Thursday, November 03, 2005

Aux Ramparts!!!

Dan Savage, God bless him, has come up with an idea so jaw-droppingly simple that it could blow apart the culture wars. Why not a constitutional amendment codifying the right to privacy?

Think about it. In one fell swoop liberals could push to enshrine all these disparate culture war issues under one umbrella. Abortion would be placed on solid footing, gay rights would become constitutionally evident, end-of-life questions would be culled from the grip of grandstanding politicians. While not all Americans would agree on these different issues, they do generally approve of the right to privacy, a right that conservative legal scholars have rightly pointed out, is hardly found in the constitution (when was the last time the government attempted to illegally quarter troops in your house?).

This kind of proposal could work to undo the Gordian Knot of special interests that now come into play in people's relations between their bodies and the government. It could be used to counter the encroaching technological ability of government to spy on us in the database age. It's got something for libertarians and something for liberals, two groups who, when aligned, tend to win elections. And it would be the fight of the century.

Yes, passing a constitutional amendment is about as hard as kicking a field goal from the ten yard line. Your ten yard line. The right would go absolutely crazy. The same way they poured all their bitterness and anger and wingnuttery into opposition against the Equal Rights Amendment (a fight that gave rise to the organized religious right) they would seek to spin this amendment like a lumberjack on a log. For God's sake, one of the main arguments they made against the ERA was that it would lead to same-sex bathrooms! You could expect such silliness, and more, if there was ever an organized push to constitutional privacy.

But we live in a different age then the late 1970s. People are more immune to the excesses of spin. When the religious right organized against the ERA, it was for many Americans the first time that their church took on such a straightforward partisan political cause, and it energized and thrilled them, giving them the opportunity to conflate their religious and patriotic faiths in a zionistic fervor. But this movement, having gone so far, is starting to weaken in its excesses. We're used to seeing men of the cloth now working as partisan hacks, and we're more cynical about it. The right has damaged their most valuable asset, the reputation of the Church. Americans are now more attached then ever to their civil liberties, and the old assumption that you should listen to your preacher for guidance in world affairs is diminished. But the American appetite for privacy is not. Even many Americans who consider themselves conservative Christians are unlikely to want the Terry Schiavo treatment. It's time to appeal to such folks in as broad of terms as possible.

Ever since the rise of the Religious Right, liberals in general and Democrats in particular have been casting about for what their agenda should be; for what Americans want them to do. Health Care is gelling as an issue, as our system continues to corrode. Education is an old standard, but politically played out. Many Democrats, for practical reasons, are unable to make straightforward appeals to gay rights or abortion rights or end of life issues, because they have been bitten by being painted into the corner of being anti-Christian. Well, we need to pull back the focus, and make it a big picture issue, a core issue that people feel in their gut. The Democratic Party, not the party of a particular right or special interest, but the party of the biggest right of all, the right to Privacy.


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