Ed Driscoll

Gray Lady Down: The New York Times Jettisons the Constitution

Oh, that Liberal Fascism. Or as the New York Sun notes, its crosstown revival has now officially given up:

Talk about your constitutional moment. These columns have been predicting for three years now that America is entering what we have called a “constitutional moment,” in which our politics have become so divisive that ever more questions would expose the bedrock of the Constitution. Sure enough, America has gone to that very mat on everything from Obamacare, to same sex marriage, to gun control, to monetary policy, to whether civil rights law can be applied to the hiring of clergymen and women, to interstate commerce, to . . . well the docket gets more exciting every week.

Now, in the face of this great swelling of faith in our fundamental national contract, the New York Times has offered a new strategy — abandoning the Constitution altogether. It runs the brainstorm out under the headline “Let’s Give Up on the Constitution.” The piece carries the byline of a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University, Louis Michael Seidman. He asserts that “observers are reaching the conclusion that the American system of government is broken” but that “no one blames the culprit: our insistence on obedience to the Constitution, with all its archaic, idiosyncratic and downright evil provisions.”

If this had been published on April Fool’s day, readers of the Times would have slapped their knees and guffawed. But what is one to make of the fact that the Times has issued this piece in apparent seriousness? It starts with Professor Seidman complaining over the way the Senate is being stymied in the fiscal fight by the constitutional requirement that revenue measures originate in the House. “Why should anyone care?” he asks. “Why should a lame-duck House, 27 members of which were defeated for re-election, have a stranglehold on our economy? Why does a grotesquely malapportioned Senate get to decide the nation’s fate?”

The internal logic, if that’s what it is, is just bizarre. Why does the fact that some of the House members were defeated for re-election make the House illegitimate? Wouldn’t that be the sign of the legitimacy of the process? If the House is illegitimate, why is he complaining about the grotesqueness of the Senate? If both are illegitimate, what does he want, George III? The Times’s writer confesses that “[a]s someone who has taught constitutional law for almost 40 years,” he is “ashamed” that it took him “so long to see how bizarre all this is.”

Well yes. And in a sense, how new. After shredding the Constitution in WWI, and believing that the Soviet Union and Italian Fascism were totally cool and groovy projects to be emulated in the 1920s and 1930s, the liberals of the 1950s, as James Piereson wrote at the start of his  2007 book Camelot and the Cultural Revolution, began to have second thoughts about totally abandoning at least paying lip service to the Constitution. Instead, they began to embrace their own form of Whig History, and believed that the ideals of the Founding Fathers flowed, albeit tenuously at times, into the concepts of the New Deal:

Postwar liberalism, because of the new political context in which it operated, took on a somewhat different tone and emphasis from the Progressive and New Deal movements that preceded it. During the decade of the 195os, thoughtful liberals came to understand that for the first time they represented the political establishment in the United States. Liberals had been in power for the two eventful decades from 1933 to 1953, and to them went the credit for the domestic experiments of the New Deal, the subsequent victory over fascism in World War II, and the creation of the postwar international order. Liberalism, as a consequence of these achievements, had earned the designation as the public philosophy of the nation. Even Republican leaders, like Dewey, Eisenhower, and Nixon, were obliged to accept the liberal framework of ideas, albeit with the hedge that they could carry it out with greater efficiency. The reformers and critics of the previous generation were now insiders placed in the position of defending their status and the achievements of their movement. Liberalism, a doctrine of reform, thus began to absorb some of the intellectual characteristics of conservatism-a due regard for tradition and continuity, a sense that progress must be built on the solid achievements of the past, an awareness of the threat of Soviet totalitarianism, and a conviction that its domestic opponents were radicals at war with modernity and bent on undoing the hard-won achievements of the previous decades. Richard Hofstadter, Columbia University’s prize-winning historian, expressed this mood very well in The Age of Reform (19 5 5), his influential account of the reform movement from the 18 9 o s through the New Deal. “For the first time since the 18 8 o s,” he wrote, “there are signs that liberals are beginning to find it both natural and expedient to explore the merits and employ the rhetoric of conservatism. They are far more conscious of those things they would like to preserve than they are of those things they would like to change.”‘

The mood that Hofstadter described called forth a distinctively new chapter in the history of liberal reform that contrasted sharply with the ethos of Progressivism and the New Deal. Both of these earlier movements were confident that they represented the views and interests of a majority of Americans; both sought to mobilize the public against the special interests intent on taking advantage of the common man. The leaders of these movements were all too happy to embrace the labels of liberalism and reform. Woodrow Wilson was proud to call himself a liberal and claimed that liberalism was the philosophy of all thinking men. Roosevelt and Truman said much the same thing. These leaders never found it expedient, in Hofstadter’s description of the liberalism of the postwar period, “to explore the merits and employ the rhetoric of conservatism.” They accepted, albeit in different degrees, the revised idea of liberalism that developed late in the nineteenth century, which held that, in the struggle for liberty, the conflict between the individual and the state had been replaced by one that pitted the individual against the large corporation and the entrenched political machine. In this new struggle, it was argued, the state was obliged to take the side of the individual and the common man against these new aggregations of power.

