How 2nd Amendment Distortions Kill

Exclusive: The Las Vegas massacre underscores the intellectual dishonesty of the “gun rights” lobby, which falsifies Second Amendment history and pretends armed citizens could shoot back to stop slaughters, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Many politicians, especially those on the Right, pretend they are strictly adhering to the U.S. Constitution when they often are just making the founding document mean whatever they want – but perhaps nowhere is that as dangerous as with their make-believe Second Amendment.

In the wake of Sunday’s mass shooting in Las Vegas – where one individual firing from a high-rise hotel murdered 58 people and wounded more than 500 at a country music festival – we are told that the reason the United States can’t do anything to stop this sort of carnage is the Second Amendment’s “right to bear arms.”

“Gun rights” advocates insist that pretty much any gun control violates the design of the Constitution’s Framers and thus can’t be enacted no matter how many innocent people die.

Some on the Right, as well as some on the Left, even claim that the Founders, as revolutionaries themselves, wanted an armed population so the people could rebel against the Republic, which the U.S. Constitution created. But the Constitution’s Framers in 1787 and the authors of the Bill of Rights in the First Congress in 1789 had no such intent.

Arguably other individuals disconnected from the drafting of those documents may have harbored such radical attitudes (at least rhetorically), but the authors didn’t. In fact, their intent was the opposite.

The goal of the Second Amendment was to promote state militias for the maintenance of order at a time of political unrest, potential slave revolts and simmering hostilities with both European powers and Native Americans on the frontiers. Indeed, the amendment’s defined purpose was to achieve state “security” against disruptions to the country’s new republican form of government.

The Second Amendment reads: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

In other words, if read in context, it’s clear that the Second Amendment was enacted so each state would have the specific right to form “a well-regulated militia” to maintain “security,” i.e., to put down armed disorder and protect its citizens.

In the late Eighteenth Century, the meaning of “bearing” arms also referred to a citizen being part of a militia or army. It didn’t mean that an individual had the right to possess whatever number of high-capacity killing machines that he or she might want. Indeed, the most lethal weapon that early Americans owned was a slow-loading, single-fired musket or rifle.

No Anarchists

Further to the point, both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were the work of the Federalists, who – at the time – counted James Madison among their ranks.

And whatever one thinks about the Federalists, who often are criticized as elitists, they were the principal constitutional Framers and the leaders of the First Congress. They constituted the early national establishment, people such as George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris and Madison.

The Federalists feared that their new creation, a constitutional republic in an age of monarchies, was threatened by the potential for violent chaos, which is what European aristocrats predicted for the new United States. Democracy was a largely untested concept that was believed likely to fall victim to demagoguery and factionalism.

So, the Framers sought a political system that reflected the will of the citizens (the House of Representatives) but within a framework that constrained public passions (the Senate and other checks and balances). In other words, the Constitution sought to channel political disputes into non-violent competition among various interests, not into armed rebellions against the government.

The Framers also recognized how fragile the nation’s independence was and how domestic rebellions could be exploited by European powers. Indeed, one of the crises that led to the Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787 was the inability of the old system under the Articles of Confederation to put down Shays’s Rebellion in western Massachusetts in 1786-87. Washington saw the possible hand of British agents.

So, the Federalists were seeking a structure that would ensure “domestic Tranquility,” as they explained in the Constitution’s Preamble. They did not want endless civil strife.

The whole idea of the Constitution – with its mix of voting (at least by some white male citizens), elected and appointed representatives, and checks and balances – was to create a political structure that made violence unnecessary.

So, it should be obvious even without knowing all the history that the Framers weren’t encouraging violent uprisings against the Republic that they were founding. To the contrary, they characterized violence against the constitutional system as “treason” in Article III, Section 3. They also committed the federal government to protect each state from “domestic Violence,” in Article IV, Section 4.

Putting Down Rebellion

One of the first uses of the new state militias formed under the Second Amendment and the Militia Acts, which required able-bodied men to report for duty with their own muskets, was for President Washington to lead a federalized force of militiamen against the Whiskey Rebellion, a tax revolt in western Pennsylvania in 1794.

In the South, one of the principal reasons for a militia was to rally armed whites to put down slave uprisings. On the frontier, militias fought against Native Americans over land. Militias also were called up to fight the British in the War of 1812.

But you don’t have to like or dislike how the Second Amendment and the Militia Acts were used to recognize how the Framers intended these legislative provisions to be used.

The Second Amendment was meant to maintain public order, even an unjust order, rather than to empower the oppressed to take up arms against the government. That latter idea was a modern reinterpretation, a distortion of the history.

The revisionists who have transformed the meaning of the Second Amendment love to cite provocative comments by Thomas Jefferson, such as a quote from a 1787 letter criticizing the Constitution for its commander-in-chief provisions.

Jefferson argued that violence, like Shays’s Rebellion, should be welcomed. He wrote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s [sic] natural manure.”

Jefferson, of course, was a world-class hypocrite who rarely believed what he was saying or writing. He crafted noble words, like “all men are created equal, … endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” but he was a major slaveholder who raped at least one and likely more slave girls and had slave boys whipped.

He also was never willing to risk his own blood as that “natural manure” of liberty. During the Revolutionary War when Benedict Arnold led a force of Loyalists against Richmond, Jefferson, who was then Virginia’s governor, fled the capital. Later, when British cavalry approached Charlottesville and his home of Monticello, Gov. Jefferson again took flight.

But more to the point, Jefferson was not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, nor was he in the First Congress, which produced the Second Amendment. In other words, it’s a historical error to cite Jefferson in any way as speaking authoritatively about what the Framers intended with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. He was not directly involved in either.

A Collective Right

The real history of the Second Amendment was well understood both by citizens and courts in the generations after the Constitution and Bill of Rights were enacted. For most of the years of the Republic, the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted the Second Amendment as a collective right, allowing Americans to participate in a “well-regulated Militia,” not an individual right to buy the latest weaponry at a gun show or stockpile a military-style arsenal in the basement.

It’s true that many Americans owned a musket or rifle in those early years especially on the frontier, but regulations on munitions were still common in cities where storing of gunpowder, for instance, represented a threat to the public safety.

As the nation spread westward, so did common-sense restrictions on gun violence. Sheriffs in some of the wildest of Wild West towns enforced gun bans that today would prompt a recall election financed by the National Rifle Association.

However, in recent decades — understanding the power of narrative on the human imagination — a resurgent American Right (and some on the Left) rewrote the history of the Founding era, dispatching “researchers” to cherry-pick or fabricate quotes from Revolutionary War leaders to create politically convenient illusions. [See, for instance, Steven Krulik’s compilation of apocryphal or out-of-context gun quotes.]

