The inherent “conservative” hypocrisy

by lestro

One of the main tenets of the “conservative” movement is supposed to be limited government and more individual rights and responsibility.  It is supposed to be about the pure American spirit of liberty: this is my land and ain’t nobody gonna tell me what I can and can’t do.

They want strict readings of the U.S. Constitution, a document that was written with the sole intent of hemming in government power and protecting personal rights of the individual.  It’s all right there in the preamble:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The Constitution is the rule structure for our government.  It dictates the limits of what the federal government can do.

It’s true that we have interpreted it, especially in the post-Depression era, to allow an expansion of government and government programs that weren’t even considered in the colonial era.  Given the mission laid out in the preamble (which includes the goal to “promote the general welfare”), it makes sense in a modern world.

Just to be sure we got the message, the Bill of Rights was added as the first ten amendments, reiterating important individual rights reserved to the people.  Interesting enough, Hamilton, writing in the Federalist Papers, argued against the need for a the Bill of Rights, saying that there was no need to enumerate the rights of the people, since the document is designed to hem in the government by enumerating the limited authority granted to government – any authority not granted to the government is reserved to the people.  Hamilton worried that writing some individual rights into the Constitution would lead future generations to think those were the only individual rights protected and that the government could claim authority over everything else.

Ironically, while Hamilton was wrong in saying the rights listed in the first ten amendments didn’t need to be written into the Constitution, he was right in his concern that we would come to think of those as our only rights.

As one way to try and prevent that kind of misunderstanding, two of the least sexy and oft forgotten amendments were thrown in at the end of the Bill of Rights. Essentially, the Ninth and Tenth Amendments say “just because we didn’t write it down doesn’t mean it’s not your right,” and the Ninth in particular states:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Aside from the First Amendment, this really should be the most important amendment in the whole document, especially to the “conservatives.”

But it never seems to be remembered, as an item in today’s New York Times shows. In an article about the right wing preparation to oppose whomever the president nominates to replace the retiring Justice Souter, there’s this:

If he nominates Judge Sonia Sotomayor, they plan to accuse her of trying to “expand constitutional rights beyond the text of the Constitution.”

The first note for this story is that such preparation only reinforces the idea that the Republican Party can do nothing but stamp their feet and yell “No! No! No!” while offering nothing in return.

Second and more importantly, a strict constructionist reading of the Constitution – one that respects the absolute letter of the document – shows that there are NO individual rights not protected beyond the text of the Constitution. The Ninth Amendment guarantees the exact opposite.

For the record, the NYT article later says how the aforementioned judge is expanding rights:

And to support the contention that Ms. Sotomayor, an appellate judge in New York, tries to expand rights beyond the text of the Constitution, the memorandum on her cites a ruling in which she said a man could sue a private corporation for violating his constitutional rights while acting as a government contractor. Her decision was reversed by the Supreme Court, which said only individual agents, not corporations, may be sued for such violations.

And with this we are back to the basic hypocrisy of the right.  The “conservative” goal here was not to protect an individual’s rights, but a corporation’s. The right they are complaining about this judge finding is the right to sue a company.  They are actually siding against the individual in this case.

Nevermind that corporations are granted the same basic rights as individuals as far as other rights are concerned, minus the responsibility and accountability, of course, and the ridiculous hypocrisy that creates.

The basic idea of conservatives fighting against someone trying to expand individual liberty is mind-blowing. This sort of blatant hypocrisy is at the very core of the crisis currently facing the Republican Party. The problem is that the people have now seen for eight years the effects of saying one thing and doing another.  It’s like demanding that the government respect your religious freedom by forcing your view of god on someone else.

The right needs to regroup. We need them in this country. But we need them to actually be conservatives, not puppets of the corporate elite and the religious fundamentalists.

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