As late as the 1970s, liberals seemed to be able to co-exist, albeit tenuously, with the Constitution. Then came Political Correctness, and the left’s seething hatred for postwar conservatism. And thus, we’re reliving the start of 2011, with a shattering gun crime caused by a man with severe mental illness, and the Left reacting like Dracula seeing a cross when it comes to the Constitution. Or as John Hinderaker of Power Line wrote on January 5th, 2011:

Needless to say, the Times did not adopt a similarly surly attitude in January 2007, when Nancy Pelosi took over the helm in the House. The editorial continues:

The empty gestures are officially intended to set a new tone in Washington, to demonstrate — presumably to the Republicans’ Tea Party supporters — that things are about to be done very differently. But it is far from clear what message is being sent by, for instance, reading aloud the nation’s foundational document. Is this group of Republicans really trying to suggest that they care more deeply about the Constitution than anyone else and will follow it more closely?

Well, yeah. Actually paying attention to the Constitution would be a change. But now the Times shows its true colors:

In any case, it is a presumptuous and self-righteous act, suggesting that they alone understand the true meaning of a text that the founders wisely left open to generations of reinterpretation. Certainly the Republican leadership is not trying to suggest that African-Americans still be counted as three-fifths of a person.

Presumptuous to read the Constitution out loud? Seriously? And, in fact, the founders didn’t leave the Constitution “open to generations of reinterpretation;” they provided for the document to be changed by amendment. But most revealing is the Times’ hauling out the old three/fifths chestnut, much beloved by liberals who despise the Constitution. Never mind that the point of that provision, insisted upon by representatives of the free states, was to limit the influence of pro-slavery states in the House. This is, actually, a good illustration of how the Constitution has changed through amendment rather than “reinterpretation.” Once the slaves were freed during and after the Civil War, the 14th Amendment provided that the House would be “apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State….” So the paper’s snarky aside is entirely misplaced.

And thus we arrive at the start of 2013; and even some leftists are astonished at the Times’ embrace of fascism:

But really, why should they be? Times columnists feel free to declare their loathing of America and its traditions seemingly every day. Or as Jonah Goldberg wrote in September of 2009, when Thomas Friedman publicly embraced one party totalitarian China:

So there you have it. If only America could drop its inefficient and antiquated system, designed in the age before globalization and modernity and, most damning of all, before the lantern of Thomas Friedman’s intellect illuminated the land. If only enlightened experts could do the hard and necessary things that the new age requires, if only we could rely on these planners to set the ship of state right. Now, of course, there are “drawbacks” to such a system: crushing of dissidents with tanks, state control of reproduction, government control of the press and the internet. Omelets and broken eggs, as they say. More to the point, Friedman insists, these “drawbacks” pale in comparison to the system we have today here in America.

I cannot begin to tell you how this is exactly the argument that was made by American fans of Mussolini in the 1920s. It is exactly the argument that was made in defense of Stalin and Lenin before him (it’s the argument that idiotic, dictator-envying leftists make in defense of Castro and Chavez today). It was the argument made by George Bernard Shaw who yearned for a strong progressive autocracy under a Mussolini, a Hitler or a Stalin (he wasn’t picky in this regard). This is the argument for an “economic dictatorship” pushed by Stuart Chase and the New Dealers. It’s the dream of Herbert Croly and a great many of the Progressives.

Of course, some “liberals” are in even more of a hurry than the typical New York Times columnist for action. Which is why, in addition to the days of Woodrow Wilson and other proto-“Progressives,” we’re “Reliving the Left-Wing Terrorism of the 1970s,” Hinderaker writes today at Power Line:

In many ways, it feels like we are reliving the 1970s, with the awful difference that Jimmy Carter has been re-elected. This story stimulates a sick sort of nostalgia; a hung over feeling, even though New Year’s Eve hasn’t even started yet:

The privileged daughter of a prominent city doctor, and her boyfriend — a Harvard grad and Occupy Wall Street activist — have been busted for allegedly having a cache of weapons and a bombmaking explosive in their Greenwich Village apartment.

If it were a Greenwich Village town house and the explosives went off before they could be confiscated by the cops, it would be a dead ringer for 1970.

Morgan Gliedman — who is nine-months pregnant — and her baby daddy, Aaron Greene, 31, also had instructions on making bombs, including a stack of papers with a cover sheet titled, “The Terrorist Encyclopedia,’’ sources told The Post yesterday.

People who know Greene say his political views are “extreme,” the sources said.

Or as Allahpundit writes at Hot Air, “You’re already thinking about the double standard on how the media would cover this if they were tea partiers so I’ll simply note it and move on. Exit question: Which college or university will be the first to offer Greene a tenured professorship once he’s done his time?”

Teaching constitutional law, no doubt.

(And to cap off this thoroughly depressing post, see you next year, where further horrors no doubt await. Forward!)