That bogus history gave rise to the image of the Framers as wild-eyed radicals – Leon Trotskys of the Eighteenth Century – encouraging armed rebellion against their own Republic. Rather than people who believed in the rule of law and social order, the Framers were contorted into crazies who wanted citizens to be empowered to shoot American police, soldiers, elected representatives and government officials as agents of “tyranny.”

This false history was advanced particularly by the American Right in the last half of the Twentieth Century as a kind of neo-Confederate call to arms, with the goal of rallying whites into a near-insurrectionary fury particularly in the South but also in rural areas of the North and West.

In the 1950s and 1960s, some white Southerners fancied themselves an armed resistance against the tyrannical federal government as it enforced laws on racial integration and other supposed infringements on “states’ rights.” In the 1990s, armed “citizens militias” began to pop up in reaction to the election of Democrat Bill Clinton, culminating in the Oklahoma City bombing of 1994.

While designed primarily for the weak-minded, the Right’s faux Founding history also had an impact on right-wing “intellectuals” including Republican lawyers who worked their way up through the federal judiciary under Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and now Donald Trump.

By 2008, these right-wing jurists held a majority on the U.S. Supreme Court and could thus overturn generations of legal precedents and declare that the Second Amendment established an individual right for Americans to own guns. Though even these five right-wing justices accepted society’s right to protect the general welfare of the population through some gun control, the Supreme Court’s ruling effectively “validated” the Right’s made-up history.

The ruling created a political dynamic to which even liberals in national politics — the likes of Barack Obama and Joe Biden — had to genuflect, the supposed Second Amendment right of Americans to parade around in public with guns on their hips and high-powered semi-automatic rifles slung over their shoulders.

What the Framers Wanted?

As guns-right activists struck down gun regulations in Congress and in statehouses across the nation, their dominant argument was that the Second Amendment offered no leeway for restrictions on gun ownership; it’s what the Framers wanted.

So, pretty much any unstable person could load up with a vast killing capacity and slouch off to a bar, to a work place, to a church, to a school or to a high-rise Las Vegas hotel and treat fellow Americans as targets in a real-life violent video game. Somehow, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was overtaken by the “right” to own an AR-15 with a 30-or-100-bullet magazine.

When right-wing politicians talk about the Second Amendment now, they don’t even bother to include the preamble that explains the point of the amendment. The entire amendment is only 26 words. But the likes of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, find the preamble inconvenient because it would undercut their false storyline. So they just lop off the first 12 words.

Nor do they explain what the Framers meant by “bear arms.” The phrase reflected the reasoning in the Second Amendment’s preamble that the whole point was to create “well-regulated” state militias to maintain “security,” not to free up anybody with a beef to kill government officials or citizens of a disapproved race or creed or just random folks.

So, even after the massacre of 20 first-graders and six educators in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012, Fox News personality Andrew Napolitano declared: “The historical reality of the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to keep and bear arms is not that it protects the right to shoot deer. It protects the right to shoot tyrants, and it protects the right to shoot at them effectively, with the same instruments they would use upon us.”

At the time, the clear message from the Right was that armed Americans must confront the “tyrannical” Barack Obama, the twice-elected President of the United States (and the first African-American to hold that office) especially if he pressed ahead seeking common-sense gun restrictions. But Napolitano was simply wrong on the history.

Another dubious argument from the gun-rights lobby was that armed citizens could take down a gunman and thus stop a mass shooting before it became a full-fledged massacre.

But a gunfight among largely untrained civilians would likely add to the slaughter, not stop it. For instance, a 2012 mass shooting occurred in a darkened theater in Aurora, Colorado. Does anyone logically think that a bunch of terrified gun carriers exchanging fire in such a situation – not knowing who the original shooter was – would solve the problem?

And how about Sunday’s massacre in Las Vegas where the shooter positioned himself on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and fired down on a packed concert venue, a substantial distance away?

Assuming that the concertgoers were armed and tried to defend themselves, they would likely have ended up shooting other innocent concertgoers because of the initial confusion as to where the shooter was positioned. That would have further complicated the challenge to police who could have mistakenly opened fire on armed people in the crowd rather than locate and stop the original killer as he kept firing from his sniper’s perch. In other words, the horrific death toll could have been even higher.

To pretend that such carnage was the intent of the Constitution’s Framers, who wrote about achieving “domestic Tranquility,” or the goal of the First Congress, which drafted the Second Amendment to promote “the security of a free State,” is intellectually dishonest and a true threat to the lives of American citizens.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).




The Right’s Made-up ‘Constitution’

From the Archive: America’s right-wingers talk fervently about protecting the Constitution but seem to have little understanding of what the Federalist framers were doing in creating a powerful central government, as Jada Thacker noted in 2013.

By Jada Thacker (Originally published on July 6, 2013)

The Cato Institute’s Handbook for Policy Makers says, “The American system was established to provide limited government.” The American Enterprise Institute states its purpose to “defend the principles” of “limited government.” The Heritage Foundation claims its mission is to promote “principles of limited government.” A multitude of Tea Party associations follow suit.

At first glance the concept of “limited government” seems like a no-brainer. Everybody believes the power of government should be limited somehow. All those who think totalitarianism is a good idea raise your hand. But there is one problem with the ultra-conservatives’ “limited government” program: it is wrong. It is not just a little bit wrong, but demonstrably false.

The Constitution was never intended to “provide limited government,” and furthermore it did not do so. The U.S. government possessed the same constitutional power at the moment of its inception as it did yesterday afternoon. This is not a matter of opinion, but of literacy. If we want to discover the truth about the scope of power granted to federal government by the Constitution, all we have to do is read what it says.

The Constitution’s grant of essentially unlimited power springs forth in its opening phrases: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

As might be expected in a preamble to a founding document, especially one written under supervision of arch-aristocrat Gouverneur Morris, the terms are sweeping and rather grandiose. But the point is crystal clear: “to form a more perfect Union.” If the object of the Constitution were to establish “limited government,” its own Preamble must be considered a misstatement.

Enumerated Powers

Article I establishes Congress, and Section 8 enumerates its powers. The first clause of Article I, Section 8 repeats the sweeping rhetoric of the Preamble verbatim. While it provides for a measure of uniformity, it does not so much as hint at a limit on the federal government’s power to legislate as it sees fit:

“The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States”

No attempt is made here, or at any other place in the Constitution, to define “general Welfare.” This oversight (if that is what it was) is crucial. The ambiguous nature of the phrase “provide for the general Welfare” leaves it open to widely divergent interpretations.

