GOP’s New “Principles” Will “Defend the Constitution”… Rhetorically

priebusRepublican Party Chairman Reince Priebus debuted the GOP’s list of 11 “Principles for American Renewal” in a bring-back-the-90s speech that tried to recall the party’s Contract with America. Its first “new” principle is that “our constitution should be preserved, valued and honored.” Yet unlike his other “principles,” Priebus has absolutely no suggestions about what this one will mean.

There aren’t even obligatory shout-outs to the much loved 2nd amendment or to the ever-popular right of free exercise of religion. The most specific that Priebus gets about the implication of preserving the Constitution comes when he states:

As I’ll discuss many times today, the practical effect of a commitment to the Constitution is restoring power to ‘we, the people.’ From our work to eliminate poverty to our efforts to improve education and healthcare, states need the ability to respond to their residents’ needs. This doesn’t just make Constitutional sense, it should be common sense.

First of all, in his speech, Priebus makes no other reference to the Constitution apart from this section, except proposing to change it with a balanced budget amendment and to denounce Obama’s refusal to enforce immigration law, neither of which have nothing to do with poverty or education. It’s almost like Priebus thought, “We’re Republicans. The Constitution is the basis of all we do, so I’m sure we’ll mention it a lot.” But then – like Republicans generally – when he deals with actual particulars, he forgets it.

Second of all, what is he talking about? How is the GOP’s work to eliminate poverty and improve education related to anything actually in the Constitution? I suppose plausibly that it could be, but the connection is never made. And how is the response of states to their residents’ needs a Constitutional issue? And how is that connected to our efforts to improve education and eliminate poverty?

PrinciplesPerhaps some answers could be deciphered from the education and poverty “principles,” but I’m hard-pressed to find any Constitutional provisions in these sections either. His education “principle” focuses on school choice, and his poverty plan would block grant federal aid to states. Perhaps these are good ideas, but it’s difficult to see them as preserving the Constitution.

We have ample evidence to indicate that not only do Republicans forget the Constitution; they are actively hostile to it. To take just one recent example, this summer, House Republicans – minus 10 dissenters – voted to impose a Writ of Attainder on all Guantanamo detainees, forbidding their release under any circumstance without a trial. The ACLU noted that the provision was “more severe than any punishment held to be unconstitutional under any of the bill of attainder challenges decided by the Supreme Court during its entire 225-year long history.”

Whether it comes to war or privacy, Republicans continue to offer little more than vacuous poll-tested rhetoric in defense of the Constitution. They are heroes of the Constitution in their mind. This Constitution has exactly as many provisions in it as Priebus’s defense would indicate: zero.

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Edward Coke

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