Richard Stengel is lauded by the political left as a smart and knowlegeable reporter, and is well thought of as Editor of Time Magazine.
After this week's edition, one has to wonder why.
Time's headline story is titled, "Does It Still Matter?'. It refers to the U.S. Constitution. And in large part, Stengel's answer is "No". In fact, he basically argues that it never mattered.
Stengel points to the irrelevancy of the Constitution is pointing to war powers. He goes on:
Stengel's most relevant passage states the following:
"We can pat ourselves on the back about the past 223 years, but we cannot led the Constitution become an obstacle to the U.S.'s moving into the future with a sensible health care system, a globalized economy, an evolving sense of civil and political rights...
...The Constitution does not protect our spirit of liberty; our spirit of liberty protects the Constitution. The Constitution serves the nation; the nation does not serve the Constitution."
These passages, more than any other, show Stengel's bias, and in the end, his ultimate stupidity. The Constitution does protect our spirit of liberty, in so far that without such a document, what would we define as liberty? Would we, for example, simply inherently understand that free speech is a right, without such a declaration as the first amendment? The Constitution serves our nation, to be sure; but a nation which does not serve the Constitution is abiding by what law, exactly?
The previous passage is even more telling. 'Sensible health care'? Who is to define 'sensible'? The liberal left? Maybe sensible is a health care system that provides more freedom, not less, that ties does not tie down the individual to decisions made by an undemocratic body that they had no voice in choosing.
Stengel's argument is ultimately this: the Constitution should not be a barrier to [our] liberal agenda. That is what he means. He is not making a historical analysis, nor a legal one. He is making a political argument. Stengel's bias shows at every turn.
A perfect example is when he discusses the President's power to wage war. He largely ridicules the constitution's passage on the power to declare war. And here, he may have a point; in this day and age, spending months debating a declaration of war makes little sense. But where he falls off the tracks is when he discusses the War Powers Act, and Obama's ridiculing Congress's demand for Presidential action, inspite of his earlier support of the War Powers Act.
But herein lies Stengel's mistake: his problem is not with the Constitution, but with the War Powers Act itself. The Act has long been held as unconstitutional by many conservative jurists. Stengel confuses a largely idiotic Congressional action that tried to limit President Nixon's actions in Vietnam, after being mislead year after year by the military. But the act itself contradicts what the Constitution says about the power of the President to wage military action. Congress always had, and always will, have the ultimate roadblock if they wish to use it: defunding the military action itself.
So in this example, Stengel's problem is not with the Constitution...but with a Congressional act that is and likely always has been unconstitutional.
His lack of understanding then moves on to the debate over the debt, where he questions why Republicans are making such an issue. Basically, his argument is this: the debt, no matter what the size, is constitutional.
Well, he is right. If we had morons in Congress (and you could argue that is exactly what we had from 2006-2010), you could run up any debt and it would be constitutional.
But then he goes on to make an argument you are hearing over and over again from the left. Stengel argues that the President, using Section 4 of the 14th Amendment, could simply ignore Congress, because of the following passage:
The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
Stengel, and delusional leftist, miss a simple point: Congress, by not passing an increase in the debt limit, is not questioning the validity of the public debt. What they are doing, however, is saying that all other expenditures will need to be withheld until such time the debt is paid. So, you want to fund the military, Medicare, etc.? Too bad, because the 14th Amendment makes clear that the debt is pre-eminent. The President can't ignore the debt...and as such, he will have to pay the debt first, before moving on to other government expenditures.
Maybe the to prove Stengel is a hypocrite is a conversation he had with Howard Kurtz regarding the Wikileaks controversy, and why he, as an American, could print those leaks:
KURTZ: But Rick, you say right here in your editor’s note in “TIME” magazine that these documents released by WikiLeaks “harm national security,” and that Assange meant to do so.
STENGEL: Right. I know. But there’s no way around that.
I mean, I believe that’s Assange’s intention. I believe on balance that they have been detrimental to the U.S. But our job is not to protect the U.S. in that sense. I mean, the First Amendment protects us in terms of releasing this information which does enlighten people about the way the U.S. conducts foreign policy.
Mr. Stengel, if the words in the Constitution don't matter...why do you think that document protects you in any sort of way? Or does it matter only in you line of work, which provides your life subsistence, and not in any other American's life?
What may be most profound is not what Stengel says, but by what he omits. Stengel asks, "If the Constitution was intended to limit the federal government, it certainly doesn't say so?" It in fact does exactly that. There is not one mention, even in passing, of the 1oth Amendment, which reads: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." Kind of important to discuss to his thesis, no? Yet Stengel simply ignores it all together. Telling, in my humble opinion.
Is our constitution an imperfect document? Of course. It was written by fallible and flawed, albeit brilliant, men. But Stengel largely discounts the importance of the Constitution. The Constitution is the document on which all of our liberties are based. That does not mean it should not be changed, or altered...there are mechanisms for that. If one believes that Obama's individual mandate should be codified in the Constitution, be my guest: get an amendment passed.
But Stengel's real argument, the one that underlies the tone of his entire piece, is this: The Constitution is too hard for us to change, so let us ignore it. That, my friends, is how tyranny begins. Basic liberties should not be easy to ignore, or dismiss, whether we like them or not. Those liberties, codified in our Constitution, protect us from people like Mr. Stengel, who think they mean well as they slowly erode rights you and I believe are worth fighting for.
And that is why the Constitution matters.
This was cross posted on Neoavatara.