Making matters worse for federal government power-deniers is the wording of the last clause of Article I, the so-called “Elastic Clause”: Congress shall have power “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.”

Thus the type, breadth and scope of federal legislation became unchained. When viewed in light of the ambiguous authorization of the Article’s first clause, the importance of the “necessary and proper” clause truly is astonishing. Taken together, these clauses restated in the vernacular flatly announce that “Congress can make any law it feels is necessary to provide for whatever it considers the general welfare of the country.”

Lately there has been an embarrassingly naive call from the Tea Party to require Congress to specify in each of its bills the Constitutional authority upon which the bill is grounded. Nothing could be easier: the first and last clauses of Article I, Section 8 gives Congress black-and-white authority to make any law it so desires. Nor was this authority lost on the Founders.

“Limited government” advocates are fond of cherry-picking quotes from The Federalist Papers to lend their argument credibility, but an adverse collection of essays called the Anti-federalist Papers unsurprisingly never gets a glance. Here is a sample from New Yorker Robert Yates, a would-be founder who walked out of the Philadelphia convention in protest, written a month after the Constitution had been completed:

“This government is to possess absolute and uncontrollable power, legislative, executive and judicial, with respect to every object to which it extends. The government then, so far as it extends, is a complete one. It has the authority to make laws which will affect the lives, the liberty, and the property of every man in the United States; nor can the constitution or the laws of any state, in any way prevent or impede the full and complete execution of every power given.”

Yates, it must be emphasized, took pains to identify the “necessary and proper” clause as the root of the “absolute power” inherent in the Constitution well over a year before ratification.

The Tenth Amendment

A particular darling of secession-prone, far-Right Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the Tenth Amendment is often claimed as the silver-bullet antidote for the powers unleashed by the “general welfare” and “elastic clauses.” Here is the text of the Amendment in its entirety: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Superficially, the Tenth seems to mean “since certain powers are not delegated to the federal government, then those powers are reserved to the states or the people.” This would seem to be good news for champions of limited government. But this is not the case.

The Tenth does not say that important powers remain to be delegated to the United States. It merely says that powers “not [yet] delegated” are “reserved” to the states or the people. This sounds like a terrific idea until we realize, of course, that all the important powers had already been delegated in 1787, four years before the Tenth Amendment was ratified.

As we have seen, the first and last clauses of Article I, Section 8 made the Tenth Amendment a lame-duck measure even as James Madison composed its words in 1791 and so it remains today. The sweeping powers “to make all laws necessary and proper” in order to “provide for the general welfare,” had already been bestowed upon Congress. The Johnny-come-lately Tenth Amendment closed the constitutional pasture gate after the horses had been let out.

This apparently has never occurred to the likes of Gov. Rick Perry and his far-Right cohorts who believe a state may reclaim power by withdrawing its consent, in effect repossessing their previously delegated power through state legislation. Superficially, the logic of this position seems sound: if the states had the legal authority to delegate power, then they may use the same authority to “un-delegate” it by law.

But a close re-reading of the Tenth’s wording nixes such reasoning. Oddly, the Tenth Amendment does not say the states delegated their powers to the federal government although it may be argued that it probably ought to have said so. It says “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution are reserved to the States. ”

Thus, according to the Tenth Amendment, the Constitution itself delegated the power to the federal government. States, in other words, now have no standing to “reserve-back” what they had never “delegated-away” in the first place.

Had it been possible to “un-delegate” the powers of the United States by invoking the Tenth, the Old South would have simply done so and spared itself the bother of secession not to mention the bother of being annihilated by a series of subsequent Northern invasions. The fact that the South did not even attempt such a strategy attests to the toothlessness of the Tenth Amendment.

No other instance in law would be a better example that we should choose our votes carefully. For in ratifying the Bill of Rights, which included the Tenth Amendment, the American people endorsed the legal fiction that the Constitution not the original 13 states, or “We the People” authorized the power of the United States because the Constitution itself said so. If the Constitution has an Orwellian twist, this is it no matter which side of the aisle you’re on.

The states and the people may amend the Constitution. But they may not do so by nullification (according to the logic inherent in the wording of the Tenth Amendment), or by the judgment of state courts (according to the “supremacy clause” of Article VI), nor may any Amendment be made without the participation of the federal government, itself (according to Article V.) If the Founders had meant to ensure “limited government,” there is no trace of such intent here.

Paucity of Rights

If the Constitution were intended to provide “limited government,” we might expect it to be chock full of guarantees of individual rights. This is what Tea Partiers may fantasize but this is not really true. In fact, the Constitution is amazingly stingy in reference to “rights.”

The word “right” is mentioned only once in the Constitution as ratified. (Art. I, Sec. 8 allows Congress to award copyrights/patents to ensure their holders “ Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”)

The word “right” somewhat counter-intuitively appears only six times in the ten Amendments called the “Bill of Rights.”

Almost a century later, the first of seven other rights were added under pressure from Progressive activists almost all of which were intended to create and extend democratic participation in self-government.

Amendment XIV (sanctions against states denying suffrage); XV (universal male suffrage); XIX (women’s suffrage); XXIV (denial of poll tax); and XXVI (18 year-old suffrage); and twice in Amendment XX, which gives Congress the “right of choice” in presidential succession.

In grand total, the word “right” appears only 14 times in the entire Constitution, as it exists today (including the two rights conferred to government).

Did we all notice that the “Constitution of the Founders” did not include the “right” for anybody at all to vote? Notable, too, is the absence of language implying that any “rights” are “unalienable” or “natural” or “endowed by their Creator.” All such phraseology belongs to the Declaration of Independence, which apparently unbeknownst to Tea Partiers everywhere bears no force of law.

The word “power,” by the way, occurs 43 times in the Constitution, each time referring exclusively to the prerogative of government, not right-wingers. Since “individual” rights are mentioned only 12 times, this yields a ratio of about 4:1 in favor of government power over individual rights. Without the efforts of those pesky, democracy-mongering Progressives, who fought for universal voting rights, the ratio would be more than 6:1 today or 50 percent higher.

This statistical factoid is not as trivial as it may appear. Expressed in practical terms, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin or Clarence Thomas would almost certainly never have achieved public office had they lived under the “limited government” designed by the Founders they so revere.

The Bill of Rights

So what exactly are our non-patent/copyright “rights,” under so-called “limited government?”

