Monday, May 31, 2010


A twenty-three year old Nigerian named Abdul Farouk Mutallab set himself ablaze on a crowded Airbus approaching Detroit on Christmas Day, only to have his planned terrorist attack thwarted by passengers. Six weeks later, Sarah Palin told the National Tea Party Convention

For example, there are questions we would have liked this foreign terrorist to answer because he lawyered up and invoked our U.S. Constitutional right to remain silent…Our U.S. Constitutional rights. Our rights that you sir [PALIN ADDRESSES MALE VETERAN IN AUDIENCE] fought and were willing to die for to protect in our Constitution. The rights that my son, as an infantryman in the United States army is willing to die for. The protections provided—thanks to you sir [PALIN ADDRESSES MALE VETERAN IN AUDIENCE]—we’re going to bestow them on a terrorist who hates our Constitution and wants to destroy our Constitution and our country?

Mutallab did plenty of talking before being "lawyered up"- and the U.S. Constitution does not have one set of Bill of Rights for citizens and another for non-citizens.

No matter. More interesting is that the former Governor invoked "Constitution" or "constitutional" five times in what is actually one very, very long sentence. And that these are "rights that my son as an infantryman in the United States Army is willing to die for." And especially interesting because Mrs. Palin, as the conservative blog notes, recently maintained at the "Win America Back" conference (where did it go? has anyone seen it?)

The Constitution, our dear Constitution, did not give us our rights. Our rights came from God and they are inalienable rights. The Constitution created the government to protect our God-given and unalienable rights.

That "dear Consitution," for which, as Palin notes, brave members of our armed forces "were willing to die for" turns out not to be very important in her formulation. Instead, those rights are "God-given and unalienable." (Yes, the Constitution did create a government- one, conservatives take not, which was specifically established to create a strong federal government.)

Give Palin credit for making a crucial distinction- Constitutional rights vs. unalienable rights. Some, including this conservative website, distinguish between unalienable and inalienable rights; Wikipedia English- The Free Encyclopedia seems not to.

For the sake of argument, we'll give Palin the benefit of the doubt and grant that they are synonymous. (When a distinction is made, inalienable rights are seen as the ones which can be revoked by law, which if anything, is the reverse of Palin's implication.) The former governor clearly is asserting that our rights come from God and cannot be taken away.

But if basic rights are from God and cannot be reassigned or rescinded by man, how is it that one has fewer rights because he is from another land- in this case, Nigeria? Further, how is it rights are extensive in some nations- the United States, for example- and virtually non-existent in other nations? Did God intentionally provide citizens in (primarily) the West with substantial freedom- and citizens elsewhere with little freedom?

Sadly, rights don't come from God, though this short fellow from Iran would disagree. It would be nice to think otherwise, but in the real world, they come from men (and occasionally, women)- unless, of course, one wants to suggest that the right to an abortion through most of pregnancy comes from the Almighty.

Notwithstanding the evidence all around us, you may argue otherwise. That would be legitimate, though the huffing and puffing about the importance of our Founding Fathers we get these days from the likes of Palin and Glenn Beck run counter to the rhetoric about unalienable, or inalienable, rights.

This may sound like a mere philosophical argument or one of those discussions legendarily held in college dormitories at 2:00 a.m. But when conservatives try to restrict reproductive freedom, due process, protection from unreasonable search and seizure, or any other rights, they may be doing so because the Constitution is not really the supreme law of the land- God is. Or perhaps when they find rights that aren't really there- such as an unlimited right to bear arms or to contribute to a political candidate- it's because these are God-given rights. Not all conservatives will suggest this reasoning, nor are all conservatives God-fearing (there may be no atheists in foxholes, but there are in both political parties), but Sarah Palin isn't the only one.

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