Drink Up: Reforming The Constitution While Failing to Understand It

You may have seen the long essay about the Constitution that Time magazine published last week. It was fairly well mocked at all levels of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, as author Richard Stengel argued that the Constitution - which is only our founding document - had outlived its usefulness in this crazy modern world. (this argument that the world has gotten too complex for the Constitution is actually one of the oldest arguments of the would-be progressive reformers of the Constitution).

Beyond Stengel's political errors in calling for Americans to ignore the Constitution, or at least ignore those Republicans and Tea Partiers who want the government to adhere to it, Aaron Worthing has gone through Stengel's essay and found 13 obvious errors of fact and/or interpretation that undermine entirely Stengel's claim to being any sort of knowledegable commentator on the subject. Now, Worthing has gone back to the well and listened to an NPR program Stengel appeared on during the 4th of July - as a Constitution expert, of course - where he had this to say about Prohibition:

SEABROOK: Okay. Let me try you on this one, Richard Stengel. A man from the Marine Corps – he’s Darryl(ph) in Bend, Oregon – writes that he uses cannabis daily to treat both his symptoms of PTSD and chronic pain, no narcotics, no alcohol. He wants to know, he uses it responsibly, and he believes that cannabis is – the prohibition of it is unconstitutional for many reasons. Your thoughts?

STENGEL: Well, of course the high court did prohibit the use of alcohol as an amendment, and then that was overturned. I’m not sure that the Constitution says very much about that. But if you look at the use of alcohol and medication, you know, state courts right now, you know, have the predominant opinion about that. And if the states can legalize marijuana, as some states have, then, you know, that’s – you should probably live in one of those states.

That, my friends, is a radio transmission straight from an alternate reality. In that brief response, Stengel manages to be wrong on the history, wrong on the law, and wrong on the constitutional issues. Here's Worthing, again:

Oy, where do I start with that answer? First, contrary to his suggestion, the prohibition of alcohol was not enacted by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court didn’t ratify the Eighteenth Amendment. “We the people” did. Nor was the Eighteenth Amendment “overturned.” The correct answer is that it was repealed, again by “we the people.”

Secondly, the current Supreme Court says that even if a state legalizes pot, the Federal Government can still outlaw it and arrest people for violating those laws even if the state specifically makes that usage legal. That was determined in a recent case entitled Gonzales v. Raich, a fact that Stengel is apparently blissfully unaware of. He seems to think that states can prevent federal enforcement of anti-drug legislation. He is, as a matter of black letter law, wrong.

Stengel, incredibly enough, is not just the Managing Editor of Time, he was also once the head of a non-profit called the National Constitution Center. In other words, he has spent at least some of his career ostensibly educating the public - or at least his fellow Washington insiders - about the "meaning" of the Constitution. Reading the above, you literally shudder to think at the level of ignorance on display by someone who is presented to the world as an expert on a topic about which he is so hideously misinformed.

Not surprisingly, Stengel is 100% behind the daft idea that the 14th Amendment allows the president to ignore the debt ceiling. Hey, when you don't understand the Constitution, there's no need to be constrained by it!

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