Amendment I the right of people “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for redress of grievances”

Amendment II the right “to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”

Amendment IV the right “to be secure against unreasonable searches or seizures”

Amendment VI the right “to a speedy and public trial”

Amendment VII the right “of a trial by jury”

Amendment IX enumeration “of certain rights” shall not deny “others retained by the people”

That’s it. What happened to the famous rights of free speech, religion or press? The way the First Amendment is worded does not enumerate these as positive rights that people possess, but rather as activities the government may not infringe upon. If Bill of Rights author James Madison had meant to stipulate them as positive “rights” all he had to do was write it that way, but he did not.

Bear in mind Madison (then a federalist) wrote the Bill of Rights under political duress. Since anti-federalists (recall the skepticism of Robert Yates) flatly refused to ratify the Constitution unless it guaranteed something, Madison had to write something. In effect, the amendments were the pig the anti-federalists had bought in the poke, three years after ratification had paid for it.

Madison, at the time of writing, had little incentive to take pains with what he wrote because federalists did not believe a Bill of Rights was necessary, or even good idea (with Alexander Hamilton arguing a Bill of Rights would be “dangerous.”) This may account for the fact that some of what Madison wrote seems vague, or even ambiguous, as in the case of Amendment II.

Amendment IX, for example, actually makes little sense, which may account for the fact nobody ever seems to mention it: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

This sounds “righteous” enough, until we recall the Constitution to which this Amendment pertains had “enumerated” only a single right in the first place! Even if Amendment IX applies to the Bill of Rights (to include itself), then all it says is “the people may have more rights than the half dozen mentioned so far, but we’re not going to tell you what they are.” (So if Amendment X is Orwellian, Amendment IX verges on Catch-22.)

Of course the idea was to calm suspicions that people would possess only the half-dozen rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights (plus patents!) and no others. Even so, Amendment IX did not guarantee any un-enumerated rights; it just did not peremptorily “deny or disparage” any.

And what sense should we make of the crucial Amendment V one of the four Bills of Rights not actually containing the word “right” at all?

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” [Emphasis supplied]

Thus, life, liberty and property are not expressly granted status as fundamental “rights,” but only as personal possessions that may be deprived or taken according to “due process.” The crucial implication is that Amendment V exists in order to stipulate how the government may deny an individual claim to life, liberty or property. With due process, you life, liberty and property may be toast. That is what it plainly says.

It is interesting, too, that the Bill of Rights does not speak to the origin of rights, but only to their existence. Moreover, the Constitution never speaks of granting rights, but only protecting them. There is a good reason for this: excepting the Progressive suffrage Amendments, none of the guaranteed rights were American inventions, but had for centuries been considered the rights of the English nobility.

For those who want to believe in “American Exceptionalism” as the basis of “limited government,” this is not encouraging news. Moreover, the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, hardly includes any “right” that had not already been recognized at one time or another by medieval English monarchs or in ancient Rome and Greece.

Property Rights and ‘Republic’

The strict libertarians among us claim the sole legitimate power of government is that which is necessary to protect private property rights. On this score, however, the “limited government” of the Founders is practically mute. Except for the aforementioned Article I, Section 8 provision for patents and copyrights, private “property” is only mentioned twice in the Constitution, both times in a single sentence of the “right”-less Amendment V quoted above:

“No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” [Emphasis supplied]

Once again, Amendment V fails to guarantee personal immunity from the power of the state, but rather details the way state power may be used to dispossess individuals of their property. And we must bear in mind these words were not penned by Marxists, socialists, or Progressives.

Whether by design or happenstance, the original “Constitution of the Founders,” or the Bill of Rights, or even the Constitution with all its Amendments does not grant any irrevocable “right of possession” to property. Even the Second Amendment’s “right to keep” arms, is subject to the terms by which property may be taken under terms of Amendment V, and it always has been.

Tellingly, the word “democracy” does not appear in the Constitution. This intentional oversight is often smugly celebrated by anti-democrats among us, who insist that the United States of America was founded as a “republic.” No doubt this is true, given that the Constitution was written by an exclusive, hand-picked cadre of oligarchs, whose number did not include a single woman, person of color, or wage-earner.

Unfortunately for the pro-republic “limited government” crowd, the Constitution does not contain the word “republic” either. The word does appear as an adjective, but only once, (Article IV, Section 4): “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them from Invasion”

Typically for the Constitution, which defines few of its terms, the word “Republican” also remains unexplained. The ambiguity of the term turned out to be handy, however, as Radical Republicans continuously and egregiously violated Article IV, Sec. 4 from 1865-1877 as they enforced blatantly unconstitutional military occupation of former Confederate states during the gross misnomer of “Reconstruction.”

It should be obvious that the “Constitution of our Founders,” including the Bill of Rights, may not protect as many rights as many wish to believe. Moreover, we have already noted the Constitution dropped all revolutionary talk of “unalienable” rights and “Creator endowed” liberty. This was not an oversight.

The revolutionary bit about “consent of the governed” posed an especially delicate problem for the Founders. Almost all owned slaves or were masters of property-less tenants or domestic servants, including their wives none of whom could offer their legal consent even if they wished to do so. Thus the Founders shrewdly considered it unnecessary to include any voting rights in the new republic they planned to rule, uncontested by the disenfranchised lower castes.

Did this result in the land of the free, with liberty and justice for all? Let’s see.

Under the U.S. Constitution, Americans were sentenced to death for protesting unfair taxes; journalists and citizens imprisoned for criticizing government officials; citizens’ property seized illegally; workers murdered by government agents; thousands jailed without the “privilege” of habeas corpus; entire states deprived of civilian courts; untold numbers of American Indians defrauded of  liberty and property; debt-peonage and debtors’ prisons flourished, as did slavery and child labor; and the majority of the public was denied the vote.

All this was considered constitutional by the Founders. None of these outrages, please note, was the result of “progressivism,” which had yet to be articulated, and all were common prior to the New Deal and the advent of so-called Big Government. Was this the face of “limited government?”

No, it was not. The concept of a democratically “limited government” was not for a moment entertained by our Founders, nor is it by those who idolize them today. With few exceptions, the Founders were Eighteenth Century patricians who took a revolutionary gamble meant chiefly to perpetuate their privileges, free from English colonial overlord-ship. It should come as no surprise these elitists drafted a Constitution that posed no threat to aristocracy.

‘Limited Government’ as Act of Faith

The original Constitution of the United States of America was just so much ink on paper. The Constitution, as it stands today, is just a lot more ink on paper.

But the Constitution’s ink is important and deserves respect because it represents nothing less than the collective civic conscience of the American people. A great many Americans have dedicated their lives in trust to that conscience on battlefields, in classrooms, in everyday civic life, and even a few in the halls of power.

