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July 6th, 2011 4:49 pm
Dog Whistling for the Constitution

If they didn’t actually hold some positions of power, today’s liberal activists and supposed intelligentsia would engender serious pity because of their profound ignorance, lack of logic, and intellectually indefensible sentiments masquerading as principles. The latest case in point is the truly goofy New Republic piece by Ed Kilgore, previously best known for using a book review to posit that just about any backlash against Barack Obama is a sign that racism still reigns in large swaths of America. Now Kilgore analyzes the growing use of the term “constitutional conservatism” as if it not instantly understandable on its face but instead as if it is some sort of radical plot, alien to American democratic traditions. Worse, he avers it is a secret code, a radical-right “dog whistle” that lets right wingers and only right wingers know that what is being proposed is a return to the idyllic 1920s. Of course, in light of Kilgore’s previous meme of “Mommy, look, they’re all racists!!!,” it is no accident that he uses the term “dog whistle,” which is usually used by leftists to describe racist signals that only fellow racists can hear or understand.

Read Kilgore’s whole benighted piece, if you can stomach its intellectual vacuousness. But especially note this incredibly… well, I don’t quite know the word to describe its idiocy, but its incredibly moronic passage:

In their backwards-looking vision, constitutional conservatives like to talk about the inalienable rights conferred by the Founders—not specifically in the Constitution, as a matter of fact, but in the Declaration of Independence, which is frequently and intentionally conflated with the Constitution as the part of the Founders’ design.

What, pray tell, are we to make of this? Could Kilgore possibly be saying that that Declaration of Independence is not “part of the Founders’ design”? Is he actually complaining about ascribing the ideals of the Declaration to the practice of interpreting the Constitution? If anything, the Left has been known in the past for complaining that the Constitution was an unfortunate counter-revolution by moneyed interests upset at the supposed leveling mentality of the Declaration; now Kilgore seems to be complaining that the Declaration’s ideals should not be seen as inherent within the constitutional structure — as if those ideals themselves, and thus the Declaration, somehow pollutes the Constitution with some crazy nonsense about natural rights.

This is ludicrous. Whether or not the Constitution’s framers succeeded in implementing the Declaration’s ideals (conservatives rightly argue that they did), there can be no doubt that when the states ratified the Constitution their debates were all about making sure that their rights were being sufficiently safeguarded. The nationwide ratification struggle was all about natural rights.

Kilgore goes on to write this jaw-dropping sentence:

It’s from the Declaration, for instance, that today’s conservatives derive their belief that “natural rights” (often interpreted to include quasi-absolute property rights or the prerogatives of the traditional family)… were fundamental to the American political experiment and made immutable by their divine origin.

The subtext is clear: Gee, these folks are lunatics to believe in “quasi-absolute property rights,” which derive solely from a misreading of the Declaration, not from the Constitution itself.

Oh, really? Then why does the Constitution specifically say that “no state shall … pass any … law impairing the obligation of contracts?” Why does it restrict the power of eminent domain by requiring “just compensation” and insisting that it only be effectuated for “public use”? Why does the Constitution say that nobody shall be denied of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law?” And why, if the Declaration and the Constitution are not to be conflated, do so many of the same or similar formulations occur in each, the most notable of which is of course the repetition of the “life, liberty, property/pursuit of happiness” language?

The left not only doesn’t understand the Constitution; it seems to not even really know the Constitution, or perhaps not even have actually read it. It certainly does not have a clue about how the Founders themselves clearly thought of the Constitution as the practical means of applying the ideals of the Declaration.

There is nothing radical whatsoever about insisting that the law of the land actually be interpreted to mean what it meant when it was first adopted (recognizing, of course, that the “law of the land” in constitutional terms means the law that came into being when any current constitutional provision was adopted –  obviously meaning that where amendments have been adopted, it is the original meaning of those amendments, not he original meaning of the language they replaced, that is relevant).

Yes, Mr. Kilgore, we believe in constitutional conservatism. It’s not a dog whistle to say so. But to fail to understand its clear and unobjectionable meaning, one would really need to be a cur.

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