: it’s apparently not intended to be tongue-in-cheek, ironic, satirical or humorous. Oh, well.
Goldberg tackles, as he puts it, the “top five clichés that liberals use to avoid real arguments.” We’ll get to that part of the column in a moment.
But first Goldberg opens by criticizing “mainstream liberals from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama -- and the intellectuals and journalists who love them” for claiming to be “dispassionate slaves to the facts; they are realists, pragmatists, empiricists.” Liberals, he claims, insist that “if only their Republican opponents weren’t so blinded by ideology and stupidity, then they could work with them.”
Let’s take a look at the facts. (Yes, we know Goldberg and his ilk don’t like when – cliché alert! – facts get in the way of a good argument. Wasn’t it Sen. Jon Kyl’s (R-Ariz.) spokesman who, when challenged on a ridiculously inaccurate statement Kyl used in a floor speech, insisted that Kyl’s comments and statistics were “not intended to be a factual statement”? Should we at least give him credit for at least admitting this distaste for facts?)
Despite ALL the evidence to the contrary, many Republicans continue to believe that President Obama was not born in the United States.Polling in March 2012 – nearly a year after the White House released the president’s long-form birth certificate, which should have ended, once and for all, the ridiculous “debate” – found that large percentages of Republicans in three key primary states still doubted the facts.
Then there are the twin stories of science – evolution and climate change. A 2007 Gallup poll found that 68 percent of Republicans do not believe in evolution. Meanwhile, a majority of self-identified Tea Partiers reject global warming, according to a recent Yale University survey.
So, yes, we have some problems with those on the right who try to insist that their rejection of fact, of science, and of reality is a statement of opinion worthy of total respect.
Now, onto the alleged liberal clichés that so offend Goldberg. Goldberg labels “the living Constitution” one of the clichés liberals use as “a font of unending hypocrisy.” The example he then gives to support his argument is … the post-9/11 debate over dealing with terrorists. Huh? Is that really the best he can do? The debate over anti-terrorism activities never really focused on “living Constitution” arguments. Few people had problems with military action against the Taliban and suspected terrorists; constitutional qualms centered on government overreach, clear erosion of civil liberties, Patriot Act overreach, and the like.
Those who support the idea of a so-called “living Constitution” – a term that almost no one uses – merely promote the case that the document intentionally contains phrases and concepts intended to change over time. Flogging and branding may not have constituted “cruel and unusual” punishment in the late 1700s, but pretty much everyone (even Justice Antonin Scalia!) concedes that they do today. The founders recognized that they didn’t know what the future would hold and that they were intentionally presenting the country with broad principles.
Many, if not most constitutional disputes today revolve around issues the founders could scarcely have imagined when they wrote the Constitution.
Professors Geoffrey Stone and William Marshall wrotethat the Constitution’s framers “understood that they were entrusting to the future generations the responsibility to draw upon their intelligence, judgment, and experience to give concrete meaning to these broad principles over time.” They explain that the text of the Constitution reflects this vision by defining our most fundamental freedoms in intentionally general terms: “freedom of speech,” “due process of law,” “free exercise” of religion, “equal protection of the laws,” and the like.
Professor David Strauss echoes the pointnoting, “Technology has changed, the international situation has changed, the economy has changed, social mores have changed, all in ways that no one could have foreseen when the Constitution was drafted. And it is just not realistic to expect the cumbersome amendment process to keep up with these changes.”
And Keeping Faith with the Constitution (authored by three constitutional experts for ACS) explains, “The Constitution aims to ‘establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty.’ These phrases could not then, and cannot now, be defined with precision.”
Goldberg conveniently ignores these facts. “By the way,” he concludes, “conservatives do not believe that the Constitution should not change; they just believe that it should change constitutionally – through the amendment process.”
For conservatives, who reportedly want to fight change and who revere the founders and their original intent, they sure do want to make a lot of changes to the founding document. Many, if not most, so-called conservatives tend to support no fewer than nine proposed amendments to the Constitution: mandate a balanced budget; bar same-sex marriage; ban flag burning; define life beginning at conception to outlaw all abortions; allow organized prayer in school; repeal the 17th amendment (i.e., direct election of senators); change the definition of birthright citizenship; and require a two-thirds vote in Congress to raise taxes.
So when it comes to tired clichés, it’s really Goldberg who takes the cake.