Democratic Congress Passes the ‘Statute of Liberty’ 

Lately the still-Democratic Congress has attempted to be more absurd than professional sports. Gigantic budgets surpass wild comebacks. Nutty accusations overshadow desperate plays. A comedian disguised as a president disguised as a soldier addresses Congress and robs them even as members applaud the heist. 

With the completion of the midterms, the Democratic-controlled Congress returns to its routine of faking its assigned constitutional duties and coughing up yet another fake statute. Unfortunately, we thrill to no Patrick Mahomes red zone magic, and instead we see the same old nonsense: a terrible team fakes scoring and spikes the football well before reaching the end zone. 

The object of our attention in this instance is not a law or statute but a statue. More precisely, it’s a bust. Far from beast mode, the House went into bust mode and banished the bust of infamous Chief Justice Roger Taney. Not to be outdone by the summer rioters of 2020, the Democrats indulged in their own form of vandalism and expelled from their virgin eyes the barbarous bust. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland’s junior senator, boasted the law would remove those who have no place in the halls of Congress.” The statute of liberty! (The bust graces one of the Senate rooms where the Supreme Court used to meet, before it obtained its current, separate building in 1935.) 

In the House, U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), lauded the importance of her party’s action while bemoaning its failure to banish other marble devils, and repeated the bromide about not allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. Perhaps Caribbean native White House Press Secretary Karine Jean Pierre encouraged her friends on the Hill to take voodoo seriously because that bust of Taney belongs properly on the body of outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). There could hardly be a more perfect symbol for today’s Democratic Party than the bust of Taney on the body of Pelosi. It should replace the donkey.

Taney of course was the author of the most infamous opinion in American history, which implied that the whole country was open for slavery, following the intent of the founders. The quarrel over the opinion’s demands led to the Civil War. But the current Democratic charge against the opinion is not that it was wrong but that it represents “racism” in its claim that blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” And this is the way the founders wanted it, Taney wrote, as evidenced by the Declaration of Independence. The idea that “all men are created equal” could not have included blacks because the practice of slavery was so widespread. Today’s Democrats agree, as they remind us daily.

This slander of a racist America is reiterated by the modish New York Times “1619 Project” and the “antiracism” agenda that plagues curricula and overshadows real scholars of American slavery and race. It is, in fact, the propaganda about a racist America that makes contemporary Democrats so self-righteous. 

What is clear, however, is that Taney took for granted the objective meaning of the Constitution and the Declaration and the rights they protect. What Taney lacked was the founders’ emphasis on natural rights as the basis of the nation, in particular, 17th century political philosopher John Locke’s notion that every man owns himself, therefore making government by consent the key test of legitimacy. Slavery was an obvious violation of this fundamental principle and could never be accepted. 

The Taney approach, contrary to the founders, was therefore irrational and historical to the point of being anti-philosphic. Taney believed tradition and historical practice counted for more than the philosophic argument of the founders. In truth, the Declaration, as Abraham Lincoln would articulate it in his famous speeches, was the guide of patriots then as it remains today. 

Foremost in American practice was the natural right of men to earn the product of their work. This was the basic right of all men, black or white, and in fact has nothing to do with color. It defies slavery and racial privilege and can be violated only by the most shameless of men. Moreover, human equality meant that no king or other individual, no branch of government, could rule willfully and with no restraint. Human equality means that government must be moderate in the means it chooses to govern. 

Denying this commonsense rejection of absolute power, the Democrats have turned from equality to equity, as Joe Biden emphasized in his inaugural address. The Democratic Party is at best indifferent to slavery as a wrong, and remains the same race-obsessed party it was in the 19th century (albeit, now with a different and opposite focus of attention). Then it preferred white men, now it prefers black women. Note how five black women reflect the priorities of the Democratic Party: Vice President Kamala Harris, Domestic Policy Council head Susan Rice, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, and clickbait hostage Brittney Griner. 

Is it any wonder that black men are increasingly turning to the Republicans? 

The sheer stupidity of the House Democrats’ “statute of liberty” play is clear in the locker room speech of outgoing Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.): “Hoyer told reporters Tuesday that Taney’s interpretation of the Constitution is one that every American should reject. ‘The good news is not only are we replacing the Taney statue but we also provide for a bust of Chief Justice Marshall,’ Hoyer said.” 

Hoyer can no more tell a statue from a statute or a bust from a boob. Of course, it’s his fellow Marylander Thurgood Marshall, the first black justice, who will replace Taney. Chief Justice John Marshall was doubtless already honored by a statue or bust somewhere, though in fact Marshall was a major slaveholder, having held hundreds of slaves. But the Democrats would never bother to ask why Marshall has also been honored as a supporter of emancipation and colonization. Nuance in evaluating the past is not a skill they’ve developed.

The Democrats’ ignorance of the Civil War can also be seen in bill sponsor James Clyburn (D-S.C.), a.k.a. the master of the Democratic primaries, confusing Taney with a Confederate secessionist. If Clyburn had researched the matter, he’d have learned that without the pro-Union views of those in the slave states, such as Roger Taney, Lincoln could not have won the Civil War for the Union. It therefore might make more sense for Democrats to honor the slaveholders who argued against secession. (And, in any event, Taney had freed his eight slaves by 1821, 36 years before Dred Scott.) Another such pro-union slaveholder was Justice John Marshall Harlan, a Union officer from Kentucky and the author of the Plessy v. Ferguson “color-blind Constitution” dissent. 

Oddly all this confirms the judgment of Chris Van Hollen, who declared that the Capitol should be rid of “those who have no place in the halls of Congress.” If only! 

In the 2022 elections, the voters had little reason to replace the fools they knew with the fools they didn’t. Is the stupid party really better about these kinds of judgments than the evil party? Is their understanding of their country and its history really any better? Did they deserve a chance to govern? The voters didn’t see a good play here and opted instead to wait for a better team to take the field. Gimmick plays typically fail, but they do produce excitement. 

About Ken Masugi

Ken Masugi, Ph.D., is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute. He has been a speechwriter for two cabinet members, and a special assistant for Clarence Thomas when he was chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Masugi is co-author, editor, or co-editor of 10 books on American politics. He has taught at the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he was Olin Distinguished Visiting Professor; James Madison College of Michigan State University; the Ashbrook Center of Ashland University; and Princeton University.

Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

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