It is evident that most of the Amendments to the original Constitution as well as the Supreme Court’s decisions interpreting its scope and purpose were made because the document had over the course of time been found wanting by the American people, whose common interests it was not originally intended to serve. As the collective civic conscience of the people changed, so too did their interpretation of self-government.

But the entire concept of social evolution (much less biological evolution) is something the ultra-Conservative rank-and-file likely does not comprehend and it is not something their leaders encourage them to consider. The reason for this may have less to do with politics than with fundamentalist faith.

An anecdote in point: the editor-in-chief at Random House once asked the extremist libertarian Ayn Rand if she would consider revising a passage in one of her manuscripts. She reportedly replied, “Would you consider revising the Bible?”

Ergo, that which is sacrosanct neither requires nor will tolerate change to include the fantasized “limited government” of the immortalized “Founding Fathers.” The fact that Rand was a noted atheist only underscores the point that fundamentalist faith is not restricted to any particular brand of fanaticism.

Yet the Constitution’s conception was anything but immaculate. It was not carted down from the Mount in tablets of stone, nor is it the product of some mysterious Natural Law interpretable only by libertarian gurus. And whether its meaning is best exemplified by the Tea Party flag depicting a talking snake (“Don’t Tread on Me”), perhaps only Eve could judge with authority.

The Constitution is not a holy book, and there is no good reason for anybody to treat it like one. The men who wrote it were not prophets, nor were they particularly virtuous, though some could turn a pretty phrase. In fact, the Constitution’s most unholy-book characteristic is its most welcomed attribute: its readers are not required to believe in its infallibility in order for it to make sense to them.

But we are required to read the Constitution if we want to know what it says. The ultra-conservatives’ obsession with a constitutionally “limited government,” which has never actually existed, suggests they do not understand the Constitution as much as they merely idolize it.

These constitutional “fundamentalists” along with the American public in general would do better to pick the document up and read it sometime, not fall on bended knee before it and expect the rest of us to follow their example.

Jada Thacker, Ed.D is a Vietnam veteran and author of Dissecting American History. He teaches U.S. History at a private institution in Texas. Contact: jadathacker@sbcglobal.net




Why Right’s Lemmings Don Suicide Vest

Exclusive: The government-sabotaging fervor of the Republican Right likened by one GOP congressman to “lemmings with suicide vests” can only be understood from inside the right-wing bubble where a distorted view of the Constitution prevails and actual democracy is disdained, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

There is an old saying from the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” But the modern American Right seems to believe that “Hey, this is the USA, why shouldn’t we have our own facts!”

That sentiment is at the center of the current U.S. crisis involving the shutdown of the federal government and the threats to default on America’s credit. A determined minority within the House of Representatives has decided that its view of the Founding Principles and its assessment on the role of government are the only ones that count, whether factually anchored or not.

And it doesn’t even matter that this right-wing group has no mandate from the American people. Not only did the Democrats win the White House and the Senate in 2012, but the Democrats garnered about 1½ million more votes for House seats than the Republicans did.

The Republican House “majority” is derived to a significant degree from aggressive gerrymandering of congressional districts, like the one for northern Ohio where the GOP-controlled statehouse combined a Democratic district in Cleveland (represented by Dennis Kucinich) with one in Toledo (represented by Marcy Kaptur). The two cities are 116 miles apart and the connection along Lake Erie is so narrow in spots that you have to leave the district to drive from one half to the other.

But today’s Republican Party cares little about genuine democracy. Especially the GOP’s right wing is about shaping a false historical narrative which misrepresents the intent of the Constitution’s Framers and then insists that the Right’s fake Founding Principles must be applied regardless of how the majority of Americans voted. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Right’s Made-Up ‘Constitution.’”]

Thus, holding the federal government and indeed the nation’s economy hostage to impose the Tea Party’s will on the people makes a sort of perverted sense. If you’ve convinced yourself that the normal democratic process is threatening the esteemed wisdom of the Founders, then as Sen. Barry Goldwater once proclaimed “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”

For many Tea Partiers, their hostility toward democracy is even stronger when you factor in that President Barack Obama and the congressional Democrats won their majorities by piling up votes from African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans. In the view of many on the Right, these non-whites are not “Real Americans” and thus their ballots should not count or at least not count as much as the votes of whites.

That racist attitude explains the recent surge of voter ID laws and the reduction of voting hours that are being enacted by Republican statehouses around the United States. They are doing so with the aid and encouragement of the five right-wing U.S. Supreme Court justices who gutted a clearly constitutional provision in the Voting Rights Act which required states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to get prior federal approval for changing voting rules.

The Fifteenth Amendment states, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” And the amendment gives Congress the “power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” Yet, the five right-wing justices deemed that their ideological belief in “states’ rights” trumped the explicit wording of the Constitution.

White Power Structure

Many on the Right with their selective interpretation of the Constitution despise these post-Civil War amendments, in particular, because they were forced on the white power structure of the South after the Confederate insurrection fought to save but failed to preserve slavery, the right of whites to own blacks.

So, these amendments, especially the Fourteenth and Fifteenth which protect the rights of blacks and other racial minorities, are seen as illegitimate, tolerable only if they don’t intrude on ultimate white rule. Or as famed conservative William F. Buckley declared in 1957, “the white community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically.”

Buckley’s edict is still the operational theory of the American Right: it’s okay to let black and brown people express their silly little opinions once in a while but they must never be in charge. So today’s Republican Party feels justified in taking action to make sure that whites can continue to “prevail, politically and culturally.”

There were political optimists who thought that the election of Barack Obama as the first African-American president would lift the United States into a post-racial era, but it instead has prompted an angry last stand for white supremacy.

That history of defending white supremacy can be traced back to the battle over the Constitution when some of its prominent opponents, known as Anti-Federalists, saw the document’s concentration of power in the federal government as an eventual death knell to slavery (despite the Constitution’s implicit acceptance of slavery).

To the slave-owning Anti-Federalists, the Constitution’s powerful central government combined with the North’s emerging industrial strength presaged an eventual elimination of slavery. To them, it didn’t help that some key supporters of the Constitution, like Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin, were abolitionists.

As Virginian Anti-Federalist leader Patrick Henry warned his fellow slave-owners in urging them not to ratify the Constitution, “they’ll free your niggers!”

The struggle to constrain the Constitution’s potential threat to slavery didn’t end with the Constitution’s ratification in 1788. The slave-owning opponents rallied behind fellow slaveholder Thomas Jefferson to impose a revisionist view of the Constitution, one that elevated states’ rights again and pushed back against federal authority.

