Monday, September 20, 2010

Being Above the Fray

So far, so good -- or thereabouts, or close enough -- Montana GOP:

In their platform, Montana Republicans declared that the Constitution “be upheld in all of its entirety” and that all state and federal policies be “Constitutional in their effects, laws and practices.”
It's fair enough to propound an unwavering fidelity to the US Constitution, and to declare this announcement a matter of principle. It's fair enough until you follow that with several ways you'd scrap the US Constitution if you had your druthers:
– We support the repeal of the 16th amendment of the U.S. Constitution which authorizes a national income tax.

– We agree with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who stated that the U.S. Supreme Court does not have the sole authority to judge the constitutionality of federal laws. We hold with these men that the States not only have the right, but also the duty to nullify unconstitutional laws in order to protect their citizens
They adore the Constitution, and wish its terms to be followed to the Nth degree, in every jot and tittle, and to the last letter -- right up until they don't. They don't much care for the 16th amendment, and would see it torn out. They would similarly trash judicial review, which has been part of US Constitutional law since 1803, still in the first term of the third president, a mere 14 years after the US Constitution formally became the basis of US law, and 86 years before Montana even became a state.

Maybe I'm focusing on too small a weevil amid such a gigantic field of mouldering, half-eaten potatoes, and I realize that the Montana GOP isn't looking for my endorsement, but statements of principle should be a little firmer than this.

I gather the temptation is to ennoble a naked political agenda by anchoring it in a recognizable foundation -- Constitution! Founding Fathers! -- but since they openly despise aspects of that foundation, their actual foundation is something else -- something they're pointedly not talking about. I gather the desire is to appear to be beyond the give-and-take of mere politics, but they are not above the fray.

The same ruse crops up well beyond Montana's far right:
When sceptics point to particularly nasty bits of the Old Testament — for example the disgusting story of Abraham almost sacrificing Isaac (or his other son Ishmael according to Muslim tradition), religious apologists are apt to reply in exasperation: "Yes of course, but we don't believe that any more. We've moved on." And that is precisely my point. We have moved on. Theologians have moved on and have rejected the nasty verses (or written them off as 'symbolic' or 'allegorical' or 'poetic') while accepting the nice ones literally. But on what basis do they decide which verses to accept and which to reject? I don't know. But I do know that, whatever that basis is, it certainly cannot be scriptural.
There is something to be gained from frankly admitting that the US Constitution, the holy books, and every other human production are imperfect. That something is -- at minimum -- intellectual honesty, but the attractions of appearing to be above the fray are stubbornly strong.

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