Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Power to the People?

What is the role that the philosophy of history plays in the Left’s response to the tea party movement and to the recent visibility people opposed to Lefty health care reform?

The Left embraces the living constitution because it is confident that the constitution will only evolve in a direction it likes. Whenever I am in a constitutional argument with a Progressive friend, and I suggest (with irony that’s usually not noticed) "what the constitution used to mean is not important. I believe in a living constitution, and under current circumstances, x is constitutional" they get rather angry. The constitution is not supposed to evolve in a direction that Left does no like.

Might the same apply to popular protest? Can dissent from the Progressive line be the highest form or patriotism? Or is it a sign of false consciousness? Senator Boxer’s comment that the protestors are too well dressed to be authentic seems to fit this model. The same attitude seems to be present in the Democratic belief that their opponents are nothing more than a mob, and the White House’s requres that Americans report questionable statements and comments to it for vetting. To be sure, some of the people who have made noise are probably connected to larger organizations, but most are probably simply people who read blogs, watch FoxNews and listen to conservative talk radio.

To the degree that this old post is on the mark, it suggests some of the reasons why things are getting tense just now. What if Americans are frustrated with the modern administrative/ bureacratic state, and the feeling that they can’t control it?

Discussions - 36 Comments

This came up in a recent seminar I taught (along with Gordon Lloyd) on the Progressive Era. I think it's noteworthy that the original progressives sought provisions for overturning court decisions they didn't like through popular referenda. Today's progressives seek court decisions to overturn referenda when they don't approve of the outcome.

If you want to talk about the politics of patriotic dissent, start with the patriot act. Dick Cheney taught me that political discourse between elections means nothing, since the only political expression of any value is the results after an election. In response to the polls, the protests, the outrage, the anguish caused by pointless wars, Cheney's response was: so? His lesson was that little references to the philosophy of history in justifying this or that mean nothing.

Or Ren, let's start with Obama's favorite President and Liberal's favorite President - Abraham Lincoln - on political dissent. Maybe the reason why Obama so admires Lincoln is because he unconstitutionally invaded the South which had the constitutional right at that time to secede from the Union. He then enacted Marshall Law and suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus (which was later determined an illegal act on Lincoln's part) from which he threw 13,000 northerners into jail, shutdown 200 northern newspapers and kicked Vallandingham (a congressman from Ohio) out of the country. The 13,000 northerners, 200 northern newspapers and Vallandingham all were major dissenters of Lincoln's illegal war. Obama's and the left's hero Lincoln was the master of smashing political dissent - Bush, Cheney and Company can't even come close. Please name ONE person thrown into jail during Bush's 8 years for dissenting. Just one Ren. Furthermore, it looks like Obama is getting closer and closer to Lincoln - one of the worst President this country ever elected into Office.

Apparently the White House disagrees with Ren about the importance of popular action between elections.

Krauthammer pretty much nails this:

There is a certain irony in an administration denouncing ordinary Americans who get together to express what they believe and to confront authority, when that administration is led by a man who began his career as a community organizer, whose job, as I understand it, is to take ordinary Americans, get them together to express what they believe, and express demands against the authorities.

So it's unbelievably hypocritical. And, of course, as we just heard, this only happens when you have a conservative protest. It is called a mob. If it’s a liberal protest, it is called grassroots expressing themselves.

You people agree about this, stop the stupid barking. A tyrant by any other name is still a tyrant.

John: the Krauthammer argument is fatuous. Folks who show up to disrupt congressional town hall meetings are not interested in merely expressing their views (which can be summed up by the chants at Lloyd Doggett's meeting - "just say no"). They want to win the legislative battle. Fair enough, but don't cover yourself in the hallowed mantle of mere dialogue or "expression" and expect people not to laugh.

If one protestor stands up at a congressional committee meeting and shouts insults and demands attention then and there, whatever else is may be, it is not primarily an act of dialogue. When twenty or fifty folks show up to do the same thing, that doesn't change the character of the basic act.

It is not hard to express your views to your members of congress. Trying to scare them into voting the way you want them to vote by shouting them down, disrupting their meetings, putting the resulting embarrassing video on Youtube, hanging them in effigy, and (yes) calling in death threats to their office - that's something different.

If you believe strongly enough in the desirability of the underlying result, perhaps you can agree with the tactics. After all, it's only instrumentally rational to do so, in the Weberian sense. But the tactics should be seen for what they are: disruption, some of it steered from above. And even when it's not steered from above, it's still people trying to disrupt rather than merely "express their views."

