New Orleans Hidden in the New York Times the day after the July 4th holiday was a fascinating op-ed piece entitled Workingman’s Constitution, by William E. Forbath, a professor of law and history at the University of Texas in Austin. Forbath was writing in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Health Care Act, so that gave him his hook, but his real theme was that “liberals” were dropping the ball in not fully understanding and appreciating that the design and updates of the Constitution were meant to guarantee what we might call “distributive justice,” and the opportunity – and right – for average American citizens rather than just elites to live happily and well in economic terms.
It seems to me that Forbath makes a number of strong points here that are worth note and discussion. One that underlies all of this arguments is that in the hue and cry by conservatives to “follow the Constitution,” too many of us are ceding the Constitution to the rightwing without hesitating long enough to make a fight for its strengths for our positions as well, which undermines our own programs and policies.
Liberals have too often been complacent and purely defensive. The Constitution, they often declare, does not speak to the rights and wrongs of economic life; it leaves that to politics. Laissez-faire doctrines were buried by the New Deal. Until last week, this response may have been understandable. But it was always misleading as history, and wrong in principle, as well. And it was bad politics, providing no clear counter-narrative to support the powers of government now under attack from the right.
Pulling examples from James Madison to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Forbath makes a persuasive case that the enduring constitution is interlaced with a “distributive tradition” and that “you can’t have a republican government, and certainly not a constitutional democracy amid gross material inequality…because gross inequality …destroys the material independence and security that democratic citizens require to participate on a roughly equal footing in political and social life.”
This is profound and powerful stuff, and there may not be enough students matriculating from UT Law School ready to take pen an voice to join this army, so the rest of us need to take careful note if we are able to wrest the Constitution out of the grimy, greedy hands of the Koch Brothers and their Justices on the Court and their tribunes in politics.
The Constitution on this account promises real equality of opportunity; it calls on all three branches of government to ensure that all Americans enjoy a decent education and livelihood and a measure of security against the hazards of illness, old age and unemployment — all so they have a chance to do something that has value in their own eyes and a chance to engage in the affairs of their communities and the larger society. Government has not only the authority but also the duty to underwrite these promises.
Missoula The patterns are just too obvious now. The Republicans are into Big Brother and total government control. They are not conservatives at all! It is such a mistake for any of us to get suckered into that slick trick. What they really want it becomes increasingly clear is total government intervention, intrusion, and control of virtually every aspect of our lives.
I was actually struck by this reading The Missoulian before heading off the gird for a couple of days to check on how the Silver Bullet weathered the winter and prepare for whenever spring shows up for real here in Montana. The article had to do with a tiff between the Governor of Montana and the Repub majority and his view of the unconstitutionality of what both houses of the legislature wanted to do to any poor suckers who had prescriptions for medical marijuana.
I’ll get to that, but the pattern became crystal clear suddenly.
It started with the police state requirements of last year’s unconstitutional, but frequently copied, Arizona anti-immigrant law and its requirements that folks to always have “papers” on them or risk a quick frisk and a trip to jail if they looked “out of the ordinary.” Starting with profiling, police could then have someone on the bus to Mexico or beyond because they lacked ID. Why did the Republicans want to allow government this kind of power to intrude on privacy and personal liberties?
Now we see it cropping up everywhere in the attempts to disenfranchise the poor, the young, or anyone else who seems different (read possibly Democratic) to Republican legislatures. And, once again, it’s “big brother BS!” Many of these bills require people to present their birth certificates in order to register and then have a “government approved” photo ID in order to vote. These are the same people that don’t even believe President Obama’s birth certificate despite a small army of Hawaiians standing to certify it, so what chance is the average person going to have if there’s any kind of problem. Furthermore, people better be prepared to pay to retrieve a certified copy of their birth certificates, because you can just imagine old Xerox editions are not going to cut it. There are tens of thousands of people in my hometown of New Orleans alone who have NO original records anymore after Katrina. Would they be denied the right to vote?
Montana’s Governor Brian Schweitzer is buckling at signing the so-called medical marijuana reform act in this state because he’s convinced it is unconstitutional as presented and passed by the Republicans. Why? Well, it requires having an ID on you at all times AND a copy of your prescription AT ALL TIMES. The bill also requires that you be willing to submit to search of your house and property at any time by the police and other authorities, if you have a medical prescription. The bill requires that your medical records be public and that you be listed as having such a prescription, just like a child molester, in any community where you live. The Republicans did mess up. They didn’t require an embedded GPS chip up your butt so they could track these suckers every minute of the day, but once they think of that, a new bill will be coming. Schwietzer happens to be a Democrat, but he also happens not to be stupid. He actually wants reform on this medical marijuana thing which has been a hot issue in the state ever sense folks from throughout the Northwest registered last year for prescriptions.
Nonetheless, the Republicans when left to their own instincts just want the government to intrude everywhere in the most authoritarian, police state ways imaginable. This is not a pretty pattern. It has nothing to do with being conservative. It’s about brining a “cold war” into the country and using government as a tool to herd and punish, sort and select, and mainly to tilt the field and stack the deck their way. There are no principles to any of Rthis; it’s just all about how the powers that be can use government to be as punitive as possible.