The other day I was chatting with a man I have known for half my adult
life, and what began as a conversation about philosophical principles
wandered into the topic of professional wrestling. I offered a few
mild criticisms of the sport, and described how I would handle an opponent
in the ring if I were a wrestler.
“If you were a wrestler,” my companion said, “you’d
be one of those guys in a hood and mask.”
Maybe I should have shrugged this off as a casually insensitive remark.
But I couldn’t. It was just too hurtful. I wondered whether he’d
been feigning friendship all these years, just waiting for the chance
to slip in a few wounding words.
“Just for the record,” I retorted, “I don’t
even own a hood or mask at the moment.” (Of course it depends
what you regard as a “hood” or “mask,” but
I think I was legally accurate.) But he didn’t retract a syllable.
Speaking of hoods and hurtful remarks, it has been reported in several
newspapers that I once spoke to the Council of Conservative Citizens,
which is currently being pilloried as a radical racist organization.
Well, it’s true I addressed them some years ago. But I should
state here, for the record, that I would never have accepted their
invitation if I had known then of their associations with Republican
leaders. Still, they seemed like nice folks, and neither I nor anyone
in the audience wore a hood or a mask. I don’t recall any burning
crosses, and I don’t even think anyone used the hurtful word
But I did talk about the need to restore constitutional government,
and if anyone finds that hurtful I want to humbly apologize. It just
sort of slipped out in a careless moment. I now recognize that the
last thing this country needs is “constitutional government,” which
are code words for heartless bigotry.
After all, the Framers never intended for the Constitution to be taken
literally. That would mean repealing most of our laws. It would make
it impossible to save Social Security and Medicare and to bomb other
countries when we are in the mood to do so. Countless patriotic Americans
would cease getting regular checks in the mail and would be forced
to seek income only from those who paid them voluntarily.
No, the Constitution was meant to be a “living document.” It
means whatever the people in power want it to mean, when they want
it to mean it. This is, after all, a democracy, in which the winners
get to rewrite the rules of the game.
That’s what separates democracy from such static forms of competition
as, say, professional wrestling. Who wants to live in a country where
words always mean the same things, year after year? The life of a Supreme
Court justice would be intolerably dull. The rule of law would lack
the vital element of surprise. We would be overrun with fetuses.
The Framers weren’t perfect. Far from it. Their chief mistake
was to write the Constitution down, which created the false but stubborn
belief that it wasn’t supposed to change too fast. This mistake
was compounded by including the cumbersome amendment process, which
created the equally false belief that the Constitution couldn’t
just evolve spontaneously, like other living things. Evolve, of course,
means to change in a progressive direction. And progressive, when applied
to government, means more.
The written Constitution has also led right-wing extremists to make
the simple-minded assumption that criminals should be removed from
office, which would clearly thwart the will of the people. Instead
of writing that officers could be removed for treason, bribery, “or
other high Crimes and Misdeameanors,” the Framers should have
written “or other equally high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Or
better yet, “or even higher crimes, and not just some lousy misdemeanors,
such as perjury about private consensual sexual relationships.”
But these are minor flaws. The true genius of the Constitution is
that it is a self-abolishing document. Its subtext, for those who can
appreciate its subtle nuances, is: “Change me.” It enables
us to gradually obliterate its own literal meaning, if we can think
of a more progressive one.
Copyright © 2011 by the Fitzgerald
Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. This column was published originally
by Griffin Internet Syndicate on February 4, 1999.
Joe Sobran was an author and a syndicated columnist. See bio
and archives of some of his columns.
Watch Sobran's last TV appearance on YouTube.
Learn how to get a tape of his last speech
during the FGF Tribute to Joe Sobran in December 2009.
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