Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega
Chicago, Illinois, USA
September 11
A (Sometimes) Respectable Negro
Editor and Founder of the blog We Are Respectable Negroes He has been a guest on the BBC, Ring of Fire Radio, Ed Schultz, Joshua Holland's Alternet Radio Hour, the Burt Cohen show, and Our Common Ground. His essays have been featured by Salon, Alternet, the New York Daily News, and the Daily Kos. The NY Times, the Daily Beast, the Utne Reader, Washington Monthly, Slate, and the Week (among others) have featured his expert commentary and analysis on race, politics, and popular culture.

Chauncey DeVega's Links

FEBRUARY 26, 2010 2:16AM

Of Tea Parties, Black Conservatives, and Original Intent

Rate: 4 Flag


There is always one black Conservative in the room when they have these events. I wonder if Ken Blackwell, black garbage pail kid, the black conservative signing The Mount Vernon Statement in the above clip, is happy with his 10 seconds of fame at such an auspicious event?

One of the recurring narratives in the Tea Party, Republican, Right wing populist narrative is a need for America to renew its "Constitutional values" and "the original intent" of that most sacred of documents. This is not a new trope for the Right: the idea that Republicans are the true defenders of America's constitutional democracy has served as one of Conservativism's cornerstones for decades. Interestingly, the long running tension between "freedom from" and "freedom to" is a neat parallel with how the Reagan Right was able to transform "liberal" and "progressive"--what were once positive political identifiers--into dirty words.

As a result, the State has been crippled in its ability to deal with real problems--and the public robbed of any expectations for what they are rightly due as citizens. This phenomenon spawns a public that is hurting and angry. But this anger is scatter shot: it villifies bankers and Wall Street; it smears Obama as being a Socialist; it rails against "liberal elites"; it prays at the mantle of Right Wing Populism and the Tea Parties; it wallows in xenophobia; it sees an effort to expand health care as a threat to freedom; it crashes itself into federal buildings in acts of domestic terrorism.

This anger also wraps itself in the vestments and language of "renewal" and "traditional" values. These appeals to the Constitution as a source for "democratic renewal," and as a counterpoint to the Age of Obama, are also an inexorably tempting stage for political theatrics. From Glenn Beck's Thomas Paine impersonator, to the predilection of middle age white men to dress up like Revolutionary War era minutemen at Right wing rallies (people I like to call Patriotic Furries), as well as to the signing of The Mount Vernon Statement (what is an ostensible commitment to "American values" and "conservative" principles) these high theatrics are a signal to some imagined past of a perfect American founding.

The appeals to an (im)perfect past are also given voice by the dog whistle politics of the Right wing Republican, Tea Party Palin crowd. One should take careful note of how this faction uses the words "nullification" or "succession," what are in fact signals to a democracy that is separate and not equal. I would further suggest that those who utter these racially laden codewords may not know the hateful origins of what they speak. But, they do know both  the emotional content and implication of these words for a select audience that is moved by the politics of white racial resentment:

Not surprisingly, this appeal to the core values of America's founding is both myopic and narrow--especially in how it treats the "inconvenient" facts of history. For example: See  how conservatives deal with such "minor" problems as slavery and how America was intentionally constructed as a limited, narrow, and circumscribed democracy:

Are black conservatives struck by the irony that they are signing a pledge to return to "traditional" American values, when the document they worship originally deemed black folks as 3/5ths of a person, the property of Whites, and where America was a constitutional slaveocracy? Funny, how deep is the commitment of these black conservatives to the framers' original intent? Are these black conservatives willing to sign themselves over as chattel to their white, fellow cosigners of The Mount Vernon Statement? Will these black conservatives put on a yoke, submit to an overseer, and/or wear a back of scars earned on the whipping post as they reenact the America of old?

It is no surprise that I believe the Constitution is an imperfect document. It is a product of its time--both good and bad. It embodies white supremacy, classism, sexism, and legitimates the wholesale exploitation and exclusion of whole groups of citizens because they are conceived of as being outside of the polity. And the Constitution and America's other founding documents have also inspired freedom loving peoples to transcend the limitations of the framers' intentions.

In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that the greatness of that singular document is its ability to embody a set of principles that are flexible. Thus, the Constitution endures.

