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Jewish World Review August 10, 2001 / 21 Menachem-Av, 5761

Michael Long

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First Amendment: Chickens home to roost -- THE problem with the Left-besides their humorlessness, their propensity for attracting really unattractive women, and their tendency to rationalize criminals as merely "misunderstood"-is that they're all for broadly interpreting the Constitution and the law… until such a creative reading makes a mess they themselves have to deal with.

Look at how the Left treats the Bill of Rights-I've known fry cooks who make less hash. The Second Amendment is pretty clear on the right to keep and bear arms, but the Left argues against that obvious assertion with the infinite enthusiasm of a boy in the backseat on prom night. The Sixth Amendment frames the right to speedy justice, but liberals have turned the checks and balances of our courts into a multi-year merry-go-round in which sentences don't mean what they say ("Twenty years? You'll be out in five.") and in which murderers are executed only decades after their conviction. And the Ninth and Tenth Amendments are pretty much bad jokes now-name an area of life with which Your Friends In Washington are not intimately concerned.

The Left is a creative bunch, possessing a Philadelphia Lawyer's glee for re-interpreting law to suit their immediate needs, especially when going through the legislature (what the rest of us like to call "the LEGAL way") would take longer than they care to wait.

And now this nasty little habit has come back to bite them-and the rest of us, too.

Consider Molly Ivins, an "aw, shucks" columnist whose "down home" Texas opinions make FDR look like Ayn Rand. Miss Ivins is lately all worked up because a Texas judge has locked up a writer for refusing to name sources. In her August 9 column, she gravely pronounces the First Amendment "in deep trouble."


I'm glad Molly Ivins is all knotted up about this. She ought to be. But it's a shame that she so rarely gets worked up about the rest of the Bill of Rights. Her take on gun rights is a bit rangy; her appetite for expanding the power of government makes Wimpy look anorexic; and when it comes to respecting the autonomy of the states-well, if the states disagree with Miss Ivins on what's right, the Constitution suddenly fades into the wallpaper.

So you know whom I blame for this particular First Amendment fiasco? Molly Ivins, and all those like her.

If liberals had gotten worked up over a few earlier trespasses across the rights of the people, perhaps we wouldn't have ended up with this one.

The First Amendment is easy to defend: it's there to protect the expression of a free market of ideas-even for those who oppose such freedom. The way to preserve our right to free speech is to defend everybody's right to take advantage of it. And that means everybody-to quote an old Steve Martin joke-"no matter how stupid they are, and no matter much smarter I am than they are."

But when the going got tough-that is, when the rights that needed defending didn't coincide with Miss Ivins' own opinions-she bailed. It didn't suit Miss Ivins' purpose to defend the right to keep and bear arms. It didn't suit Miss Ivins to support the autonomy of the states. And it didn't suit Miss Ivins to support freedoms of association and speech when those associations and communications did not support her goals of "social justice."

So now they come after the right she likes best, and she finds the support for it weakened so much that a reporter sits in jail even as I write this.

A couple of weeks ago in this space, I wrote about gun rights. That column generated a lot of mail, and one reader in particular took me to task for defending such an antique idea as private ownership of handguns. This-paraphrased-is how I replied. "I don't own any guns-don't even really like them. I've got kids, and I don't want guns in my house. But the Constitution is pretty clear that we have a right to own guns. If I pretend that it says something else, I'm opening a dangerous door. The right's there-we have to stand up for it. Why? Because I really like some of the other rights in the Bill of Rights. I like 'em a lot. And if you want any one of those, you have to defend all the rest of them. You can't pick and choose for the rest of us because, someday, somebody might pick and choose for you."

Thus the chickens come home to roost for Molly Ivins, for all the Left, and, unfortunately, for the rest of us. After decades of the Left's contortions to make U.S. law mean whatever they want it to mean, somebody else-somebody in a courtroom, somebody with some real power-has come unprincipled enough to use the trick himself.

Remember the precedent, Miss Ivins: he chose a meaning that's just not in the text. Remember the precedent, Miss Ivins: he chose something that is so important to him that he thinks it supersedes the Constitution. Remember the precedent, Miss Ivins: he thinks that his good intentions make it all okay.

Memo to the Molly Ivins-es of the world. If you like any part of the Bill of Rights, you had better stand up for all of it, all the time, always.

Even if it bruises your bleeding heart to do so.

JWR contributor Michael Long is a a director of the White House Writers Group. Comment by clicking here.


07/27/01: Dispatch From The Front: The Gun Control War
07/20/01: Summer song
07/03/01: It's a Wonderful Recount

© 2001, Michael Long