Following the same line, today’s American Right consistently adopts not the literal reading of the Constitution or the views of the Federalists, its principal authors, but rather the revisionist interpretation imposed by Jefferson and what might be called “the pre-Confederates.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Four Eras of the American Right.”]

Southern Strategy

The Civil War and Reconstruction ended slavery but enabled the Democratic Party to exploit white resentment against the anti-slavery Republican Party and consolidate a white base within the Old Confederacy. With Jim Crow laws to repress black citizens, the Democratic Party, which had emerged from Jefferson’s southern-based political faction, went from being the party of slavery to the party of segregation.

That changed in the 1960s when the national Democrats took the lead in ending racial segregation. Though the Republican Party had historically been the anti-slavery and anti-segregation party, President Richard Nixon saw an opening for stealing away the Democratic Party’s southern white support. Nixon’s Southern Strategy appealed to white Southerners with racial code words in the 1970s and Ronald Reagan consolidated the Republican lock on southern whites in the 1980s with his populist appeals against “welfare queens” and other racial stereotypes.

Along with the Republican embrace of neo-Confederate ideology, right-wing think tanks and the rapidly expanding right-wing media popularized bogus versions of the Founding narrative, turning the Framers of the Constitution, who actually implemented a dramatic consolidation of power in the central government, into their opposites, big promoters of states’ rights who wanted a tightly constrained federal government.

Given the historical illiteracy of many Americans and the disdain that many on the Left feel toward the Constitution for its protection of property rights there was little protest over this stolen American narrative. Few in mainstream media or academia dared remind the public of the actual history in which the key Framers of the Constitution were pragmatic nationalists who placed very few limits on what the federal government could do.

Despite their many aristocratic tendencies, the Framers arguably had more faith in democracy than the current batch of Tea Party extremists. The Framers created a constitutional system that trusted the judgment of the people’s representatives to do essentially whatever was necessary to “provide for the common Defense and the general Welfare of the United States,” as they wrote in Article I, Section 8.

Further, Section 8’s so-called “enumerated powers” authorized Congress “to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.”

It was initially the pro-slavery forces of the South who imposed a revisionist view of these powers, insisting they should be much more limited than they were written by the Framers of the Constitution. This “limited government” banner was later picked up by the Robber Baron industrialists of the late Nineteenth Century as they resisted reform movements that sought to constrain their power over the economy.

Anti-Democratic Movement

The struggle to impose this revisionist interpretation of the Constitution has always been anti-democratic in its desire to prevent the collective will of the broad American populace to implement changes to “promote the general Welfare.”

The insistence that the Constitution forbids what it actually endorses has been a touchstone of the American Right for more than two centuries, especially relating to expanded rights of non-whites and the effective regulation of powerful corporations. By demanding a “Confederate” interpretation of the Constitution, the Right asserts that reformist government action responsive to the popular will must be prohibited.

While the Right’s view is anti-historical, it can be persuasive if you put yourself into the right-wing media bubble where this made-up national narrative is all you hear. You see yourself standing shoulder-to-shoulder with George Washington and James Madison in denouncing health-care reform as an existential threat to American liberty.

But someone outside that bubble, who actually has read the Constitution and knows the history, would see the Affordable Care Act as simply an imperfect attempt to provide for “the general Welfare” by ensuring that millions of citizens who have been locked out of regular health care by a greedy health-insurance industry can finally go see a doctor without inviting bankruptcy.

Clearly, there were more efficient ways of accomplishing that goal i.e. a single-payer system or at least a Medicare buy-in but those other options were precluded by Republicans and some pro-corporate Democrats, thus leading to a free-market-oriented structure that had originally been devised by the right-wing Heritage Foundation and promoted in Massachusetts by Republican Gov. Mitt Romney.

Only when this plan was embraced by President Obama did the concept become an unconscionable assault on the constitutional rights of Americans. But the fury around the issue can only be explained by the Right’s bogus interpretation of the Constitution, which excites the base to don tri-corner caps and wave yellow flags with a coiled snake declaring, “Don’t Tread on Me.”

The extremism of this Republican Tea Party faction is so intense that it has bewildered even other conservative Republicans. For instance, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, likened the behavior to “lemmings with suicide vests,” adding:

“It’s kind of an insult to lemmings to call them lemmings, so they’d have to be more than just a lemming, because jumping to your death is not enough.”

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




The Four Eras of the American Right

Exclusive: In the coming weeks, the Republican Party and its Tea Party extremists vow to create budgetary and fiscal crises if the Democrats don’t gut health-care reform and submit to a host of other right-wing demands. But a driving force in this craziness is an anti-historical view of the Constitution, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

As the world ponders why the American Right through its Tea Party power in Congress is threatening to shut down the federal government and precipitate a global economic crisis by defaulting on U.S. debt, the answer goes to the self-image of these rightists who insist they are the true defenders of the Founding Principles.

This conceit is reinforced by the vast right-wing media via talk radio, cable TV, well-funded Internet sites and a variety of books and print publications. Thus, the Tea Partiers and many Republicans have walled themselves off from the actual history, which would show the American Right to be arguably the opposite of true patriots, actually the faction of U.S. politics that has most disdained and disrupted the orderly constitutional process created in 1787.

Indeed, the history of the American Right can be roughly divided into four eras: the pre-Confederate period from 1787 to 1860 when slave owners first opposed and then sought to constrain the Constitution, viewing it as a threat to slavery; the actual Confederacy from 1861 to 1865 when the South took up arms against the Constitution in defense of slavery; the post-Confederate era from 1866 to the 1960s when white racists violently thwarted constitutional protections for blacks; and the neo-Confederate era from 1969 to today when these racists jumped to the Republican Party in an attempt to extend white supremacy behind various code words and subterfuges.

It is true that the racist Right has often moved in tandem with the wealthy-elite Right, which has regarded the regulatory powers of the federal government as a threat to the ability of rich industrialists to operate corporations and to control the economy without regard to the larger public good.

But the historical reality is that both the white supremacists and the anti-regulatory corporatists viewed the Constitution as a threat to their interests because of its creation of a powerful central government that was given a mandate to “promote the general Welfare.” The Constitution was far from perfect and its authors did not always have the noblest of motives, but it created a structure that could reflect the popular will and be used for the nation’s good.

The key Framers of the Constitution the likes of George Washington, James Madison (who then was a protégé of Washington) Alexander Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris (who wrote the famous Preamble) were what might be called “pragmatic nationalists” determined to do what was necessary to protect the nation’s fragile independence and to advance the country’s economic development.

