New Gods

The extended interview of Mike Huckabee on the Daily Show last night has a great deal to unpack, which I’d like to do eventually in its entirety, but my initial question is one I’ve held for some time:

So why this near-deification of the Founding Fathers?

Whether it’s the currently “transitioning” Glenn Beck and his worship of the creators of the Constitution, or Justice Scalia’s quasi-ideological “Originalism,” or even the policy of much of the Tea Party to carry around pocket copies of the Constitution with them, there has been a resurgence of a fever for a kind of American “orthodoxy.” America has had a long history of presenting the Founding Fathers as larger than life (look no further than the “legend” of George Washington and the cherry tree and how it is regularly taught in schools as a matter of principle; and really, who cuts down a cherry tree just because he feels like it?), and in some ways one can understand why. We are a created nation, a new nation, one without a mythological past or a cultural history we can point to and use as a moral code, and so one had to be created itself. Who better to serve as the progenitors and deities of such a fabrication than the men who fabricated an entire country?

But I am personally distrustful of basing my decisions and actions now on the choices made by those more than 200 years in the past. What bothers me about the statements made by Mike Huckabee and those of his ilk is not just that they greatly, greatly respect and admire Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, etc., but that the Constitution and the papers of those who wrote it are often (not always, but often) spoken of as infallible. That the steps they took in creating a country are just as right and valid and perfect now as they were in 1787. That strikes me as sheer foolishness. I don’t base my decisions now on the way I felt about things 10 years ago, because I was an idiot back then. The country does not act as if everything it believed and acted upon in 1835 is still applicable today (and I recognize that my going into law creates somewhat of an issue here, given that so much of law is based upon precedent, even if that precedent was established long ago). Why then this growing idea that off-hand comments made by the Fathers, or minor scribblings from their writings, or even the Constitution itself, is the end-all be-all of our country’s direction and purpose?

What bothers me even more is that so often those who worship the Founding Fathers or the Constitution recognize that its true power lies in its malleability. Huckabee even tells Stewart, later in the interview, that theĀ Constitution is able to be amended, and therein lies its genius. Hamstringing yourself by assuming the Constitution is inviolate (and I recognize that it is only inviolate when it justifies MY beliefs, not yours) seems like a far deeper betrayal of the Founding Fathers than allowing gays to marry, or maintaining even a semblance of separation of church and state. But when Washington is made god (or near-god), it is far more difficult to think of his work as fallible and worthy of changing, and that is a dangerous, sclerotic path to take.

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