Constitutional Insanity

Terrance Heath

Digby confirms a suspicion I’ve held since the Clinton years: part of the method to the right’s madness is to exhaust their opponents with their insanity. It’s related to what I previously dubbed “The Tyranny of the Tantrum.”

Those of you who went through the 90s will recognize this phenomenon. It’s when the right’s ferocious attacks are so vicious and relentless that they eventually wear down average, common sense people with normal lives to lead — and even scare them a little.

In Clinton’s case it was defending him from the non-stop personal attacks that was so wearying. It took a brave soul with a taste for political combat to keep fighting in the face of that onslaught. It was called Clinton Fatigue, the sense that even people who were sympathetic to the president’s political plight and understood that his enemies were rabid and insane, just wanted it to end. Many analysts think it was the reason why Gore had such a hard time even though the economy was roaring — normally the country would have not wanted to rock that boat. It was the prospect of four or eight more years of wingnuts shrieking and howling that made at least few people say “whatever… give it to them … anything to shut them up.”

In Obama’s case it’s this moribund economy vs the outsized expectations that form the substance of the Democratic base’s complaint. And there’s good reason for people to be disappointed and worried. But the exhaustion at defending him, at least some of it, comes from the same place as that Clinton Fatigue. The right’s non-stop attacks eventually just wear people down, sap them of their enthusiasm, make them question their own judgment, especially in the face of a negative and less than hopeful future. You have to be pretty committed to want to wallow in this toxic mud every day and most people have better things to do with their time.

I’m not saying that if the GOP wasn’t relentlessly attacking Obama that this woman would feel good about him. He hasn’t been very successful at addressing her concerns and there are plenty of liberals who are critical of him as well. But even if he were able to allay her concerns about the economy and the future of the country, the exhaustion that comes from battling back these lunatics is what really takes its toll.

Actually, I’m wondering if the right isn’t employing this same tactic with their love/hate relationship with the constitution.

Lately, I’ve taken to posting this bit of vintage Saturday Morning educational television.

Most recently, I posted it in response to Rep. Michelle Bachmann.

And if I’d though of it at the time, I’d have posted it in response to this guy during the health care reform debate.

And now I find myself posting it in response to Alaska’s GOP senate candidate Joe Miller.

In an interview today with “Fox News Sunday,” Alaska GOP Senate nominee Joe Miller had trouble explaining how he would help the 43.6 million Americans in poverty, even as host Chris Wallace repeatedly pressed him for more than conservative talking points.

Wallace asked Miller about his assertion in August on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that unemployment benefits are unconstitutional, noting that without them, many more Americans would be in poverty. “What would you do for them?” asked Wallace.

Miller, however, struggled to come up with an answer, and instead shifted to talking points about reducing the size of the federal government. Wallace repeatedly pressed him on the issue, without ever receiving an actual response…

And usually I end explaining what I thought we all learned in our eighth grade civics classes, if not over our Saturday morning cereal. Article I of the constition establishes Congress as a legislative body, and in Section 7 lays out the process by which legislation passes both houses of Congress, makes its way to the president’s desk, and … Well, you know how it ends if you saw that first video.

Granted, I’m not constitutional scholar, but that pretty much makes sense to me. That we have a legislative body at all kinda makes it obvious that it’s expected to, well, legislate. Otherwise, Michelle Bachmann can pack up and go home, and Joe Miller can try to get a refund on his undistributed campaign signs, because there’s no point in them coming to D.C. There’s no need for them to vote on anything because “if the it isn’t in the constitution we can’t do it.” So there’s nothing for them to vote on anyway.

After all, why’d the constitution establish a legislative body if it’s not supposed to legislate when all legislation was effectively supposed to stop 223 years ago last week, when the constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787? Wait, make that 219 years ago this coming December 15th. Apparently that was when the first 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights came into effect in 1791, after being ratified by the state. Of course, this is assuming that 1791 is as far back as they want to go.

But seriously, am I overestimating people here? I can’t be the only one who understands the above. And surely even people on the right acknowledge that the genius of the founding fathers was that they created a system of government that would be constrained by the limits of their imaginations and things they could or could not envision we would face more than 200 years later.

The founders’ greatest genius was creating a system of government not limited by their own individual imaginations. They may not have been able to imagine the complexities of financial instruments like derivatives or a financial sector that would wreak all manner of economic havoc with them, but they didn’t prohibit us from dealing with either. They may not have been able to imagine an energy industry capable of spilling millions of barrels of oil, but they did not bar us from regulating those industries in order to protect “the general welfare.”

The founders probably couldn’t have imagined a lot about our present, but they provided for it. Understanding that the document they crafted was not a terminal document, they provided a process — however imperfect — that made all kinds of changes possible. From Barack Obama’s presidency to Bachmann’s seat in Congress.

They didn’t “close the book” in 1791 or 1787. They left it open-ended enough to allow us to find solutions to problems they couldn’t have imagined then.

…According to Justice Antonin Scalia, conservative jurists merely carry out the “original meaning” of the framers. These are appealing but wholly disingenuous descriptions of what judges — liberal or conservative — actually do.

To see why this is so, we need only look to the text of the Constitution. It defines our most fundamental rights and protections in open-ended terms: “freedom of speech,” for example, and “equal protection of the laws,” “due process of law,” “unreasonable searches and seizures,” “free exercise” of religion and “cruel and unusual punishment.” These terms are not self-defining; they did not have clear meanings even to the people who drafted them. The framers fully understood that they were leaving it to future generations to use their intelligence, judgment and experience to give concrete meaning to the expressed aspirations.

It seems so obvious that I find it hard to believe the right doesn’t understand this. That’s why I’m convinced that the current displays of constitutional craziness is a really a tactic to drive the opposition — us — crazy trying explain to them how the document they alternately say they want to preserve or promise to re-write actually works. Of course, they understand this. They just want us to think they don’t That’s gotta be it. Right?

Or am I giving them way too much credit?

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