The Madison Paradox and Obama’s Constitution Day Stealth Comment: Referring to Our Constitutional Rights as ‘Privileges’Posted: September 18, 2014
Maybe James Madison was right. Maybe the Bill of Rights wasn’t just unnecessary, it was a bad idea, destined to be viewed in the distant future exactly the wrong way
For United Liberty, Jason Pye catches Obama’s shaded wording, and writes a welcome blast of corrective historical clarity. Though I can’t resist including my own comments in the margins, the piece stands as testament to the power of word choices. Pye writes:
…In his presidential proclamation marking Constitution Day, President Barack Obama offered some insight into how he views the Bill of Rights. “Our Constitution reflects the values we cherish as a people and the ideals we strive for as a society,” Obama said in the release. “It secures the privileges we enjoy as citizens, but also demands participation, responsibility, and service to our country and to one another.”
“It secures the
rights privileges we enjoy as citizens, but also demands participation, responsibility, and service to our country and to one another.”
Given that this White House is known for its expansive view of executive power, the assertion that the rights guaranteed and protected under the Bill of Rights, the fact that President Obama views these fundamental liberties to be “privileges” isn’t too terribly surprising. After all, President Obama treats the legislative branch — which, again, is supposed to be a co-equal branch of the federal government — as an afterthought as it arbitrarily changes statues and even refuses to enforce laws.
But words matter. To say the rights secured by the Constitution are “privileges” implies that they can be revoked. Let’s put this another way: a high school-aged kid is given the privilege of taking their father’s car out to go hang out with friends, that is until they abuse it by getting caught speeding or into a car accident. The disappointed father would, no doubt, take away the privilege.
Rights and liberties, however, are based on a solid foundation. They can’t be taken away by some paternalistic president. The view of the framers was that the rights protected under the Bill of Rights existed before the formation of the federal government under the Constitution. In short, they were natural rights.
In fact, James Madison believed that a list of specific rights was unnecessary.
Though we celebrate the ratification of the Bill of Rights, I can’t help but interrupt to expand on Jason Pye‘s oversimplification — Madison didn’t believe that a list of specific rights was unnecessary, Madison and others believed listing individual rights would set a dangerous precedent. As illustrated in my half-remembered reading of Joseph J. Ellis’ “Founding Brothers” the dissenters wisely understood that making a special top-ten list of rights could lead to a troubling misperception that individual rights are limited, reducible to a specific list. Which could then be used to mislead future generations into accepting false limits.
It’s federal powers that are finite, narrow, and limited. So limited you could number them. (enumerated powers) Individual rights, as conceived by the founders–aren’t limited, they’re virtually infinite. Not reducible to a list. Enshrining some of them in a list would lead to, well, exactly the misunderstanding that persists to this day. The argument resisting an enumerated “Bill of Rights” wasn’t perfect, but it had merit. It showed foresight.
Jason Pye continues:
Thankfully, George Mason and others, to ensure ratification, convinced Madison to come up with proposals, ten of which were passed by Congress and approved by at least three-fifths of the states.
We can be thankful that it was ratified, yes. Though the misperception associated with the Bill of Rights remains a historical problem. Fortunately a compromise was reached to address the unresolved disagreement. The essence of which is contained in the 10th amendment:
“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.”
Meaning, hey, just because we made of Bill of Rights — a list — that’s not an invitation to the federal government to infringe on the multitude of individual’s and state’s rights that aren’t written down in the special top-ten list.
The Bill of Rights, fortified by the 10th amendment, were meant to strengthen the constitutional framework, to insure liberty for future generations against the inevitable abuses and mission creep of federal power. Evidence of which is abundant. Particularly in the hands of 20th-century federal power-loving progressives. Liberty-eroding collectivists and arrogant autocrats who use constitutional-sounding language in an attempt to conceal, rather than reveal their true intentions.
Was the Bill of Rights a good idea? In the end, probably yes. The 10th amendment has rarely been invoked in arguments before the Supreme court, but the Bill of Rights remains a ring of fire around our most enduring, most essential guarantees.
While Obama is the first president (and he won’t be the last) to try to run roughshod over the Constitution and Bill of Rights, his comments are dangerous. They offer much insight into how progressives view your rights, which is to say they’re just privileges that can be revoked at any time some purported emergency arises.
It’s true that Congress and the federal courts have the responsibility to keep the executive branch in check, but, unless Americans begin to take a strong stand against these abuses, thus preventing presidents from treating their rights as mere privileges, they are ostensibly endorsing the slow deconstruction of the very document that makes the United States such a unique experiment.
- This Constitution Day, Try Something New: Nullify the Feds! (tenthamendmentcenter.com)
- Top 10 myths about the Constitution on Constitution Day (constitutioncenter.org)
- It’s Not Your Founding Fathers’ Republic Any More (city-journal.org)
- National Archives (NARA) Releases Free eBook and App in Honor of Constitution Day (infodocket.com)
- BUT OF COURSE: Obama marks Constitution Day by referring to our constitutional rights as “privileg… (pjmedia.com)
- Liberty or Equality? (city-journal.org)
- White Privilege Instructors Show How They Indoctrinate 8 Year-Olds (SHOCKING VIDEO) (thegatewaypundit.com)
- Obama’s new power grab: A climate change treaty without Senate ratification (hotair.com)
- Ninth Circuit Guts Student Free Speech, Upholds ‘Heckler’s Veto’ of the American Flag (nationalreview.com)
- Mark Levin’s radical proposal: 10 amendments to the Constitution to restore the American republic (dailycaller.com)