TCS Daily

Wrong Idea, Wrong Time

By David Horowitz - November 24, 2003 12:00 AM

A few years ago, I sat on a panel with six faculty and students at UCLA who for two hours debated the question: "Is There An American Identity?" I was the only person on the panel who thought there was. America is pluralist society whose citizens represent hundreds of ethnicities and are the products of equally many (or more) cultures. The "American" political culture, which creates out of these disparate identities a single nation ("out of many one") is rooted in a document, the Constitution, which is more than two hundred years old. It has not been changed in any significant sense -- culturally -- since women were granted the right to vote in 1920. (Oh yes, there was a brief period when alcohol was outlawed by a constitutional amendment, but that didn't last for even a generation.)


The failure of all my academic co-panelists to acknowledge that there is an American identity is first of all an expression of the general crisis that America has been going through under the rubric, "culture war," for more than thirty years. It is specifically a product first of the political left's dominance of the university culture, and second of its thirty-year campaign to deconstruct the very idea of an American identity. It does this by rewriting American history to reflect its own vision that America is not a beacon of human freedom but a Great Satan of human oppression. This revised American narrative, inflicted on our current student generation is, in turn, part of the left's larger assault on the American "system," which it regards as racist, sexist, classist and imperialist. This left can be numbered in the millions and, redundant to add, is deeply alienated from the constitutional framework.


Paradoxically, at the same time, the destructive left sees in American democracy and the Constitution that created it, a powerful weapon it can use to destroy the system. Consequently -- and again somewhat paradoxically -- the anti-American left has directed a significant part of its political energy towards attacks on the American court system and on the Constitution itself.


For thirty years, beginning with the invention of a privacy right in the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, the left has been waging a systematic assault on the constitutional foundation of the nation. One element of that assault is the transformation of the founding contract into a "living constitution" that can be re-invented at will -- and without the Amendment process -- to suit the left's latest, destructive, political ends. A second and related prong of the attack is the attempt to destroy the judiciary's independence of the legislative branch. The goal of this attack is to bring the entire judicial process under direct political control. This campaign got under way with the political destruction of the Bork nomination to the Supreme Court and is now in full swing with the declaration of political war and the use of a committee filibuster to block the president's eminently qualified appeals court nominees from being confirmed by the full Senate.


Not since the Civil War has the American political system been so polarized, or America's communities engaged in so comprehensive a cultural Armageddon. In this national hour of crisis, the binding force of the Constitutional framework is more critical then ever.


Now comes a movement, calling itself conservative but emulating these very radicals in taking the cultural war into the heart of foundational framework, attempting to rewrite the Constitution (albeit by due process) in order to achieve its political goals. I am referring to the movement for a Federal Marriage Amendment that seeks to take an institution previously under the jurisdiction of the states and federalize it; that seeks to take an institution now contested as part of the culture war, and define it constitutionally as a way of resolving the conflict. In other words, it is a movement to achieve a Roe v. Wade decision in reverse.


The amendment states: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."


I am not going to argue the merits of preserving the institution of marriage as it has been traditionally understood. Personally, I believe the family is an institution under attack and needs to be defended, but I also believe that all citizens are deserving basic respect and individual rights and that society has a vested interest in recognizing and supporting stable relationships between consenting adults who do no harm. What I am going to argue is that the idea of amending the Constitution to resolve a political issue of the culture war is (no pun intended) to court disaster. This will not necessarily be a disaster for the political cause of the defenders of traditional marriage, but it will be to the durability of the Constitution and therefore the nation.


Conservatives should be fighting to restore the independence of the judiciary and to shore up the solidity of the constitutional foundation. They should not be politicizing the constitutional process by encouraging the radical idea that rewriting the Constitution is a handy alternative to winning American hearts and minds and resolving these conflicts in the legislative process. If conservatives seek a constitutional change to achieve culture war victories that could have been won through legislative means, the left will only escalate its own efforts to do the same and the last protective membrane of our polity will have been torn to shreds.


I urge the conservatives supporting the Federal Marriage Amendment to think again before they launch the ship of state on uncharted waters, to seek other, readily available means to realize their agendas. This movement will only deepen the fault lines in our fractured civic culture and weaken its underpinnings. To do this in peacetime would be unwise; to prosecute it in the midst of war is reckless.


David Horowitz is President of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture.


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