Words matter

[Continuing our series on deception in politics and public policy.]

Words matter, according to the Barack Obama of 2008.

During the presidential primary campaign, Obama was attacked by his opponent, Hillary Clinton, as a speechifier—as a man of words, not deeds. He lashed back: “Don’t tell me words don’t matter. ‘I have a dream’–just words. ‘We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal’–just words. ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself’–just words, just speeches.”

In defending himself, Obama plagiarized his friend, now-Governor Deval Patrick (D-Massachusetts, who had said in 2006: “‘we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ Just words—just words! ‘We have nothing to fear but fear it.’ Just words! ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’ Just words! ‘I have a dream.’ Just words!”

Obama and, earlier, Patrick were right, of course, about the importance of words. Lawyers are trained to examine carefully each word in a statement, to examine each utterance for subtle nuances that can hold hidden meanings. Witness Bill Clinton, a lawyer (before being disbarred), who attempted to weasel his way out of (true) charges of sexual harassment by playing with the definition of “sex” (interpreting it as meaning only potentially procreative intercourse, which must have come as a surprise to the many gay people who, by Clinton’s definition, would be virgins). Famously, Clinton declared that the answer to one question “depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.”

Leftists are quite skilled at Clintonian twisting of language.

Government spending becomes “investment,” as if government spending on education or roads or concert halls or “green” energy had a bottom line by which profit and loss could be measured. A terrorist hostage becomes a “Prisoner of War” so that we can bargain with terrorists for his release. “Public health,” which involves the prevention of infectious diseases and diseases that spring from a common environmental source, is twisted to mean anything that affects the health of any person, so that the government can tell us what we can eat and so that the government can conduct “public health” studies attacking Second Amendment rights. The Constitutional standard that government promote the “general welfare” is twisted to allow the government to provide benefits to identifiable individuals. The standard that private property can be seized by government only for a “public use” is twisted to allow the taking of property for the enrichment of politicians’ friends and supporters. “Interstate commerce” morphs into its opposite, “intrastate commerce,” for the purpose of interpreting the Interstate Commerce Clause.

Consider the new standards on carbon emissions. Carbon dioxide, as you may know, is the invisible, generally harmless gas that makes up a tiny part of the atmosphere (less than one part in 2,500, the equivalent of five tablespoons of water in a 50-gallon bathtub). It’s a gas that is exhaled by humans and all other animals and that is necessary for life as we know it on earth’s surface. But in the hands of the Left, carbon dioxide becomes “carbon pollution” akin to carbon monoxide or black carbon soot.

Consider the way that leftists treat the religious section of the First Amendment. “Freedom of religion” (phrased as “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . “) is in the Constitution. The “wall of separation of church and state” is not. WOSOCAS refers to the idea that the two must be kept artificially separate — that, for example, beliefs are somehow tainted by being associated with religion (the Intelligent Design case, the Ten Commandments cases), that a minister can’t run for office, that a city can’t commemorate the death of a town priest, that the U.S. government can’t have an ambassador to the Vatican, or that the government must deny the use of public school textbooks to Catholic schools. The concept originated in efforts to get preachers to shut up and stop complaining about slavery. Jefferson used it in that sense, but later regretted that interpretation of the First Amendment. It was later promoted by “nativists”/anti-Catholics and inserted into legal doctrine in the Everson case, in which the majority opinion was written by Justice Hugo Black, who, as a Kladd (“conductor” or swearing-in officer) of the Ku Klux Klan, had administered the Klan’s oath of allegiance to “eternal separation of Church and State.”

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Some further ramblings on the First Amendment:

How ignorant is the Left about this fundamental matter of Constitutional law? So ignorant that leftists openly ridiculed people who understand the distinction between “freedom of religion” and “separation of church and state.”

During the 2010 campaign, Christine O’Donnell was a Tea Party candidate for the U.S. Senate. In the Republican primary, she defeated an extremist candidate who had been favored by the GOP establishment—whereupon the Left, seizing on a joking comment she made about her reckless youth, declared that she was a witch. Then she appeared in a debate against her Democratic opponent, in front of an audience of law professors and law students. When she correctly noted that “separation of church and state” doesn’t appear in the Constitution, this is how it was reported:

 O’Donnell questions separation of church, state

By BEN EVANS

The Associated Press

Tuesday, October 19, 2010; 12:54 PM

WILMINGTON, Del. — Republican Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell of Delaware on Tuesday questioned whether the U.S. Constitution calls for a separation of church and state, appearing to disagree or not know that the First Amendment bars the government from establishing religion.

The exchange came in a debate before an audience of legal scholars and law students at Widener University Law School, as O’Donnell criticized Democratic nominee Chris Coons’ position that teaching creationism in public school would violate the First Amendment by promoting religious doctrine.

Coons said private and parochial schools are free to teach creationism but that “religious doctrine doesn’t belong in our public schools.”

“Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” O’Donnell asked him.

When Coons responded that the First Amendment bars Congress from making laws respecting the establishment of religion, O’Donnell asked: “You’re telling me that’s in the First Amendment?”

Her comments, in a debate aired on radio station WDEL, generated a buzz in the audience.

“You actually audibly heard the crowd gasp,” Widener University political scientist Wesley Leckrone said after the debate, adding that it raised questions about O’Donnell’s grasp of the Constitution.

Erin Daly, a Widener professor who specializes in constitutional law, said that while there are questions about what counts as government promotion of religion, there is little debate over whether the First Amendment prohibits the federal government from making laws establishing religion.

“She seemed genuinely surprised that the principle of separation of church and state derives from the First Amendment, and I think to many of us in the law school that was a surprise,” Daly said. “It’s one thing to not know the 17th Amendment or some of the others, but most Americans do know the basics of the First Amendment.”

O’Donnell didn’t respond to reporters who asked her to clarify her views after the debate. Her campaign manager, Matt Moran, later issued a statement saying that O’Donnell wasn’t questioning the concept of separation of church and state.

“She simply made the point that the phrase appears nowhere in the Constitution,” Moran said.

The Washington Post was among those ridiculing O’Donnell for her correct claim; it took the paper a day and a half to correct itself. By then, O’Donnell was not only portrayed as a witch, but as an idiot.  (It happens all the time, particularly to Republican woman. Sarah Palin was depicted as a fool for her correct assertion that Obamacare would lead to death panels, as well as for her correct description of Paul Revere’s ride. A popular Internet meme from this past week has Michele Bachmann believing that Benjamin Franklin was president. And so on.)

By the way, anti-First Amendment activists such as President Obama and former Secretary of State Clinton  often use the term “freedom of worship” or “freedom to worship” in place of “freedom of religion.” The difference is that “freedom of [or to] worship” excludes the right to evangelize, wear religious garb in public, and otherwise promote one’s religious views. (Note that the President and then-Secretary of State were involved in jailing a man—and framing him for causing the 9/11/12 attacks—over his exercise of his Constitutionally protected right to express his religious views, however offensive that expression might be to some, many, or most people.)

Words… just words…

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