"Might the same apply to popular protest?"

I believe Herbert Marcuse provided an answer to this question 44 years ago.

It is not hard to express your views to your members of congress. Trying to scare them into voting the way you want them to vote by shouting them down, disrupting their meetings, putting the resulting embarrassing video on Youtube, hanging them in effigy, and (yes) calling in death threats to their office - that's something different

I will submit that it is a return to old school American politics. All we need now is for one of these clowns to get tared and feathered.

Fascinating link. Thanks, Ben.

cowgirl: Probably the most shameful posting I've ever seen on here, unless you are some sort of masterful satirist.

I do agree with Brutus that this does recall early American politics, as does the media. Perhaps we could remember "one of the worst President's" Lyceum Speech for some reference? They're starting to act like G-20 protesters!

Somehow, my name got mangled in the above post. Too much coffee at that hour, perhaps.

Marcuse is a fascinating character. The bottom line for anyone not willing to slog through the Marxist prose is, revolutionary speech good, reactionary speech bad. Turns out, those cranky retirees raising their voices at AARP "listening sessions" are really Enemies of The People.

It is not hard to express your views to your members of congress. Trying to scare them into voting the way you want them to vote by shouting them down, disrupting their meetings, putting the resulting embarrassing video on Youtube, hanging them in effigy, and (yes) calling in death threats to their office - that's something different

So says the party which made death threats to the Republican impeachment managers not so long ago. Not to menton death threats against a sitting President even less long ago.

Take away their hypocrisy and Democrats would have nothing to say.

I keep wondering if the current noisy protesters are not the same folk who were manning the barricades in the 1960s. It is still a politics of personal freedom they are arguing for -- Arlo Guthrie is a Republican and has not really changed his tune.

Listening to NPR last night, they say the whole current protest is being funded by corporations. Yet all I hear from acquaintances who are involved is how their sacrifice is to save the nation they love. Does the left, having had their protests subsidized, presume the same of the right, falsely? They named no corporate names in the broadcast piece.

T-Hag: Nothing satirical about my post whatsoever. All of the information is true. Just look at Lincoln's presidential approval ratings during HIS TIME - they were worse than Bush's.... Lincoln was a deteriment as Obama is to the Constitution and the principals that it was founded upon. Pick up a history book, read, and be enlightened.

Brett, these "town hall meetings" aren't about discussion. The discussions are over; they took place behind closed doors, among administration functionaries, congressional staff members, and lobbyists from the special interests. These meetings are carefully stage-managed affairs aimed at manufacturing consent for something that's essentially being rammed down people's throats. When the hoi polloi show up and raise objections they are met with patronizing sneers, and they become understandably angry. If this is "disruption" I hope to see a lot more of it in the coming weeks.

John Moser: that's pretty simplistic. If the events were really "carefully stage-managed," they would have been less chaotic. No doubt some members are trying to sell the plans as is, but others are interested in sounding out their constituents, and others are probably looking for reasons to vote no.

Finally, you're still relying on a distorted portrayal of the protesters as ordinary folks who start shouting because of a sense of being snubbed at the meeting. Your analysis points in a different direction: Why participate in, as opposed to disrupt, a sham?

cowgirl: As far as I can understand it, the debate between Douglas and Lincoln was one of whether people shape the moral order, or the moral order shapes the people. Lincoln fell into the latter camp, and so naturally faced lower disapproval ratings (what are we basing that off of anyways, a Gallup or Rasmussen poll?!). Assuming these "polls" are accurate, Lincoln still mustered enough public opinion to get re-elected and execute the war, appealing to the Constitution in all of his actions. What are you, a Calhoun admirer or something?

To make this relevant to the thread, one might note that Lincoln did not see the Supreme Court as the final arbiter in the United States, and advocated popular referendum to reverse rulings like Scott v Sanford, etc. I wonder what he would say about today's town hall meetings.

Cindy Sheehan looks classy compared to some of these folks.

Those are not grassroots protests.

Those are not grassroots protests

Why? Because an already debunked talking point from a left wing talking point machine says so?

Lincoln still mustered enough public opinion to get re-elected and execute the war, appealing to the Constitution in all of his actions

Lincoln walked all over the Constitution with hobnailed boots, defying both Congress and the Supreme Court in the process.

I wonder what he would say about today's town hall meetings.

Hopefully he retained enough belief in government by, for, and of the people to approve of them.

