The GOP’s Anti-Constitutional Amendment

The GOP’s Anti-Constitutional Amendment

What does the Republican Party stand for? They claim fiscal conservatism but this is demonstrably untrue, as the history of the past half-century demonstrates. They talk a lot about social conservatism but sex, drug, and prostitution scandals are no more a stranger to Republicans than to Democrats. They claim to represent the voice of the people but seem unconcerned about what the people want. They talk about the evils of pork but embrace earmarks with both hands, or want to “re-define” them so they can have them while speaking out against them. They talk about the sanctity of the Constitution but when they know anything about it at all (which is seldom enough) they oppose it at every turn. They talk about America right or wrong but if they oppose the Constitution, can they really claim to support America?

The GOP has become increasingly parasitical over the past decade and it has done a better job of enriching its individual members than running the country. Two wars, the economy in the tank, and no answers but more of the same.

Then there is the little issue of secessionism. Cloaked in talk of the Tenth Amendment, we could still hear the seditious talk of “Second Amendment” remedies and an extreme interpretation of States Rights that can only mean secessionism – though the word itself has been mentioned a time or two. Secession: how American is that?

The federal government established by the Constitution has become the Great Satan in Republican terminology. The federal government is out to get us; it is taking away our rights. But the Constitution was written to curb the rights-stealing behavior of local government, those same state legislatures now complaining most stridently about it. Any surprise there?

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The problem is the Constitution itself. It says something Republicans don’t want it to say. It says everyone is equal before the law. In an age of reactionary white Christian privilege, this is most inconvenient. The Constitutionally established federal government is there to protect our rights – and to protect us from ourselves – the “excesses of democracy” to use an 18th century term for the problem.

That leaves the GOP in a bit of a bind, trying to seem pro-America while being anti-America. The Constitution as it exists has to go. Some have proposed repeal of all amendments, which is of course an absurdity since the first ten (the Bill of Rights) were attached to the Constitution by the same people who wrote and ratified the Constitution. It was, of course, understood that other amendments were likely and indeed, would prove necessary. The Founding Fathers knew they could not look far enough into the future to make a static document.

Yet Republicans insist on reinterpreting history to mean that the original Constitution should stand as written – though of course, they like the Second Amendment and the Tenth. How those are somehow holy and others profane – the 16th, for example, which authorized a federal income tax, or the 17th, which allowed for direct election of senators, taking it away from the states, or even the 19th, which gave women the vote) is unclear. We don’t all get what we want. The framers of the Constitution did not. James Madison, who right or wrongly came to be known as the Father of the Constitution, did not.

Now some Republicans are proposing a constitutional amendment like none we have ever seen, a sort of anti-constitutional amendment, one that would permit the states the Constitution was intended to curb and force into line, to ignore the Constitution by voting to overturn any act of Congress.

It was first proposed by a Georgetown law professor, Randy E. Barnett, in 2009 as a means of “redressing the imbalance of power between state and federal power.” Legislative leaders in 12 states support it (Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, South Carolina, Texas and Utah, and Virginia); Eric Cantor, the incoming House Majority Leader, backs it.

There are two ways this can be made to happen:

  1. Both houses of Congress must pass it;
  2. It can be proposed at a convention called by Congress if 2/3 of the states petition for it.

If either of these conditions obtain, three-quarters (thirty eight) of the states must then approve the amendment.

Eric Cantor puts the case for the amendment thusly:

“Washington has grown far too large and has become far too intrusive, reaching into nearly every aspect of our lives. Massive expenditures like the stimulus, unconstitutional mandates like the takeover of health care and intrusions into the private sector like the auto bailouts have threatened the very core of the American free market. The repeal amendment would provide a check on the ever-expanding federal government, protect against Congressional overreach and get the government working for the people again, not the other way around.”

What Cantor chooses to ignore is the danger of those local “excesses of democracy” feared by the Constitution’s framers, notably, James Madison. A local government can be as intrusive as a federal and can trample rights just as thoroughly. The Constitution is designed to secure our rights even if local majorities favor stripping us of them. Look, for example, at Proposition 8 in California. The State of California might vote to take away the constitutionally-guaranteed rights of a particular group (usually a minority of course, ethnic, religious, gender, etc) but the Constitution says that you can’t do that.

The Constitution is not the enemy and therefore, the federal government is not the enemy. True, any government can be oppressive, but Republican rhetoric does not recognize this possibility. They have made the federal government the enemy when the real threat to our liberty comes from the same source feared by the framers of the Constitution. They recognized the need for a strong central government, the same strong central government the GOP now wants to dismantle in order to apparently return to the days of the Articles of Confederation when the states functioned as independent nations as separated divided by conflicting local interests.

Our government functions on a system of checks and balances. The states already have a check on excesses of the federal government: it’s called Congress, the members of which are all elected by the people of the individual states to represent their interests.

When States get to chose which laws they will obey and not obey, the United States will have come to an end. They already get a say in the process when they elect their representatives to Congress. That is how it was meant to be, and it has worked for over two-hundred years. Ironically, groups that support this “repeal amendment” (Barnett calls it a “federalism amendment”) claim to want to “restore the Constitution” when what they are proposing is exactly the opposite. It is time to recognize the GOP for what it is: the forces of anarchy, the same that nearly destroyed us from 1861-65, threatening to tear our nation apart.

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