In 1787, the Framers’ principal concern was that the existing government structure the Articles of Confederation was unworkable because it embraced a system of strong states, deemed “sovereign” and “independent,” and a weak central government called simply a “league of friendship” among the states.

The Constitution flipped that relationship, making federal law supreme and seeking to make the states “subordinately useful,” in Madison’s evocative phrase. Though the Constitution did make implicit concessions to slavery in order to persuade southern delegates to sign on, the shift toward federal dominance was immediately perceived as an eventual threat to slavery.

Fearing for Slavery

Key Anti-Federalists, such as Virginia’s Patrick Henry and George Mason, argued that over time the more industrial North would grow dominant and insist on the elimination of slavery. And, it was known that a number of key participants at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, including Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton, were strongly in favor of emancipation and that Washington, too, was troubled by human bondage though a slaveholder himself.

So, Henry and Mason cited the threat to slavery as their hot-button argument against ratification. In 1788, Henry warned his fellow Virginians that if they approved the Constitution, it would put their massive capital investment in slaves in jeopardy. Imagining the possibility of a federal tax on slaveholding, Henry declared, “They’ll free your niggers!”

It is a testament to how we have whitewashed U.S. history on the evils of slavery that Patrick Henry is far better known for his declaration before the Revolution, “Give me liberty or give me death!” than his equally pithy warning, “They’ll free your niggers!”

Similarly, George Mason, Henry’s collaborator in trying to scare Virginia’s slaveholders into opposing the Constitution, is recalled as an instigator of the Bill of Rights, rather than as a defender of slavery. A key “freedom” that Henry and Mason fretted about was the “freedom” of plantation owners to possess other human beings as property.

As historians Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg wrote in their 2010 book, Madison and Jefferson, Henry and Mason argued that “slavery, the source of Virginia’s tremendous wealth, lay politically unprotected.” Besides the worry about how the federal government might tax slave-ownership, there was the fear that the President as commander in chief might “federalize” the state militias and emancipate the slaves.

Though the Anti-Federalists lost the struggle to block ratification, they soon shifted into a strategy of redefining the federal powers contained in the Constitution, with the goal of minimizing them and thus preventing a strong federal government from emerging as a threat to slavery.

In this early stage of the pre-Confederacy era, the worried slave owners turned to one of their own, Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and a charismatic politician who had been in France during the drafting and ratification of the Constitution and enactment of the Bill of Rights.

Though Jefferson had criticized the new governing document especially over its broad executive powers, he was not an outright opponent and thus was a perfect vehicle for seeking to limit the Constitution’s reach. Even as Washington’s Secretary of State, Jefferson began organizing against the formation of the new government as it was being designed by the Federalists, especially Washington’s energetic Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton.

The Federalists, who were the principal Framers, understood the Constitution to grant the central government all necessary powers to “provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States.” However, Jefferson and his fellow Southern slaveholders were determined to limit those powers by reinterpreting what the Constitution allowed much more narrowly.

Partisan Warfare

Through the 1790s, Jefferson and his Southern-based faction engaged in fierce partisan warfare against the Federalists, particularly Alexander Hamilton but also John Adams and implicitly George Washington. Jefferson opposed the Federalist program that sought to promote the country’s development through everything from a national bank to a professional military to a system of roads and canals.

As Jefferson’s faction gained strength, it also pulled in James Madison who, in effect, was drawn back into the slave interests of his fellow Virginians. Jefferson, with Madison’s acquiescence, developed the extra-constitutional theories of state “nullification” of federal law and even the principle of secession.

Historians Burstein and Isenberg wrote in Madison and Jefferson that these two important Founders must be understood as, first and foremost, politicians representing the interests of Virginia where the two men lived nearby each other on plantations worked by African-American slaves, Jefferson at Monticello and Madison at Montpelier.

“It is hard for most to think of Madison and Jefferson and admit that they were Virginians first, Americans second,” Burstein and Isenberg said. “But this fact seems beyond dispute. Virginians felt they had to act to protect the interests of the Old Dominion, or else, before long, they would become marginalized by a northern-dominated economy.

“Virginians who thought in terms of the profit to be reaped in land were often reluctant to invest in manufacturing enterprises. The real tragedy is that they chose to speculate in slaves rather than in textile factories and iron works. And so as Virginians tied their fortunes to the land, they failed to extricate themselves from a way of life that was limited in outlook and produced only resistance to economic development.”

Because of political mistakes by the Federalists and Jefferson’s success in portraying himself as an advocate of simple farmers (when he was really the avatar for the plantation owners), Jefferson and his Democratic-Republicans prevailed in the election of 1800, clearing the way for a more constrained interpretation of the Constitution and a 24-year Virginia Dynasty over the White House with Jefferson, Madison and James Monroe, all slaveholders.

By the time the Virginia Dynasty ended, slavery had spread to newer states to the west and was more deeply entrenched than ever before. Indeed, not only was Virginia’s agriculture tied to the institution of slavery but after the Constitution banned the importation of slaves in 1808, Virginia developed a new industry, the breeding of slaves for sale to new states in the west. [For details on this history, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Right’s Dubious Claim to Madison.”]

Toward Civil War

The course to the Civil War was set, as ironically the warnings of Patrick Henry and George Mason proved prescient, the growing industrial strength of the North gave momentum to a movement for abolishing slavery. When Abraham Lincoln, the presidential candidate for the new anti-slavery Republican Party, won the 1860 election, southern slave states seceded from the Union, claiming they were defending the principle of states’ rights but really they were protecting the economic interests of slave owners.

The South’s bloody defeat in the Civil War finally ended slavery and the North sought for several years to “reconstruct” the South as a place that would respect the rights of freed slaves. But the traditional white power structure soon reasserted itself, employing violence against blacks and the so-called “carpetbaggers” from the North.

As white Southerners organized politically under the banner of the Democratic Party, which had defended slavery since its origins in Jefferson’s plantation-based political faction, the North and the Republicans grew weary of trying to police the South. Soon, southern whites were pushing blacks into a form of crypto-slavery through a combination of Jim Crow laws, white supremacist ideology and Ku Klux Klan terror.

Thus, the century after the Civil War could be designated the post-Confederate era of the American Right. This restoration of the South’s white power structure also coincided with the emergence of the North’s Robber Barons the likes of Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan who amassed extraordinary wealth and used it to achieve political clout in favor of laissez-faire economics.

In that sense, the interests of the northern industrialists and the southern aristocracy dovetailed in a common opposition to any federal authority that might reflect the interests of the common man, either the white industrial workers of the North or the black sharecroppers of the South.

