Glenn Beck, constitutional scholar

Blog ››› ››› JOHN V. SANTORE

Glenn Beck fashions himself a proud and vocal defender of the Constitution, and yesterday, his self-appointed duties led him to attack President Obama's understanding of and commitment to that very document.

Beck began by presenting a montage of the Founding Fathers, and then cut to Obama's inauguration. After showing the president taking the oath of office, Beck played audio taken from a September 2001 radio interview Obama conducted with the public radio station WBEZ in Chicago. (The relevant portion of the discussion, if you would like to hear it, is in the "Slavery and the Constitution" clip on the page linked to above, 45 minutes and 20 seconds in.)

Played over the obligatory scary music, here is what Beck excerpted from the interview:

OBAMA: The original Constitution [edit] I think it is an imperfect document, and I think it is a document that reflects some deep flaws in American culture -- the colonial culture nascent at that time. [edit] I think we can say that the Constitution reflected a enormous blind spot in this culture [edit] and that the framers had that same blind spot. [edit] It also reflected the fundamental flaw of this country that continues to this day.

Now compare that with what Obama actually said:

HOST: Barack Obama, what are your thoughts on the Declaration and Constitution?

OBAMA: Well, you know, I think it's a remarkable document. I think --

HOST: Which one?

OBAMA: The original Constitution, as well as -- as well as the Civil War amendments, but I think it is an imperfect document, and I think it is a document that reflects some deep flaws in American culture -- the colonial culture nascent at that time.

African-Americans were not -- first of all, they weren't African-Americans. The Africans at the time were not considered as part of the polity that was of concern to the framers. I think that, as [program co-panelist] Richard [John] said, it was a nagging problem in the same way that, these days, we might think of environmental issues or some other problem that, where you have to balance, you know, cost-benefits, as opposed to seeing it as a moral problem involving persons of moral worth.

And, in that sense, I think we can say that the Constitution reflected a enormous blind spot in this culture that carries on until this day, and that the framers had that same blind spot. I don't think the two views are contradictory to say that it was a remarkable political document that paved the way for where we are now, and to say that it also reflected the fundamental flaw of this country that continues to this day.

What did Beck leave out? For one, he ignored the fact that Obama twice referred to the Constitution as "remarkable." More important, Beck eliminated Obama's highly targeted explanation of what he felt was the Constitution's imperfection: that "African-Americans were not ... considered as part of the polity that was of concern to the framers."

Such a reality is undeniable. The original version of the Constitution listed slaves as three-fifths of a human being for purposes of appointing representation (Article I, Section 2, Clause 3); prohibited Congress from outlawing the slave trade before 1808 (Article I, Section 9, Clause 1 and Article V); and required all states to return fugitive slaves to wherever they had fled from (Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3). It's worth noting that Condoleezza Rice made the same point Obama did when she delivered the commencement address at Boston College in 2006, saying, "We have thrived despite the fact that when the Founding Fathers said, 'We, the people,' they didn't mean me."

Does Beck really believe that such original elements of the Constitution should not be considered imperfections -- imperfections that were indeed the product of a cultural "blind spot" shared by the 18th century individuals who authored it?

Even if he doesn't, the intent of a segment such as this one is still clear. Beck isn't interested in seriously examining the Constitution, nor does he care to honestly reflect on race in America. Instead, he wants to portray Obama as a man who harbors a generalized and racially motivated resentment toward the Founding Fathers and the document they authored -- exactly the kind of person who would seek to exact race-based justice through reparations, which Beck has already declared to be at the heart of Obama's entire agenda.

This isn't the first time that conservatives have deliberately distorted this interview to make the exact same point. Rush Limbaugh did so last October, and the RNC did it again in May. It's the sort of willfully ignorant, historically inaccurate, deliberately deceptive, and racially provocative argument that has become common in the modern conservative movement. And it shows how untrustworthy individuals like Beck truly are.

Posted In
Government, The Presidency & White House, Justice & Civil Liberties
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel
Person
Glenn Beck
Show/Publication
Glenn Beck show
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