This week Chris Matthews threw an adolescent fit, calling Michele Bachmann a “balloon head” because she claimed that America’s founders “worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.”
Matthews’ petty tirade must be viewed against the backdrop of the socialist-leaning left’s longstanding inclination to diminish the standing and putative authority of America’s founding generation. These people never miss an opportunity to point out that some of the founders were slaveholders. Some of the founders drank too much. Some of the founders were sexual libertines and adulterers. Not only were they no better than we are, their racism and bigotry make us their superiors. We are, therefore, no longer bound to think their views about politics or government have any special status or deserve any special consideration.
Though couched in terms of personal disparagement, this denigration of the founders isn’t at all about personal feelings or sensitivities. Sure, many on the socialist left still feel obliged to pay lip service to the U.S. Constitution. Like Obama, they even occasionally mouth the language of rights, as if to echo the famous affirmations of the American Declaration of Independence. But the idea of government limited by the moral requirements of unalienable right contradicts the efficient pursuit of socialist goals. Structural constraints like federalism or the separation of government powers inhibit the imposition of socialist change. People who view politics as the realm of “Yes we can” have little patience for an understanding of government that tells those with power what they can’t rightly do on account of the God-endowed rights and responsibilities of natural individuals and families, or the communities (like our religious institutions or our states and localities) they voluntarily comprise.
As I have frequently pointed out in articles here and on my blog since Obama took up residence in the White House, the key leaders of the Obama faction Democrats have, from day one, signaled their contemptuous impatience with constitutional constraints. Obama sloughs off the Constitution’s “natural born Citizen” requirement for the office of president. Nancy Pelosi laughs off the question of Obamacare’s conformity with the Constitution’s limitations on the U.S. government’s powers. And as for voters being intimidated by leftist blacks, Eric Holder waives off the requirement that all citizens be accorded equal protection by the law.
These attitudes illustrate the deep animosity for limited government that gives the leaders and pundits of the overtly socialist faction the motive to assail the respectability of founders like George Washington. Who cares what slaveholders thought about rights? Who cares what racist imposers of human bondage thought about the limits on government power? Discredit the people and you discredit the notion that people should bother to consider what they thought. Discredit the founders and you can banish from public discourse and education any serious consideration of what they introduced as the basis for justice in political life.
There’s no denying the effectiveness of this deployment of the tried-and-true ad hominem attack. It has worked so well that many people in the black community actually believe silly slurs like “The founders thought blacks were only three-fifths of a person” as if the oft cited phrase in the Constitution applied only to black slaves and not, for example, to noncitizen permanent residents. And, of course, this slur entirely ignores the fact that the whole point of the provision was to prevent the states with large slave populations from getting more votes in Congress on that account, thereby empowering and encouraging slavery in the states.
People unwilling to think through relatively simple matters like that surely don’t want to consider the profoundly difficult challenge faced by those in the founding generation who sincerely held to the truth that God-endowed right pertains to all human beings, and who therefore trembled for their country (as Jefferson said) when they remembered God’s justice. Given the age-old roots of slavery, what’s truly remarkable about the American founders is not the injustice they practiced or tolerated, but the fact that they acknowledged, and enshrined as the basis for America’s political life, principles that revealed and condemned that injustice.
In this respect, they were in fact very different from left-leaning pundits like Chris Matthews. Such folks vociferously oppose people who claim the right to discriminate against or enslave others based on the physical characteristics of race. But they adamantly insist that all people have the right murderously to discriminate against their helpless offspring based on the progress of their undeniably human development. As most of us sometimes do, America’s founders violated a standard of justice for all that they acknowledged to be true. Today, people like Matthews passionately connive at getting all of us to deny the true standard of justice so that some of us may violate it with impunity.
Is it just coincidence that this recants the premise that forbids a few to oppress all the rest? Is it just a coincidence that it re-establishes the assumption that when some people have others in a position entirely dependent upon their power (as mothers have their children in the womb), they may dispose of them at their convenience, with no rule of right to hinder them? When they promote the oxymoron of “abortion rights,” do elite talkers like Matthews serve the freedom of women, or do they quietly restore the premise of age-old elite tyranny?
However that may be, given a choice between America’s founders and folks like Matthews, Obama and the rest of the “abortion-rights” crowd, the right choice is clear: Better to have people with the will and courage to establish the premise of right, though constrained by lack of power from its fulfillment, than powerful people who treat wrong as right in order to free their power from all constraint. Through the founders, God helped America to be born in justice. As for the others, well, God help us all!