Constitutionalist: What’s in a Name?
by Steve Deace
This article was first posted at Townhall.com.
In last week’s column I noted several specific examples of how the term “conservative” has been bastardized to mean standing for nothing other than not being a Democrat. Given what we’re seeing from Republican “leadership” on Capitol Hill, if every Republican is a conservative then nobody is.
This week I propose a remedy to the Republican Party establishment’s attempt to co-opt the term “conservative” and replace it with more Mitch McConnellesque milquetoast. That remedy will require a defined standard.
That defined standard should be the U.S. Constitution.
The best way to stop your movement from being co-opted is to adhere to a defined objective standard that holds everyone equally accountable. Anybody can call himself a “Conservative” just by killing one less unborn baby or stealing one less dollar from the taxpayers than the statists desire. But not everybody can call themselves a “Constitutionalist.” Either what you’re for or what you’re doing is in the Constitution or it is not. Last I checked, the Constitution does not include a “good ideas” provision or a “good intentions” clause.
The temptation of conservatism is to become a culture club, where a bunch of folks get together to self-righteously congratulate each other that they’re not as bad as the worst people in America. Conservativism settles for “anybody but Obama” in the White House, leaving the statist infrastructure the Left has hardwired into the culture largely in place, but with the promise to manage it better than the Leftist-Progressives will. Instead of stopping evil because it’s wrong, conservatism has sadly become “let’s just manage the decay because too much of it is icky.”
On the other hand, a “Constitutionalist” understands we also need “somebody that will repeal and nullify Obama” (or most of George W. Bush for that matter) in the White House. A Constitutionalist understands that defeating Democrats may be a key step, but it is just a step nonetheless. The real victory comes in determining public policy after your guys win the election, not just being content with your guys winning the election. Leaving in place the Left’s infrastructure means the election does little than give you a warm fuzzy that your team won. See how John Boehner and Mitch McConnell have essentially nullified the 2010 election results if you need more evidence.
A “Conservative” thinks the battle is won and lost in November. A “Constitutionalist” realizes the battle only begins in November. The real war comes in January regardless of who’s in power.
Since conservativism is no longer defined by objective moral absolutes, Republicans are now using the term “Conservative” as an excuse to measure themselves against the enemies of the Republic. But the term “Constitutionalist” brings with it an objective moral standard that compels them to raise their standard up to the Founding Fathers instead. We need a mechanism by which we have a standard to hold our elected officials accountable to something higher than “don’t destroy the country as quickly as the Democrats will.”
For example, President Obama claims to be a Christian, but everything he believes is in direct conflict with historic Christian orthodoxy, which is defined by the Bible as well as over 2,000 years of church tradition. That’s why scores of Christians who share those convictions doubt his Christianity. After all, you know a tree by its fruit.
Obama (or any mere mortal for that matter) does not get to subjectively define Christianity to suit his own agenda. Instead, Christianity is defined by an objective standard that defines who is actually a Christian. Without knowing what goes on in his private life, there is absolutely zero public evidence that Obama adheres to any semblance of Christian orthodoxy. Therefore, based on what we know publicly, regardless of what he claims there is no fruit to justify his public profession of being a Christian. The pastor he tutored under doesn’t preach Christian orthodoxy. He consistently governs contrary to Christian orthodoxy, to the point of being openly hostile to it. He associates with and advances the ambitions of those hostile to Christian orthodoxy. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, well, you know the rest.
Similarly, patriots need a defined standard to hold everyone equally accountable to. What better device to use than the U.S. Constitution itself? Every official already swears an oath of office before God to uphold and defend it. It is the governing document of these United States. It’s also readily available and accepted by many across the country as the standard. All we have to do now is enforce it.
A recent interview Justice Antonin Scalia gave to Fox News illustrates exactly why this transition is necessary. Scalia could very well be the most “Conservative” justice we have on the Supreme Court, and could also be among the best “Conservative” justices we’ve had since the Progressives took over the law schools. But some of the answers he gave on Fox News were not “Constitutionalist.”
For example, Scalia was asked about his judicial philosophy. He talked about looking at the original meaning of the text to determine what its author meant it to say. That is certainly more “conservative” than Justice Stephen Breyer’s stated philosophy, which is essentially to say, “I am God and can make the text say whatever I want it to say, or just make up the law as I go along.”
Scalia gave a more “conservative” answer than Breyer did for sure. But Scalia never told us why he accepts the authority of the original meaning of the Constitution in interpreting the law. If we don’t offer reasons why to accept the Constitution’s actual words as the law of the land, then we have no defense against the Breyer’s of the world that reject its authority outright.
A “Constitutionalist” would’ve told Fox News, “I seek to interpret the Constitution through its original meaning because it is the law of the land that my fellow justices and I swore an oath of office before the Creator of the Universe to defend and uphold. It was written with the ‘Laws of Nature and Nature’s God’ in mind, which is the highest law. My title is judge, not God. I don’t get to change the objective standard of the Constitution to mean what I want it to mean anymore than I can change the objective law of gravity to suit my desire to fly. The Constitution says what it says regardless of each individual’s agenda, just as gravity exists regardless of your wish to leap tall buildings in a single bound. The worst Supreme Court decisions in American history have been the direct result of judges who thought they were de facto gods, and not accountable to anything higher than themselves.
“I believe our rights come from God and my job is to protect those God-given rights. Justice Breyer and his ilk believe government is all-powerful, and what government can grant it can also take away. We’ve rejected our Founders and have been conducting civilization their way for 50 years. How’s that working out for us? We’re broke across the board—morally and fiscally.”
Later in the interview, Chris Wallace asks if the Constitution’s original meaning allows for any limits on the Second Amendment given the advances in technology that make weapons more dangerous than Colonial-era muskets accessible today, to which Scalia responded “we’ll see.” If Scalia accepts the plain language of the Constitution and its Founders, what’s there to see?
What a Constitutionalist would’ve told Wallace is, “Chris, how would you like it if I decided that since there’s technology today that allows for a freedom of speech and freedom of the press our Founders would’ve never anticipated, that government can therefore limit what you say, who you say it to, and how often you get to say it? Our Founders never envisioned the Internet or 24-hour news networks. Because of the new technology, perhaps we should apply the premise of your question first to the First Amendment before moving on to the Second? How would you like that, Chris?”
Conserving the Left’s agenda is no longer an option. Time is running out on these United States. We need to articulate an agenda that will undo the damage done to this republic, and sprinkling a few free market reforms into the welfare state won’t cut it. This is no longer a debate between putting the pedal to the medal on the Highway to Hell and casually driving Miss Daisy down it instead.
We need to define an agenda that reverses the statist collision course we’re currently on. Instead of reinventing the wheel, why not simply return to the one that gave birth to the freest and most prosperous nation in the history of Creation?