Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

Would Frederick Douglass agree with Rush Limbaugh?

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By Wiz

Well, no, probably not about anything. Douglass was not, after all, a fat fucktard. But here is something:

Republicans have decided to attack Elana Kagan because she claimed that the Constitution as originally conceived was “defective” because it permitted slavery. In fact Kagan, who won’t give her opinion about what color the sky is if she thought doing so would hurt her career, was only concurring with Thurgood Marshall (what would he know about these things?).

Anyways…all our best friends have jumped on her for this: including the RNC and Rush Limbaugh. As Joseph Ellis pointed out this week, Conservatives have adopted a bizarre and intellectually stunted attitude towards the Constitution, seeing it more as a font of transcendent truth given by Daddy figures who shall not be questioned, rather than a messy historical compromise by humans. The underlying message, of course, is that liberals (and esspecially Barack Hussein Obama) are unAmerican, a perverse distortion of our traditions.

But, in this particular debate the question is whether the Constitution, as “originally conceived and drafted” was “defective” because it allowed slavery? Frederick Douglass, for one, believed that this was a misinterpretation of the Constitution, which was actually intended as an anti-slavery document. Influenced by the thought of Gerrit Smith, he argued– against William Lloyd Garrison, America’s most prominent white abolitionist who believed the Constitution to be a “pact with the devil”– that the Founders had hated slavery and so never once put the word “slavery” in the Constitution which promised to secure “the blessings of liberty.” Thus, as Douglass wrote, the Constitution should “be wielded in behalf of emancipation.”

Douglass was less concerned with the legal arguments, and more concerned with the rhetorical point. Constructing the Constitution as anti-slavery not only gave the abolitionists legitimacy (the aura of the Founders) but also, as historian James Oakes points out, justified Douglass’ interest in the political process, allowed him, as an African-American, to justify his participation in the public sphere.

Now, it is true that Limbaugh seems mostly to think that the purpose of the Constitution is to prevent black people from getting health care. But on the narrow question of the constitutionality of slavery, perhaps they are in agreement.

Or, more likely, Limbaugh likes the original Constitution exactly because he thinks it allowed slavery.

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Written by Peter Wirzbicki

May 10, 2010 at 23:34

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