(SCENE: Mitch BERG is sitting on a chair at a book store, trying to figure out which Reagan biography to buy. Moonbeam BIRKENSTOCK, a twenty-something graduate of Saint Olaf, and of Camp Wellstone, sits at the next chair. She gradually notes BERG’s haul of books).
BIRKENSTOCK: You should have no right to read that garbage.
BERG: Huh. Well, fortunately, “rights” aren’t granted or denied by “the People”.
BIRKENSTOCK: Yes they are.
BERG: Um, what?
BIRKENSTOCK: Read the Constitution. It says “We the people”. Rights come from The People.
BERG: Er, the founding fathers understood rights to come from The Creator.
BIRKENSTOCK: Hah! You mean religion? That’s what the founding fathers were fighting against. That’s why we have the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, not the Archbishop of Canterbury, administer the Oath of Office.
BERG: That’s completely irrelevant.
BIRKENSTOCK: Of course it is. Our Constitution gives us freedom from religion.
BERG: That’s the French constitution. Not ours.
BIRKENSTOCK. John Hancock was a lawyer, not a minister!
BERG: Also irrelevant. The “creator” who endows our rights might be God, Allah, biology or random coincidence; it doesn’t establish a state view of what Our Creator is.
BIRKENSTOCK: It doesn’t matter! Read the Constitution! It starts with “We The People”. Rights come from people!
BERG: That’s exactly what the founding fathers fought against – the idea that rights come from people, rather than from being born a human being.
BIRKENSTOCK: So where does it say that in the Constitution?
BERG: It doesn’t. The idea that Freedom and Liberty are “inalienable” human rights – that humans are born with, not granted by government – comes from the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers and the other writings that set up the intellectual framework for the Constitution. ”We the People” were forming a goverment to, as the Preamble to the Constitution continues to say, “secure” the blessings of Liberty. In other words, the freedoms are ours because we’re born human. Our government’s job is to protect those liberties. And ideally no more.
BIRKENSTOCK: Yeah, but the Constitution said nothing about slavery! They were hypocrites!
BERG: Well, no – it was a huge argument in 1789, and it stayed a huge argument until 1865.
BIRKENSTOCK: Slavery was ended by the 13th Amendment. Who enacted that Amendment? The People!
BERG: Was slavery right before The People enacted the 13th Amendment?
BIRKENSTOCK: Of course not.
BIRKENSTOCK: The People said so?
BERG: How about before The People said so?
Let’s try an experiment, here. Let’s say that 51% of the people agree that the First Amendment is wrong, and there is no right to speak freely, and government has the right to censor speech. Is that right?
BERG: Why? If rights come “from The People”, then “The People” can take them away.
BIRKENSTOCK: But the founding fathers were wrong about slavery!
BERG: That supports my point, not yours. The Founding Fathers realized how very imperfect humans were. Slavery would be a key example of this. It took fourscore and seven years, and the bloodiest war in US history to fix the mistake. Now – if rights come “from The People”, all it would take would be a repeal of the 13th Amendment to make slavery legal.
And the fact is government could make all these rights illegal – but that would be illegitimate, and make the government illegitimate.
BIRKENSTOCK: So what about countries that don’t recognize rights like trial by jury?
BERG: They have their own constitutions. They are, however, wrong. The idea that other countries are wrong about human rights is one of the reasons we had a Revolution, and started a country based on the ideal that human rights precede and are superior to government power.
BIRKENSTOCK: Pfft. Where does the Constitution say anything about how to run a just society?
BERG: It doesn’t. It enumerates the powers government has, the powers reserved to the states, and reserves all others to The People. Or at least that’s what the Tenth Amendment said, before it got gutted.
BIRKENSTOCK: Hah! So rights do get abridged by The People.
BERG: Yep. And just like slavery, it’s illegitimate.
BIRKENSTOCK: You’re a Tenther!
BERG: Damn straight. Anyway – if you believe that rights come from government, or even The People, then there is logically nothing that says we can’t revoke free speech, religion, press, assembly, the right to keep and bear arms, the freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, due process in criminal cases, and the whole shebang with a 51% vote.
BIRKENSTOCK: Sure there is!
BIRKENSTOCK: People want to be freeeeeeee!
(BIRKENSTOCK gets up, and dances away up the aisle)
BIRKENSTOCK: (Yelling in the distance) Why do you hate womyn?
(Note – for those of you who think I try to make my antagonists in these little dramatizations sound “off”? This conversations is a virtual word-for-word recreation of a conversation I had on Twitter with a DFL operative. There are liberals who actually believe this).