Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Nat Hentoff and the US Constitution

At the bottom of the Drudge Page is a long list of pundits, authors and commentators. I rarely use that list but today I scanned down the list to see if there might be anyone whose opinion I actually care to read. I passed many of the old names who I have lost respect for. Then I came to Nat Hentoff.

Nat Hentoff's reverence for the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights has been the career-long flavoring of his writings. Freedom of speech seems, from my scant readings and knowledge, to be a major focus of Hentoff. If I remember correctly, he defended the Left's freedom of dissent clear back in the 70s, and perhaps earlier.

Now Hentoff still defends free speech as the Left tries to choke off all dissent through the tactic of shaming and Political Correctness as policy.

Americans are uneducated in the constitution. I think this is purposeful, and evil. Hentoff points to a survey:
"The results of the 2015 “State of the First Amendment” survey, produced annually by the Newseum Institute, reflect that too many Americans know too little about the Constitution and its relevance to their everyday lives. The survey asked 1,002 adult Americans the following question: “As you may know, the First Amendment is part of the U.S. Constitution. Can you name any of the specific rights that are guaranteed by the First Amendment?”

The First Amendment to the Constitution – “The First Freedom,” as the title to my 1988 book describes it – is part of the basic civics and history curriculum we expect every student to be taught in every school in the United States. It says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Yet the Newseum Institute’s survey – which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points – found that only 10 percent of respondents knew the First Amendment guarantees the freedom of the press. Only l9 percent knew that it guarantees freedom of religion, while only 2 percent were able to say it guarantees the right to petition. And 33 percent of the respondents – representing a third of the American public – were unable to name a single right guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Think of that: one out of three Americans don't know what the First Amendment means to American rights.

I have copies of the Declaration of Independence/Constitution/Bill of Rights on my desk, within my reach. I know that is likely radical and atypical. Especially when "typical" equates to ignorance. Hentoff goes on to recommend a book:
"The arrival in August of an updated, expanded edition of Linda Monk’s book, “The Words We Live By” (Hachette Books), reminded me of my initial rush of enthusiasm when I first wrote about it in the Washington Post column I had at the time.

Monk subtitled her book “Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution,” but it is actually a swinging adventure story of how Americans came to define themselves as a nation through the struggle to keep the Constitution functioning as the guarantor of our most fundamental liberties.

Without exaggeration, I am convinced that this book should be taught in every classroom and be on every citizen’s reading list as an essential reference manual for evaluating candidates in the upcoming 2016 elections."
And this:
"“The Words We Live By” makes even the most complex Supreme Court cases understandable to the average reader by integrating expert legal analysis with compelling storytelling and popular culture references. Monk has updated the revised edition with almost 100 new cases that tackle topical issues such as the legal battles over Obamacare, same sex-marriage, campaign finance reform, gun rights, NSA surveillance, abortion and affirmative action. The legal cases are made relevant to the reader through stories about people at the forefront of these issues, among them NSA surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden, George Takei (Mr. Sulu of “Star Trek”) and the families of the Newtown shooting victims.

The revised edition of “The Words We Live By” comes not a moment too soon.
My copy will be here Thursday.

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