From Thomas Sowell:
Politics is not the only place where some pretty brassy statements have been made and repeated so often that some people have accepted these brassy statements as being as good as gold.
One of the brassiest of the brass oldies is the notion that the Constitution creates a “wall of separation” between church and state. This false notion has been so widely accepted that people who tell the truth get laughed at and mocked.
A recent New York Times piece said that it was “a flub of the first order” when Christine O’Donnell, Republican candidate for senator in Delaware, asked a law school audience, “Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” According to the New York Times, “The question draw gasps and laughter” from this audience of professors and law students who are elites-in-waiting.
The New York Times writer joined in the mocking response to Ms. O’Donnell’s question, though admitting in passing that “in the strictest sense” the “actual words ‘separation of church and state’ do not appear in the text of the Constitution.” Either the separation of church and state is there or it is not there. It is not a question of some “strictest” technicality.
The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” There is absolutely nothing in the Constitution about a “wall of separation” between church and state, either directly or indirectly.
That phrase was used in a letter by Thomas Jefferson, who was not even in the country when the Constitution was written. It was a phrase seized upon many years later, by people who wanted to restrict religious symbols, and it has been cited by judges who share that wish.
There was no mystery about what “an establishment of religion” meant when that phrase was put into the Constitution. It was not an open-ended invitation to judges to decide what role religion should play in American society or in American government.
The Church of England was an “established church.” That is, it was not only financed by the government, its members had privileges denied to members of other religions.
The people who wrote the Constitution of the United States had been British subjects most of their lives, and knew exactly what an “established church” meant. They wanted no such thing in the United States of America. End of story — or so it should have been.
For more than a century, no one thought that the First Amendment meant that religious symbols were forbidden on government property. Prayers were offered in Congress and in the Supreme Court. Chaplains served in the military and presidents took their oath of office on the Bible.
But, in our own times, judges have latched onto Jefferson’s phrase and run with it. It has been repeated so often in their decisions that it has become one of the brassiest of the brass oldies that get confused with golden oldies.
As fundamentally important as the First Amendment is, what is even more important is the question whether judges are to take it upon themselves to “interpret” the law to mean whatever they want it to mean, rather than what it plainly says.
This is part of a larger question, as to whether this country is to be a self-governing nation, controlled by “we the people,” as the Constitution put it, or whether arrogant elites shall take it upon themselves to find ways to impose what they want on the rest of us, by circumventing the Constitution.
Congress is already doing that by passing laws before anyone has time to read them and the White House is likewise circumventing the Constitution by appointing “czars” who have as much power as cabinet members, without having to go through the confirmation process prescribed for cabinet members by the Constitution.
Judges circumvent the Constitution by reading their own meaning into its words, regardless of how plain and unequivocal its words are.
The Constitution cannot protect us and our freedoms as a self-governing people unless we protect the Constitution. That means zero tolerance at election time for people who circumvent the letter and the spirit of the Constitution. Freedom is too precious to give it up in exchange for brassy words from arrogant elites.
From Shelby Steele:
But Barack Obama is not an “other” so much as he is a child of the 1960s. His coming of age paralleled exactly the unfolding of a new “counterculture” American identity. And this new American identity—and the post-1960s liberalism it spawned—is grounded in a remarkable irony: bad faith in America as virtue itself, bad faith in the classic American identity of constitutional freedom and capitalism as the way to a better America. So Mr. Obama is very definitely an American, and he has a broad American constituency. He is simply the first president we have seen grounded in this counterculture American identity. When he bows to foreign leaders, he is not displaying “otherness” but the counterculture Americanism of honorable self-effacement in which America acknowledges its own capacity for evil as prelude to engagement.
Bad faith in America became virtuous in the ’60s when America finally acknowledged so many of its flagrant hypocrisies: the segregation of blacks, the suppression of women, the exploitation of other minorities, the “imperialism” of the Vietnam War, the indifference to the environment, the hypocrisy of puritanical sexual mores and so on. The compounding of all these hypocrisies added up to the crowning idea of the ’60s: that America was characterologically evil. Thus the only way back to decency and moral authority was through bad faith in America and its institutions, through the presumption that evil was America’s natural default position.
Among today’s liberal elite, bad faith in America is a sophistication, a kind of hipness. More importantly, it is the perfect formula for political and governmental power. It rationalizes power in the name of intervening against evil—I will use the government to intervene against the evil tendencies of American life (economic inequality, structural racism and sexism, corporate greed, neglect of the environment and so on), so I need your vote.