So help me understand, why make the Constitution into a magical totem? How does the Right rationalize away the inconveniences and imperfections? Is it willful ignorance? Or perhaps most troublesomely, is this indifference a function of an exclusionary America that many conservatives continue to yearn for?


Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
It's simple. The right wingers reject the majority rules intent of the Constitution. Beyond that, they don't really know what it says or means, or the philosophy behind it. It's just their way of wrapping their rejection of democracy and Constitutional intent in a false patriotism. I think it's less racism and more ignorance, though the two go hand in hand, and the Tea Baggers represent both when they don't reject or correct the obvious racists within their group.

As a general rule, the claims of Constitutional fidelity are inversely proportional to the claimant's knowledge of the document.
It's just another prop, like those silly colonial costumes.

Good piece, Chauncey.
This post is off the map in so many ways. I find it laughable.

The following statement you made exposes your ignorance and bitterness towards America.

"Are black conservatives struck by the irony that they are signing a pledge to return to "traditional" American values, when the document they worship originally deemed black folks as 3/5ths of a person, the property of Whites, and where America was a constitutional slaveocracy? Funny, how deep is the commitment of these black conservatives to the framers' original intent? Are these black conservatives willing to sign themselves over as chattel to their white, fellow cosigners of The Mount Vernon Statement? Will these black conservatives put on a yoke, submit to an overseer, and/or wear a back of scars earned on the whipping post as they reenact the America of old?"

Do you really really believe what you wrote? How silly, how sad and worse how scary that you are an educated American of African descent who so hates the founding documents that gave you so much.

I will be deemed a racist by you so I don't care to hold back. All men are created equal, but not all cultures are. Current African culture and government can't even feed its people nor can they rule with justice and freedom. Don't trash the documents that have inspired the culture in which I, you and your people thrive better than ever in our history.

You should be ashamed, but you won’t be. You find solace in your bitterness. Thank God the Rev. Martin Luther King left a legacy to America that transcends your stale victim breeding rhetoric. Most Americans of African descent detest your words.

Gave me/us so much? What did the Constitution "give" people of color? I would phrase it as, what did we have to take and force from it in renewing and expanding American democracy...

Here you go from your most esteemed document. Please don't start pointing to Amendments to the Constitution that righted wrongs after a Civil War because 1) that is not "original intent" and 2) is there any greater sign of our national schism on the issue than fighting a Civil War?

The Constitution supported the maintenance and expansion of slavery, was used to support Jim Crow (despite your sophomoric claim that it did not), as well as the Fugitive Slave Law.

From the Constitution:

Article 3

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

Philos, who are the 3/5ths of a person? Interesting no, that the Southern states would be overrepresented in the Congress? Hmmm....implication? America remains a slaveocracy.

On maintaining the slave trade until at least 1808--the hope was that the South would be able expand the slave trade indefinitely:

Article 1, Section 9:

The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

Who Philos is being "imported?" What category of people were held exclusively as property in perpetuity?

On those runaway slaves. The Constitution provided a clause that mandated the return of slaves and/or compensation for their loss of service to their masters. Who Cobb were these slaves? Whose labour was the most valuable asset to this country? This article became codified by the House in the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793:

Article 4, Section 2 stipulated that the Federal government had to provide for the return of fugitive (runaway) slaves:

"2. ...No person held to service or labour in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labour, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labour may be due.

How do you reconcile this as I am very curious. Are you going to the well of "the Constitution's greatness is in how it deals its flaws?" or will you make an appeal to Realpolitik? Notice, neither engages the central claim about the original intent of the document and its writers.
I wish words could effectively express my genuine empathy. I am soooooo sorry that you can't let that go. I am so sorry that you frame your whole world around centuries old injustices that have long be righted. I am sorry that you think the labor of your race is more valuable than the indentured servants that weren't from Africa. I am sorry that many Americans of African descent can't get past the fact that all of those perpetrators of those indignities are dead and the abstract projection of guilt on all of white America is a stretch at best and is losing steam in the marketplace of ideas. I am sorry that there are young American men that buy into your sick twisted hateful rhetoric so much that it emotionally wounds them and places social and cultural barriers on them that will stifle them for life. I am so very very sorry.
I see you have been Philosed!
Philos is the most open racist on Open Salon.
Not that he thinks a black person is's only when they get together that they become an inferior race.
Ignore this idiot. He doesn't know the "Founding Documents" any better than he knows how transparent his low IQ racism is to anyone with a brain.
Whatever you do, don't dignify his ignorance with an attempt to discuss his racist fantasies. He assumes that means you think he could make a legitimate point, and he'll hump your leg for an extended period.
Just let him rant, and enjoy knowing the extent of his efforts can only lend credence to anyone who would argue whites are an inferior race.
I really enjoy it when Paul J. (The Fraud) O'Dork tries to warn others about me. Sort of like the pot calling the kettle black.