However, amid recurring financial calamities on Wall Street that drove many Americans into abject poverty and with the disgraceful treatment of African-Americans in the South, reform movements began to emerge in the early Twentieth Century, reviving the founding ideal that the federal government should “promote the general Welfare.”

With the Great Depression of the 1930s, the grip of the aging Robber Barons and their descendants began to slip. Despite fierce opposition from the political Right, President Franklin Roosevelt enacted a series of reforms that increased regulation of the financial sector, protected the rights of unions and created programs to lift millions of Americans out of poverty.

After World War II, the federal government went even further, helping veterans get educated through the GI Bill, making mortgages affordable for new homes, connecting the nation through a system of modern highways, and investing in scientific research. Through these various reforms, the federal government not only advanced the “general Welfare” but, in effect, invented the Great American Middle Class.

Civil Rights

As the nation’s prosperity surged, attention also turned to addressing the shame of racial segregation. The civil rights movement led by remarkable leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and eventually embraced by Democratic Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson rallied popular support and the federal government finally moved against segregation across the South.

Yet, reflecting the old-time pro-slavery concerns of Patrick Henry and George Mason, southern white political leaders fumed at this latest intrusion by the federal government against the principle of “states’ rights,” i.e. the rights of the whites in southern states to treat “their coloreds” as they saw fit.

This white backlash to the federal activism against segregation became the energy driving the modern Republican Party. The smartest right-wingers of the post-World War II era understood this reality.

On the need to keep blacks under white domination, urbane conservative William F. Buckley declared in 1957 that “the white community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically.”

Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Arizona, who wrote the influential manifesto Conscience of a Conservative, realized in 1961 that for Republicans to gain national power, they would have to pick off southern segregationists. Or as Goldwater put it, the Republican Party had to “go hunting where the ducks are.”

Then, there was Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy” of using coded language to appeal to southern whites and Ronald Reagan’s launching of his 1980 national presidential campaign with a states’ rights speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the notorious site of the murders of three civil rights workers. The two strands of historic conservatism, white supremacy and “small government” ideology, were again wound together.

In New York magazine, Frank Rich summed up this political history while noting how today’s right-wing revisionists have tried to reposition their heroes by saying they opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 simply out of high-minded “small-government principles.” But Rich wrote:

“The primacy of [Strom] Thurmond in the GOP’s racial realignment is the most incriminating truth the right keeps trying to cover up. That’s why the George W. Bush White House shoved the Mississippi senator Trent Lott out of his post as Senate majority leader in 2002 once news spread that Lott had told Thurmond’s 100th-birthday gathering that America ‘wouldn’t have had all these problems’ if the old Dixiecrat had been elected president in 1948.

“Lott, it soon became clear, had also lavished praise on [the Confederacy’s president] Jefferson Davis and associated for decades with other far-right groups in thrall to the old Confederate cause. But the GOP elites didn’t seem to mind until he committed the truly unpardonable sin of reminding America, if only for a moment, of the exact history his party most wanted and needed to suppress. Then he had to be shut down at once.”

Unholy Alliance

This unholy alliance between the racists and the corporatists continues to this day with Republicans understanding that the votes of blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other minorities must be suppressed if the twin goals of the two principal elements of the Right are to control the future. That was the significance of this year’s ruling by the Supreme Court’s right-wing majority to gut the Voting Rights Act. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Supreme Court’s War on Democracy.”]

Only if the votes of whites can be proportionately enhanced and the votes of minorities minimized can the Republican Party overcome the country’s demographic changes and retain government power that will both advance the interests of the racists and the free-marketeers.

That’s why Republican-controlled statehouses engaged in aggressive gerrymandering of congressional districts in 2010 and tried to impose “ballot security” measures across the country in 2012. The crudity of those efforts, clumsily justified as needed to prevent the virtually non-existent problem of in-person voter fraud, was almost painful to watch.

As Frank Rich noted, “Everyone knows these laws are in response to the rise of Barack Obama. It is also no coincidence that many of them were conceived and promoted by the American Legal Exchange Council, an activist outfit funded by heavy-hitting right-wing donors like Charles and David Koch.

“In another coincidence that the GOP would like to flush down the memory hole, the Kochs’ father, Fred, a founder of the radical John Birch Society in the fifties, was an advocate for the impeachment of Chief Justice Warren in the aftermath of Brown [v. Board of Education] Fred Koch wrote a screed of his own accusing communists of inspiring the civil-rights movement.”

Blaming the Democratic Party for ending segregation and coyly invited by opportunistic Republicans like Nixon and Reagan to switch party allegiances racist whites signed up with the Republican Party in droves. Thus, the Democratic Party, which since the days of Jefferson had been the party of slavery and segregation, lost its southern base, ceding it to the Republican Party, which essentially renounced its historical legacy as the anti-slavery and anti-segregation party.

A Flip of Allegiance

This flip in the allegiance of America’s white supremacists from Democrat to Republican also put them in the same political structure as the anti-regulatory business interests which had dominated the Republican Party from the days of the Robber Barons. These two groups again found themselves sharing a common interest, the desire to constrain the federal government’s commitment to providing for “the general Welfare.”

To the corporate Republicans this meant slashing taxes, eliminating regulations and paring back social programs for the poor or in Ayn Rand vernacular the moochers. To the racist Republicans this meant giving the states greater leeway to suppress the votes of minorities and gutting programs that were seen as especially benefiting black and brown Americans, such as food stamps and health-care reform.

Thus, in today’s neo-Confederate era, the American Right is coalescing around two parallel ideological motives: continued racial resentment (from the disproportionate number of black and brown people getting welfare to the presence of a black family in the White House) and resistance to government regulations (from efforts to control Wall Street excesses to restrictions on global-warming emissions).

Though the white racist element of this coalition might typically be expected to proudly adopt the Stars and Bars of the Old Confederacy as its symbol, the modern Right is too media-savvy to get boxed into that distasteful imagery of slavery.

So, instead the Right has opted for a rebranding as Revolutionary War-era patriots calling themselves Tea Partiers, donning tri-corner hats and waving yellow banners with a coiled snake declaring “don’t tread on me.” So, instead of overtly defending the Confederacy, the Right proclaims its commitment to the Founding Principles found in the Constitution.

But this sly transformation required the Right to rewrite the Founding Narrative, to blot out the initial interpretation of the Constitution by the Federalists who, after all, were the ones who primarily crafted the document, and to pretend that Jefferson’s revisionist view representing the pre-Confederate position of the southern plantation owners was the original one. [For more, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Right’s Made-Up Constitution.”]

Now this doctored history hostile to any federal government actions that would “promote the general Welfare” is leading the United States and the world into an economic crisis.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.