Who Needs a Constitution Anyway?

In response to the failed Times Square bombing, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) had this great wisdom to contribute: “If you’ve joined an enemy of the United States in attacking the United States and trying to kill Americans, I think you should sacrifice your rights of citizenship.” And he’s not alone. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Rep. Peter King (R-NY) both think he shouldn’t have been read his Miranda warning. But, to be fair, that only means they think he shouldn’t know what his rights are, not that he shouldn’t have them.


This whole line of “reasoning” by “conservatives” like Lieberman and McCain is so infuriating, so un-American and so incredibly contrary to what at one time were basic principles of conservatism that I don’t know where to begin. As the rest of us know, the founding fathers, in composing the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights (collectively called the “Charters of Freedom” by the National Archives) had a pretty radical idea for their time: the rule of law. Rather than be a nation ruled by a monarch who would serve as the sole source of power and authority, the United States would be a nation of laws designed to protect the “inalienable rights” of our citizens. Not only would those laws protect us from each other, but most importantly, they would protect us from our own Government. The whole point of the Constitution is to prevent the very thing Joe Lieberman is proposing.

But of course anyone over the age of 12 can tell you this, and if Lieberman, McCain and King need a refresher they can always go read Dennis Kucinich’s copy of the Constitution. The real question here isn’t whether American citizens who are suspected of terrorism should keep their Constitutional rights – of course they should. But what does this say about the state of the conservative movement? There was a time when conservatives wanted to “get government out of our lives” and keep it from interfering in the exercise of our freedoms. But now it looks like Glenn Beck of all people is the one defending intellectual conservatism from the crass politicking of our elected officials, arguing on Fox and Friends earlier this week that “He is a citizen of the United States, so I say we uphold the laws and the Constitution.” I definitely didn’t see that one coming. And if, as President Bush so eloquently put it, they “hate us for our freedom,” then Lieberman, McCain and King essentially hand those terrorists a “win” by suggesting we throw out those freedoms and our Constitution every time someone straps defective firecrackers and bags of the wrong fertilizer to some jugs of gasoline.

Then there’s that quintessential American elephant in the room: race. Last February, Joseph Stack successfully flew a plane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas, “attacking the United States and trying to kill Americans” in what was clearly an act of terrorism. Yet the response from conservatives wasn’t condemnation, but thinly veiled praise. Rep. Steven King (R-IA) offered his sympathy at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC):

I think if we’d abolished the IRS back when I first advocated it, he wouldn’t have a target for his airplane. And I’m still for abolishing the IRS, I’ve been for it for thirty years and I’m for a national sales tax. […] It’s sad the incident in Texas happened, but by the same token, it’s an agency that is unnecessary and when the day comes when that is over and we abolish the IRS, it’s going to be a happy day for America.

You see, when the terrorist is white and his grievance is paying taxes, it’s something we can let slide. Pro forma statements that violence isn’t the answer aside, we all hate the IRS and if we’d gotten rid of it years ago this wouldn’t have been a problem. It’s OUR fault for not abolishing the IRS. But, when the terrorist is non-white, and he’s retaliating for drone attacks in Pakistan, well it’s a whole different ballgame isn’t it?