A NOTE on usage: above, an accident of what would, in other circumstances and locations, be called "Style" puts "Constitutionalism" in quotes as the title of a short work of fiction and not, as it no doubt deserves to be, as a mark of elitist mirth. I was just too lazy to bother enclosing single quotes, but let us be clear: "Constitutionalism" is certainly poised to join "reality" and "conservative" as words all Americans should place in quotes automatically.
For decades, Democrats and Republicans fought over who owns the American flag. Now they're fighting over who owns the Constitution.
That's precisely the way a "normal" person, reasonably grounded in "reality", might've begun a small tree-waster on the Republicans' latest political fetish item. It wouldn't be any more accurate--what Democrat is claiming ownership of the thing, as opposed to denying Republican Tea Bagging hegemony?--but it certainly could serve as a standard opener. But how many of them would go on to give you odds? "Democrats and Republicans are at it again." How many would say it without expecting you to supply the eyeroll? The average American might say that as he'd say "Cats and dogs"; Strangelove says it as though it's a boundary dispute his clan is being forced to re-litigate because last time it carelessly left a few opponents merely winged.
The flag debates began during the Vietnam era when leftist radicals made the fatal error of burning it. For decades since, non-suicidal liberals have tried to undo the damage. Demeaningly, and somewhat unfairly, they are forever having to prove their fealty to the flag.
[Praeteritio alert: what human-heartedness we come stocked with does not, obviously, cause us to scruple at calling a wheelchair-bound crypto-Nazi "Merkwürdigeliebe", though not for a cheap laugh, certainly, but because he's earned it in spades. We will, however, refrain from noting here that Krauthammer Went to Canada When Going to Canada Wasn't Cool, but, like so many of his fellow Cryptos, he had plenty of pre-accident opportunities to carry that Flag he's cosseted in into any number of rice paddies during the period, and passed. We refrain from doing so merely because typing it every motherfucking time one of these armchair Rommels starts in with another long-range artillery display--the only sort of fighting any of 'em ever does--is to simply invite Carpel Tunnel.]
I am grateful, though, for the formulation. Just as the artificial height of the Bush/Cheney administration emboldened the nutjobs to come out of the closet about contraception, one election and thirty years of inexplicable public acclaim grants Krauthammer the courage to reveal a truth: the entire edifice of Faux-Patriotic display is based on a loathing of other people's free speech and a resentment that people who opposed that abominable war bravely said so, instead of lining up to die for the rights of Krauthammer, Bush, Cheney, Quayle, Buchanan, and Gingrich, Abrams, Ailes and Armey, Lieberman, Limbaugh and Lott*, to stay home and honor them.
But, then, who th' fuck argues like this? How long would you stay married to one? The little Flag dance is demeaning (but you have to do it, because Hippies!) and partly unfair, and it's just a symbol (lest someone start asking what I've contributed, exactly), but, you know, Answer my fucking question, Commie!
And don't, by the way, answer in some fashion I recognize as true but can score political points off anyway:
Amazingly, though, some still couldn't get it quite right. During the last presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama, asked why he was not wearing a flag pin, answered that it represented "a substitute" for "true patriotism." Bad move. Months later, Obama quietly beat a retreat and began wearing the flag on his lapel. He does so still.
Despite not being a real American.
Today, the issue is the Constitution. It's a healthier debate because flags are pure symbolism and therefore more likely to evoke pure emotion and ad hominem argument.
Such as the sort that Charles Krauthammer has been making at every opportunity about Obama's lapels, which, with or without flag pin, display his "distain" for "patriotism".
[Now that I think of it, it may just be that every abstract noun Krauthammer uses should be in quotes.]
Americans are in the midst of a great national debate over the power, scope and reach of the government established by that document. The debate was sparked by the current administration's bold push for government expansion - a massive fiscal stimulus, Obamacare, financial regulation and various attempts at controlling the energy economy. This engendered a popular reaction, identified with the Tea Party but in reality far more widespread, calling for a more restrictive vision of government more consistent with the Founders' intent.
Y'know, I'm 57 years old, and I can't remember the last time I ever spoke like that, or wanted to speak like that. The Sui Generis Teabagger shit is beyond belief, or would be, except it's too depressingly familiar coming from the insane asylum known as Movement "Conservatism". I understand it's politics, which in this country means you can expect the sort of honest, thoughtful appraisal you'd get from the average shirtless guy wearing black and gold body paint at Heinz Field some Sunday in January, except that in politics there's money in behaving like a complete loon. I expect lying. I appreciate the effort involved in creating decent spin. So much so that this lazy, self-satisfied, insult to the intelligence of everyone old enough to sound out the words offends me even considering the source.
