Race & the Constitution: Remedial 101

While the mortgage mess gets sorted out, let's circle back to an important moment the other day when Whoopi Goldberg the celebrity and John McCain the presidential candidate both displayed abysmal ignorance of how durably the U.S. Constitution has fulfilled its declared purpose "to establish justice" for over 220 years now. Appearing on ABC's "The View," McCain said he'd appoint judges "who interpret the Constitution of the United States the way our Founding Fathers envisioned," to which panelist Goldberg flippantly retorted: “Should I be worried about being a slave, about being returned to slavery? Because certain things happened in the Constitution that you had to change.”

McCain then conceded, heaven help him: “I understand that point. That’s an excellent point.” The video is here; notice from the applause that many in the audience seemed to think it an excellent point as well.

Ross Kaminsky took Mac to the woodshed, but good, for his constitutional and historical illiteracy on PoliticsWest.com a couple of days later. Excellent post. What Ross didn't do, and what I haven't read anywhere, is suggest an actual answer, suitable for the moment on live TV, that the GOP candidate should have given. As a onetime speechwriter, let me give it a try.

Thanks for asking that. I know it's a question in many people's minds, as a result of confusion spread by historians, educators, and politicians who don't know better. But here are the facts.

It is only because of the Constitution and judges who were faithful to it that black Americans are free and equal citizens today

The Constitution enabled the northern states to battle the southern states, first politically and then militarily, at the cost of half a million white people's lives, until slavery was ended and blacks were emancipated. After that victory, the Constitution was strengthened from a document that disapproved slavery into one that forever disallows slavery.

The Constitution is also what Dr. King, Justice Marshall, and Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson used to finally end segregation and guarantee civil rights for all.

Going forward, the Constitution and courts faithful to it are the best protection our country has for securing majority rule and minority rights in a free society. You and I should be grateful for that, and vigilant about it.

The last thing we want in America today is public officials who ignore the Constitution like the judges who denied black citizenship with the Dred Scott decision, the slave state governments who seceded and went to war, or the southern governors who resisted school desegregation.

That's what I want to prevent by appointing judges who will keep their oath to the Constitution without fail.

And by the way, Whoopi, those Dred Scott judges and secessionist states and Jim Crow governors were all Democrats, all of them. The Democratic Party has had a really shameful record on racial equality until very recently.

It was my party, the Republicans, who freed the slaves, led the way on school desegregation, and passed the first civil rights bill of modern times. Our country's historic ideal of liberty and justice for all, the envy of the world for over 200 years, is safest in Republican hands for this new century.

The above argument is less developed and documented than Ross's fine piece on Sept. 15, but it's plausible, I think, as something a real politician with his civic compass in working order could have said under those real circumstances in which McCain found himself on Sept. 12. Too bad he didn't; this now becomes one more reinforcement of the Big Lie that our country was founded on hypocrisy, amorality, and racism.

The best refutation for that lie that I know of is a pair of books in which massive, conclusive evidence is presented for the case which I've made here and which Ross made in his earlier post. Those books, both by colleagues of mine at the Claremont Institute, are Vindicating the Founders by Thomas G. West and Vindicating Lincoln by Thomas Krannawitter. Buy them, read them. Maybe buy extras to send Mr. McCain. They'd be wasted, I'm afraid, if sent to Ms. Goldberg.