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Wednesday, August 4, 2010


No doubt you have all heard of the cry now going up from Republican spokespersons to repeal the Fourteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, so that Hispanic children born in the United States of parents who are not citizens will have stripped from them their citizenship. I can only assume that this new demand originated with an extensive survey of the Hispanic community, which revealed that there were still isolated pockets of potential Hispanic Republican voters who had not been completely alienated by the Arizona law and the anti-immigration rhetoric of the Republican leadership. So the call to repeal the 14th Amendment is a last-ditch effort by the Republicans to guarantee that they will never again get another Hispanic vote.

It is not hard to ridicule this latest Republican talking point, although it is difficult to pay it as much attention as it deserves, considering all the other bizarrerie being dumped into the public conversation by the Republicans. But I do think it is useful to distinguish those right-wing causes that are merely loony from those that are deeply ugly and immoral. For example, the call by Iowan Republicans to resurrect the original failed 13th Amendment, so as to be able to strip Obama of his citizenship for accepting the Nobel Prize, qualifies as gloriously loony. But the proposal to strip children of their citizenship is among the ugliest ideas to drip from the festering sore that today is called The Republican Party.

As is so often the case, I find that the most satisfactory response to Jon Kyl and Lindsey Graham can be found in The Good Book. I have in mind the words of Jesus in Matthew 23:27: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness." [I prefer "whited sepulches" to the Revised Standard's "white-washed tombs." They are synonymous, and the latter is undoubtedly easier for modern readers to understand, but "whited sepulchres" is one of the most beautiful phrases in early modern English, and is worth preserving.]

Oh, by the way, if you did not understand my reference to "the original 13th Amendment" and the Nobel Prize, here is an explanation copied from an interesting blog called "Vast Public Indifference," whose author I was unable to find on the site:

"Last month, the Iowa Republican Party adopted a platform that calls for "the reintroduction and ratification of the original 13th Amendment, not the 13th amendment in today’s Constitution." They mean the 13th Amendment that was passed by congress and ratified by 12 states in 1812 — the one that reads,

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

As far as I can tell, the "Thirteenthers'" interpretation of this almost-amendment is fairly silly — they think it applies to titles such as "Esquire" and awards such as the Nobel Prize."

I think you will agree that this qualifies as loony.


NotHobbes said...

"The human rights act is one of the most pernicious pieces of legislation ever passed by the mother of parliaments and will be repealed when the party(fascist BNP) forms a British Nationalist Government"

I wonder if all these loonies confer with one another before making ridiculous statements

Unknown said...

The last desperate cries of a dying sect---I hope.

Angus said...

Talk of the "original 13th Amendment" is gloriously loony, but it hasn't been plucked from thin air. It is a component of a fairly elaborate ideology, which has been worked out in a series of manifestos by members of the "sovereign citizens" movement. As you say the idea is that the original 13th Amendment forbade titles such as "esquire" - it thus implies that lawyers and the judiciary are illegitimate. The sovereigns think that the original 13th Amendment actually made it into the Constitution, but that legal professionals have concealed this fact (in order to maintain their aristocratic position). In the sovereigns' mind, this gives them license to take the law out of the hands of the judiciary, and into their own. (This is what motivates the calls - you may have noticed - for Obama and a few governors to appear before "Citizens Grand Juries," and other such para-judicial organs.)

Interestingly, the sovereigns also take a dim view of the 14th Amendment. They think that, before the 14th Amendment, most Americans weren't "citizens of the United States" - they were citizens only of the particular State in which they resided, and subject only to the "common law. The 14th Amendment gave people the option to join the United States, but you could also opt-out by (e.g.) refusing to register with the IRS, or the Social Security Administration, etc.

Usually, when you're a sovereign citizen, you also subscribe to (elements of) the ideology of the Posse Comitatus, which holds that the Posse Comitatus Act implies that the only legitimate police authority is the local sheriff (who, in turn, is supposed to be beholden to the people).

Thus you get a rather well-fortified worldview. As long as you aren't a 14th Amendment citizen of the United States, the only authority that has legitimate power over you is a popular local sheriff. If anyone who is well-credentialed tells you you're an idiot, they are not to be trusted because they are complicit in a conspiracy to maintain an unconstitutional aristocracy.

I wish I could find the original essay from which I gleaned all this. This article does a decent job:

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Angus, thank you. Dear God, I didn't know any of that! It must be the flouride in the water that has produced this nuttiness. My grandfather ran for Sheriff of Queens County in NYC on the Socialist Ticket eighty or ninety years ago. Maybe he had decided that was the royal road to revolution. Seriously, there is nothing at all that one can possibly say to reach these folks. They make flat earthers, birthers, and Creationists sound sane.

Todd Gitlin said...

FYI, as was, I believe, pointed out by Christopher Hitchens in an earlier incarnation, Colin Powell, on December 15, 1993, was created an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.

Scott said...

On the other hand, Henry Kissinger would then also have to be stripped of his citizenship for receiving the 1973 Nobel "Peace" Prize. No longer being an American citizen and therefore residing in the United States without papers, he would then be deported to another country which would almost certainly immediately arrest, try, and convict him of war crimes.

Whenever the Lord shuts a door, somewhere he opens a window so they say.

NotHobbes said...

"Colin Powell, on December 15, 1993, was created an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom"

Don`t forget to add to that list:Ronald Reagan, George W Bush, Norman Schwarzkopf, Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas Macarthur-all honorary members.

Allen Hazen said...

The bit about the United States not granting titles of nobility and i8ts officials not accepting titles emoluments etc from foreign countries?
It's not in a failed amendment, but in the basic text of the Constitution: Article I (I think, maybe II) section 9 clause 8.
Knighthood is not nobility in Britain: you can be a knight and still sit in the house of commons. The Framers were familiar enough with British law and custom to know this. So probably a knighthood granted to a U.S. official is is o.k., though granting an earldom to one wouldn't be.