This morning, I specified that many of the Obama Administration’s affronts against our civil rights have been against our right to a constitutional process for enacting and executing the laws under which we live. Constitutional law professor John McGinnis notes President Obama’s curious priorities for rights while speaking at a naturalization ceremony:
Significantly, in fact, his speech dwells on only two rights: the right to criticize the government and the right to vote. These are quintessentially the rights of political action. For President Obama, these are the rights that help us make continual progress, that these documents have “inspired” as he puts it. Under the President’s view, what is central to America is not a set of rights beyond ordinary politics, but the power of ordinary politics at the federal level to transform the nation even without a constitutional amendment. It is a classic formulation of Progressivism—a creed that does not see the Constitution as the anchor for a fixed set of liberties protected through its system of checks and balances.
The importance of the point cannot be overstated: The value of our intrinsic rights is not, primarily, that they give us a framework in which to use government to change society, but rather, that we are able to exercise them generally without reference to government. Contra Obama’s worldview, government is not just what we call things we do together. That is, government is not our reason for living as a community.
McGinnis highlights the fact that Obama didn’t mention any of the documents to which Americans are to be “loyal.” If the president had highlighted, say, the Declaration of Independence, he might have inadvertently brought attention to the assertion that the purpose of government is to secure rights, not to give them an arena in which to be exercised.
While working out and doing dishes and such, I’ve been watching Ken Burns’s The West on Netflix, and although there have been hints of the Howard Zinn approach to history as the story of people who have been wronged, one repeated theme has been striking: Particularly for native Americans, the U.S. government was at the core of the systemic wrongs. In order to impose a framework by which the United States could edge into the territory, officials pushed tribes to define themselves under structures that didn’t necessarily match their practice.
To some extent, the tribes operated under a more primitive formulation of government, but the intersection of the two societies was revealing. At points, the U.S. government was no more civilized, by which I’m not referring to war and barbarism, but to process. U.S. officials would impose a notion of property rights and pressure tribes for contracts, but then behave as if all tribes constituted a collective nation or ignore promises of other U.S. officials when they were inconvenient.
In structure, the approach was not unlike that of labor union organization: If a majority of people who happen to be grouped together by occupation or (in the natives’ case) by broad racial category vote to abide by certain rules or impose certain rules on each other, then the rules bind even those who want nothing to do with it. In the progressive view, there’s no opting out.
How differently things might have developed had the government (consistently) started with the inalienable rights of the natives and presented a federalist path for them to avail themselves of the government as mere security. Conflict would not have been avoided as the many cultures collided in the New World, that much is certain, but the results might have been more just.
Barack Obama and his ilk adorn themselves in their opposition to imperialism, colonialism, nationalism, and racism, but they view government and rights in exactly the way of imperialists, colonialists, nationalists, and racists. In their view, government is a means for groups that take over the levers of power to take things from other groups and to impose their worldview on them. They are the true sons and daughters of history’s injustices.