Ooops, there is another one of those racist statements. PJ only hates me because I don't live up to his pop culturally derived definitions. What is PJ's definition of a racist? That is simple. Someone who disagrees with him. I must be a racist...

PJ, you should be very careful. You are getting very close to making racist statements yourself. You said: "it's only when they get together that they become an inferior race".

I am glad you didn't say "those people". You are so thilly.

No one cares if there is a collective thought process among groups. It is when there is a collective hatred that wounds and inhibits that groups progress that it should be scrutinized. You know group think has good and bad merits. Are you suggesting that just because a groups thinks a certain way that they should be validated? Nice...I guess you are OK with the Tea Party too then, huh? Better yet, I'll bet you support NAMBLA too.
Rated, Chauncey, for a good presentation of your point of view. It's one that I'm not in agreement with, but it's well layed out.

What is great about our Constitution is that it is not written in stone. And I think that such men as Thomas Jefferson and other "Founding Fathers" were well aware that they were flawed human beings, just as the rest of us are. Though perhaps not Ben Franklin, who said in his Autobiography that he set about fucusing on and eliminating his faults methodically one by one, and was successful in all with one exception: Pride! He finally gave up on that one, saying that if he ever did succeed in eliminating it that he should probably just find himself proud of that. But he seemed to think that he had eliminated all other faults from his charactor.

But the 3/5ths clause for counting of black slaves in order to giive a greater representation of their white owners is not a clause to taint the entire document as you and so many wish to read in to it.

First, it was included originally only so that the Southern States would agree to the Union. Without it they would not, the Union would splinter and probably some or all would end up conquered and swallowed by one ot the world powers of the day.

Second, the framers of the Constitution recognized that it was not an infallible document, and so they provided the means for it to be revised. Had they been as utterly self-serving and self absorbed as so often is fashionable today in our left leaning current America to portray them as being, they would never have had the insight to include that provision.

The beauty of our Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as well--- which so audaciously says "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal...") and so ironically was written by a slave holder --- was they they did not describe a perfect government or a perfect society. Instead, they set before us the goals of STRIVING to reach perfection, even while knowing that we shall not.

Our founding documents are a testament to the vision of flawed men who in spite of their flaws still urge on their descendants to strive to better ourselves, our government and America even as our forefathers strove to do so long ago.

We are not perfect. We never were. And that is something to recognize as being a good thing. It leaves us room to grow. The only thing to stop us is ourselves. If we become so full of ourselves that we cannot see past the flaws of others, then our judgements will serve only to condemn ourselves. And that is certainly true of our judgements of our forebears as it is of our contemporaries.

A well written post, and one worth thinking on. Thanks.

I have given you credit for the one statement that you ever made on record here that makes sense, that regarding fraud investigation in health care, but, you come back to roost with this sort of bagger style scared as hell of the new brown world stuff and you are back to being just either clueless, a scared little girl, or a hater ... or, 1+1+1 ...

Again, your words are hollow cowardice, you can't utter them in mixed company ... challenge you, again and again, to come to east oakland, or to kalihi, or to anywhere your Reagan policies have enacted a cycle of family suffering you aren't capable of even seeing clearly ... well, all you say is bullshit if you can't say it in mixed company at the dinner table ... instead you are the punk kid, who, after a couple beers for courage, drives by someone's house in the middle of the night and yells epithets ... a wuss and little spoiled brat, basically.

are you entering University in San Diego next year to finally get over your lack of education?- seems like you'd fit right in ...
I get your point exactly. Thanks for this, for your compelling logic on a topic that is misconstrued daily. Constitutional fundamentalism is fatally flawed and the reasons are apparently too obvious for the mainstream media to recognize. What we are missing most today is a skeptical media capable examining the assumptions behind the showboat claims.
So let me get this straight....all blacks must be democrats or they are misguided? Seems you're the misguided one.
T.S.: The piece makes no such assertion. Not even close.