Home National Politics E.J. Dionne: On July 4th, Right Wingers Fundamentally Misread Declaration of Independence

E.J. Dionne: On July 4th, Right Wingers Fundamentally Misread Declaration of Independence


(I posted this last Independence Day and thought it worth repeating.   – promoted by lowkell)

On this Independence Day eve, there are many in this country who profess to be patriotic, who in fact are the loudest chest thumpers in that regard, yet who fundamentally misunderstand what our nation is all about. In reality, of course, the Declaration of Independence was not a declaration that taxes are evil, that government is “the problem not the solution,” and all that other right-wing blather we’ve suffered through for decades now. To the contrary, as E.J. Dionne explains in a superb column for the 4th of July, the views expressed by tea partiers and their allies – Eric Cantor, John Boehner, George Allen, Ken Cuccinelli, etc. – are utterly at odds with what the Founding Fathers envisioned. For starters, as Dionne points out:

A reading of the Declaration of Independence makes clear that our forebears were not revolting against taxes as such – and most certainly not against government as such.

So, what were the Founding Fathers and the American colonists rebelling against, exactly? As Dionne correctly points out, “[t]hey were concerned about ‘consent,’ i.e. popular rule, not taxes.” In other words, the issue wasn’t that we need to pay taxes, or even what tax rates should be (currently, they’re the lowest in 6 decades), but that legitimate “representation” is a necessary precondition for “taxation.” Which is exactly what we have today in this country, whatever the right wingers will have you believe. So much for that theory. But the right wing’s fundamental misunderstanding of our founding documents goes way beyond that. In fact:

the signers wanted to pass laws, not repeal them, and they began by speaking of “the public good,” not about individuals or “the private sector.” They knew that it takes public action – including effective and responsive government – to secure “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

And there, in a nutshell, lies the enormous, gaping hole in the “logic” of right wingers — the lack of understanding, or perhaps just extreme distaste of the idea at the core of what America means, that we are a nation in which government is legitimately instituted to provide for the “public good,” the “general” welfare. Note, the founding documents of this great nation do not call for the abolition of government, nor do they speak of the “private good,” nor do they advocate massive corporate welfare (or huge gifts to the wealthiest among us), but for the general welfare. And, as E.J. Dionne explains, this nation wasn’t founded on the concept that we’d be a loose collection of sovereign states, either.

No, our Constitution begins with the words “We the People” not “We the States.” The Constitution’s Preamble speaks of promoting “a more perfect Union,” “Justice,” “the common defense,” “the general Welfare” and “the Blessings of Liberty.” These were national goals.

I know states’ rights advocates revere the 10th Amendment. But when the word “states” appears in the Constitution, it typically is part of a compound word, “United States,” or refers to how the states and their people will be represented in the national government. We learned it in elementary school: The Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation to create a stronger federal government, not a weak confederate government. Perry’s view was rejected in 1787 and again in 1865.

What remains of the right-wing case against government, against the general welfare, against the “public good,” and even against the concept that we are one nation, when you actually read the Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States?  Absolutely nothing, because none of that stuff bears any resemblance to what our Founding Fathers envisioned. At all. Just remember that the next time you hear Cantor, Boehner, Allen, Cuccinelli, Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly, Perry, or any of the confused “tea partiers,” spouting their nonsense. What they’re espousing is not what the majority of Americans want today (look at the polls — they really don’t), and it’s certainly not what the Founding Fathers envisioned when they proudly, courageously declared our independence 235 years ago. That’s what I’m going to be thinking about as I watch the fireworks go off tomorrow night. How about you?

  • Jim B

    I believe these loonies want a dictatorship where they can lock all of us up for any opposition too their craziness. When Bush said something like he wouldn’t mind a dictatorship as long as he was the dictator maybe he wasn’t kidding.  

  • commentator1

    There were many reasons to separate from England. In general Americans had just evolved a different mentality. Every repression current in England at the time was also visited on the colonies. And Americans had gotten away from abiding by such things as primogeniture which dictated that the oldest son inherited everything. This system preserved a very small wealthy elite. Americans wanted a system which allowed more opportunity for upward mobility than birth order. They also wanted protection from the excesses of rule by religious factions which were essentially covers for the interests of various political groups (Just like today!).

    Too bad the right wingers want to cover up a lot of this. I fear one reason for their push to eliminating public schools is to teach a revised version of history.

  • Teddy Goodson

    of Independence all the way through as we cruised the Potomac after watching the fireworks from the vantage point of the River (they were absolutely spoectacular, and the River was full of hundreds of boats large and tiny, loaded with observers). It was a most impressive reading, the first time in a long time I have heard the old tradition of such a reading on the Fourth. Your comments, and those of Dionne are on-target: the American colonials did not reject the idea of government, just the arrogance of government in which they had no say. Indeed, the rationale for government is repeated in the preamble of the Constitution, once again in the name of the Poeple (not in the name of the States):

    We, the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Libetty for ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

    As it happens, almost every single question or claim being raised today by today’s Tories ( right-wingers) was thoroughly thrashed out at rhe Constitutional Convention, and in the subsequent debates of ratification—- even the problem of the national debt, as well, of course, as that “peculiar institution” of slavery and human bondage.

    Basically, today’s Republican rightwingers are old history; their intellectual ancestors (if not their geneological ancestors) were the Loyalists who fled to Nova Scotia, Canada, or back to England at the time of the Revolution.