“Hope and Change” positioned Mr. Obama as a conduit between an old America worn down by its evil inclinations and a new America redeemed of those inclinations. There was no vision of the future in “Hope and Change.” It is an expression of bad faith in America, but its great ingenuity was to turn that bad faith into political motivation, into votes.
But there is a limit to bad faith as power, and Mr. Obama and the Democratic Party may have now reached that limit. The great weakness of bad faith is that it disallows American exceptionalism as a rationale for power. It puts Mr. Obama and the Democrats in the position of forever redeeming a fallen nation, rather than leading a great nation. They bet on America’s characterological evil and not on her sense of fairness, generosity or ingenuity.
When bad faith is your framework (Michelle Obama never being proud of her country until it supported her husband), then you become more a national scold than a real leader. You lead out of a feeling that your opposition is really only the latest incarnation of that old characterological evil that you always knew was there. Thus the tea party—despite all the evidence to the contrary—is seen as racist and bigoted.
Our great presidents have been stewards, men who broadly identified with the whole of America. Stewardship meant responsibility even for those segments of America where one might be reviled. Surely Mr. Obama would claim such stewardship. But he has functioned more as a redeemer than a steward, a leader who sees a badness in us from which we must be redeemed. Many Americans are afraid of this because a mandate as grandiose as redemption justifies a vast expansion of government. A redeemer can’t just tweak and guide a faltering economy; he will need a trillion- dollar stimulus package. He can’t take on health care a step at a time; he must do it all at once, finally mandating that every citizen buy in.
Next week’s election is, among other things, a referendum on the idea of president-as- redeemer. We have a president so determined to transform and redeem us from what we are that, by his own words, he is willing to risk being a one-term president. People now wonder if Barack Obama can pivot back to the center like Bill Clinton did after his set-back in ’94. But Mr. Clinton was already a steward, a policy wonk, a man of the center. Mr. Obama has to change archetypes.
This is a repost of part 1 just so the first three parts appear in succession.
There were lots of slants on NPR’s firing of news analyst Juan Williams that reflect how surreal cultural liberalism has become. Let us walk through ten of them.
1 ) NPR is in some part either publicly funded or relies on a public brand to earn cash. Its charter is to promote the free exchange of ideas. That did not happen. Mr. Williams simply reflected the common experience of many Americans after 9/11 to tense up when someone in Islamic dress or otherwise identifiable as a Muslim boards an airplane — and then quickly explained why such an emotional reaction should not lead to prejudicial stereotyping.
For that opinion on another network he was fired. Note that for NPR to prove that it is even-handed in censuring controversial speech it would long ago have had to fire reporter Nina Totenberg for a long history of venomous partisan slurs (e.g., hoping Sen. Jesse Helms and his grandkids might contract AIDS). I think we can glimpse the operative NPR ideology: the exalted ends justify the tawdry means. Williams, you see, unlike Totenberg, is perceived as not working for liberal social justice and therefore allowances can be made to get rid of him.
2 ) Note how the NPR CEO Vivian Schiller herself slanders Williams by suggesting that he talk with “his psychiatrist”— and a subsequent brief apology cleans up her mess. So digest this: the person who fired Williams for supposedly inflammatory speech explains the firing by far worse inflammatory ad hominem invective, made worse by McCarthyite allusions to vague and unsubstantiated charges that Williams has a prior record of incendiary speech. So Williams wakes up in the morning a respected journalist and goes to sleep a few hours later with the burden of proving that he is not a bigot, and not unhinged and not under medical care in the eyes of his employer, and not guilty of a litany of additional but unspecified crimes. All this comes from soft-spoken contemplative NPR, which prides itself in being the antithesis of intolerant shock-jock right-wing talk radio. Hypocrisy is again a force multiplier to ideological prejudice.
3 ) Supposedly intolerant hard-driving Fox News has no problem with liberal Williams working for NPR; supposedly soft-spoken, inclusive NPR has a lot of problems with Williams working for Fox. The asymmetry is quite astounding, especially when we factor in the public/private angle. A private, for profit company does not mind that Williams works for the public’s station whose views are considered liberal; but the liberal public station most certainly does care that Williams works for private conservative Fox news. Isn’t the network that takes public money supposed to be the more tolerant? Is this a reflection of audience taste and assumptions: Fox knows its viewers don’t care whether liberal Williams works at a liberal network; NPR fears mightily that its intolerant audience can’t stand anyone who is associated with Fox? Yet, again, conservative citizens own or run Fox; we the people own NPR.