Jonah Goldberg

Throughout my life, various Republicans have suggested amending the Constitution in one way or another. A few years ago, they suggested revising the 14th Amendment to get rid of automatic birthright citizenship. Before that, some proposed amending the Constitution to lock in the traditional definition of marriage. Ronald Reagan wanted a presidential line-item veto added to the Constitution.

On nearly every occasion, Democrats opposed such efforts, not just on the merits but on the puffed-up principle that we mustn't "tinker" or "tamper" with the genius of the Founding Fathers' constitutional design.

"We should not mess with the Constitution. We should not tamper with the Constitution," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) declared when opposing a victims' rights amendment in 2000.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) cried in protest to notion that birthright citizenship should be revoked: "I think it's horribly dangerous to open up the Constitution, to tamper with the Constitution."

"I respect the wisdom of the founders to uphold the Constitution, which has served this nation so well for the last 223 years," Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) proclaimed from the saddle of his very high horse in 2011, in opposition to a balanced budget amendment proposal. "Let us not be so vain to think we know better than the Founders what the Constitution should prescribe."

Then-Sen. Dale Bumpers of Arkansas opposed a balanced budget amendment in the 1990s: "As much respect as I have for a number of members of the Senate -- and we have some very bright people in the Senate -- there isn't anybody here, really, that I want tinkering with what James Madison, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton and all of the rest of those brilliant people, the most important assemblage of brilliant minds under one roof in the history of the world, did."

As a conservative, I'd be the last person to deny that these men had a point. Mucking about with the Constitution is heady stuff, and we shouldn't consider doing so lightly.

But the real reason these Democrats opposed "tampering" with the Constitution wasn't reverence for the genius of the founders. What they really opposed was tampering with a status quo they benefitted from. These same Democrats are the first to applaud when the Supreme Court manufactures new rights from the Constitutional "emanations of penumbras" not found anywhere in the text. They are fully vested members of the cult of the Living Constitution.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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