I wonder what he would say about today's town hall meetings.

Probably, "Why is everyone staring at a handheld technological device and why can't people sit longer than an hour listening to a debate?"

John M: The height of all calamity: that someone might oppose Chief Justice Taney! How sacrilegious!

From Craig's link:

Heather Blish was vice-chairman of the Kewaunee County GOP until 2008

OMG! What a nexus! Insider to the core.

Nothing about the Union ruffians keeping people out of the town halls now? Even Limbaugh covered that one today. Why the union people would do this is shamefull, once cap and trade goes through they better unionize the carbon offsets business. They are staged shams just like all politics, but people are ambushing them because they have no voice. We can't call or email a congressman, all we get is a patronizing pre fab reply. The irony is, is that the billy bob's have logic on their side and its the educated elite engaging in double think who can't answer simple questions.

Pushing people around in this country for "the greater good" began with Lincoln (at least at the Federal level). What is it with people on this's a matter of record. What's the difference between depriving people of constitutional liberties because they believed in slavery and depriving them of their liberties because they disagree with certain "progressive" politics? It's all one -- the use of moral opprobrium to undercut republican principles and procedures.

Sorry Redwald, I got disconnected somewhere in the middle of that; what exactly are you saying?

Very simple. We have a constitution. It's NOT OK to accuse a group of being "immoral" or "evil" or "greedy" and then use that as an excuse to deprive them of their constitutional rights. That's what Honest Abe did back in 1861. Obama and his minions will do the same today -- anyone who disagrees with his politics is evil or stupid, and the constitution must always take a back seat to "what's right." Of course, they never say it this bluntly. They "interpret" the "living document" and pack the courts. It's all one. And the only way to counter this is to FIGHT BACK. Once the rule of law becomes a joke, there is only the resort to violence. At least Abe had the guts to become a dictator -- I doubt Obama has the real backbone for it (thank God).

What rights were the South deprived of? I'm not much a student of history, and so perhaps don't know the bounds of Lincoln's hypocrisy.

I am suprised to see this board turning on Lincoln like this. I think they are not refering to the south as much as the north. the civil liberties that were suspended, the draft riots crushed, The Federalization of power, ect. All of it is easily written off as pragmatism so I am somewhat shocked to read these posts. We would be far worse off had the country been split up. Britian would have played both sides off agaisnt the other so we probably would have three or four civil wars by now had Lincoln not won the war; were the crackdowns needed, IDK.

I was referring both to the suppression of Northern civil rights as well as the suppression of the South's right to secede. I'm not saying the South was right to do so, or to justify slavery in any sense, but it was wrong to use moral opprobrium to justify the breach of constitutional rights.

As for "counterfactual" history, here's one -- the South secedes, and the North becomes less prone to international adventurism (i.e.,no governmental centralization occurs). Here comes a perfectly senseless war (WWI), and instead of the U.S. intervening and humiliating the Germans, they stay out of it and stalemate results in an honorable peace all around. Hence, no WWII, no Holocaust, perhaps no Cold War. Or not. That's the beauty of "what if."

Lincoln's argument might consider "moral opprobrium" but doesn't it also address the origins of government and contracts -- though perhaps not to everyone's satisfaction? That's what I saw in the 1st Inaugural, anyways.

If such a notion of "once you're in, you're in" existed, it would've been written into the Constitution. No such thing exists, nor could've, else many States would have demurred. On the other hand, Amendments IX and X exist, bold as brass, clear as crystal, for all to read. Lincoln, Webster and all their "peeps" can do mental gymnastics for the rest of Eternity, but the plain truth will out.

And again, I'm not trying to slam Lincoln here, but to slam the tactic of using emotion to destroy Constitutional protocols and procedures. It's wrong, and will lead (or has led) to our destruction as a Republic.

It's wrong, and will lead (or has led) to our destruction as a Republic.

But the right to secede wouldn't?

Sometimes you have to let something go to preserve it. Government by, for, and of the people is one of those things. The original idea of confederated States was a good one; if a group or individual disliked one State's laws, he/she/they were free to travel to another. Political competition is why Europe developed democracy and the big agrarian states of Asia did not -- the ability of people to "vote with their feet" encouraged political moderation (although never perfectly -- the history of Europe had more than its share of oppression and bloodshed).

I'm really not arguing that secession was a good thing, and certainly not that slavery was good. I'm arguing that if we follow "the ends justify the means" logic of political action, then we guarantee hell on earth and the end of liberty.

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