May 24, 2011 Leave a comment
I’m sure you could find examples of Democratic politicians not knowing the difference between the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, but it’s more fun when it’s Republicans. Ezra Klein catalogs some recent “misstatements” on the matter:
Oh, Herman Cain.
We don’t need to rewrite the Constitution of the United States of America, we need to re-read the Constitution and enforce the Constitution. … And I know that there are some people that are not going to do that, so for the benefit of those who are not going to read it because they don’t want us to go by the Constitution, there’s a little section in there that talks about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
That bit about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is from the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. So perhaps “some people” aren’t the only ones who need to re-read our founding documents.
But Cain isn’t the first to make this mistake. During health-care reform, then-minority leader John Boehner took to the steps of the Capitol to argue that the ghost of George Washington would clearly vote against the Affordable Care Act. “This is my copy of the Constitution,” he said, waving it in the air, “and I’m going to stand here with our Founding Fathers, who said, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ ”
As Ezra points out, it is interesting that they use such a vague formulation as somehow in support of their particular view of government. Of course, when you are a conservative ideologue, everything supports the rightness of the conservative world view. On a quasi-related note, I also enjoy asking my Intro students about Locke’s Natural Rights of Man and hearing them say “pursuit of happiness” after I start with “life, liberty…” Of course, Locke wrote: life, liberty, and property. I’ve never actually read an explanation on why Jefferson made that particular substitution.