The same motherfucking 35% of the American public holds this opinion now as held it six years ago--when it remained resolutely silent about the Bush/Cheney budgets--or sixteen years ago, or thirty. It's probably up from the 50s or 60s. So's salmonella.
Call it constitutionalism. In essence, constitutionalism is the intellectual counterpart and spiritual progeny of the "originalism" movement in jurisprudence.
Well, I agree there's no intellectual component to Originalism, but there certainly seems to be a spiritual one. A mean spiritual one.
Judicial "originalists" (led by Antonin Scalia and other notable conservative jurists) insist that legal interpretation be bound by the text of the Constitution as understood by those who wrote it and their contemporaries. Originalism has grown to become the major challenger to the liberal "living Constitution" school, under which high courts are channelers of the spirit of the age, free to create new constitutional principles accordingly.
Feel free at any time to quote the major formulation of Originalism. Oh, wait; on second thought, I've got it right here:
What originalism is to jurisprudence, constitutionalism is to governance:
A bullshit phrase designed to excuse a profoundly paranoid megalomania which can't quite admit its embarrassment at being found out in the 19th century?
a call for restraint rooted in constitutional text. Constitutionalism as a political philosophy represents a reformed, self-regulating conservatism that bases its call for minimalist government - for reining in the willfulness of presidents and legislatures - in the words and meaning of the Constitution.
I'd add "right up to the point where this becomes inconvenient to the corporate cranks and public brigands who presently run this little shell game", but I don't want to spoil it for everybody.
Hence that highly symbolic moment on Thursday when the 112th House of Representatives opened with a reading of the Constitution.
Suitably bowdlerized, of course, lest anyone get the wrong idea about the intent of the Founders.
Remarkably, this had never been done before - perhaps because it had never been so needed.
Perhaps because we used to be governed by what passed for adults.
The reading reflected the feeling, expressed powerfully in the last election, that we had moved far, especially the past two years, from a government constitutionally limited by its enumerated powers to a government constrained only by its perception of social need.
Which is gonna fall first? The whole panoply of Presidential power, of which the War Powers are an instructive example, the concept of Corporate Personhood, or the schedules of narcotic and psychotropic drugs?
The new Republican House will henceforth require, in writing, constitutional grounding for every bill submitted. A fine idea, although I suspect 90 percent of them will simply make a ritual appeal to the "general welfare" clause. Nonetheless, anything that reminds members of Congress that they are not untethered free agents is salutary.
Wait, isn't being tethered to the whims of corporate largess enough?
But still mostly symbolic. The real test of the Republicans' newfound constitutionalism will come in legislating. Will they really cut government spending? Will they really roll back regulations? Earmarks are nothing. Do the Republicans have the courage to go after entitlements as well?
First, I'm sorry, but where exactly is the Importance of Regular Empty Symbolic Gesturing found in the Constitution? I'd look it up myself, but it seems a shame to let your expertise go to waste.
Second, let's rephrase the question: do Republicans have the courage to go after entitlements symbolically? Because if you want a real question, it's this: how long is this crap gonna play when the public begins to realize what sort of ride it's being taken on?
In the interim, the cynics had best tread carefully. Some liberals are already disdaining the new constitutionalism, denigrating the document's relevance and sneering at its public recitation. They sneer at their political peril. In choosing to focus on a majestic document that bears both study and recitation, the reformed conservatism of the Obama era has found itself not just a symbol but an anchor.
Looks lovely on your lapel, by the way.
Look. One: fuck you. Two: I've been saying this for decades now, and I've still got some breath left: What's stopping you? You've had all the answers since 1981, and the real America--not the 5% of shut-ins who watch you on FAUX, or the .05% who sell them that shit for their personal gain--is twenty times the worse for it. How much longer do you think you're going to get away with it? You won a midterm election when you were the Outs. Big fuckin' deal. You didn't win it because you're smart, or because you have any new answers, or because you pledged to read the fucking Constitution; you won because you're better at manipulating these empty symbols than the dog-assed Democrats are. Yours isn't the authority of the great rhetorician or the inspiring commander; it's the authority of the obese mall cop. You aren't America. America believes in cutting taxes and in providing "entitlements". America's on one side only until that side actually does something. Real America thinks Sarah Palin is an idiot and John Boehner is another lyin' politician, except he's made of leather. Real America may be a little slow to grok who's actually stolen its life savings, but don't fucking kid yourself, Chuckles. We ain't tax-cutting our way to jobs, and we're not repealing our way out of the healthcare crisis. Go on whistling God Bless America past the graveyard; it might keep working for you. And if it doesn't there's always the Horst Wessel Song.
* Need we go on?