I just spent a few hours at the Ron Paul rally, about which I’ll have more to say later. But as I listened to the speakers get misty eyed over the constitution and describe their views as constitutionalism, it crystallized something that’s bothered me for a long time about the way the left tends to talk about the shredding of basic civil liberties that have happened over the last 8 years. There’s a tendency to defend civil liberties in the context of fidelity to the constitution, which has the twin virtues of being a) accurate and b) politically potent — who doesn’t support the constitution? But hearing people with beliefs quite different from mine on issues other than civil liberties invoke the same justification to rail against what amounts most of what makes up the modern liberal state, I couldn’t help feel that perhaps the constitution is not the best way for progressives and civil libertarians to make their argument. It acts, in a way, as both a short-cut and a cipher.
The constitution itself is a remarkable document, but also flawed. Prophetic in places (the 1st amendment), short-sighted in others (the 3rd amendment). And the Paulites make a plausible case that the Founding Fathers (at least some of them) would be scandalized by things like Social Security and most of the modern regulatory state. I’m not quite sure where this goes: how you build a robust argument for civil liberties not reliant on invoking a document, but something about the ceaseless fetishization of the Constitution at the Paul event gave me pause.