The Republican debates inspired me to take a second look at the Bill of Rights. And I tell you—our farsighted Founding Fathers knew what they were doing.
The First Amendment guarantees various freedoms: 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.
In the view of the Republican candidates, in these perilous times just about everything on that list is expendable. “America has been betrayed,” said Governor Chris Christie at Tuesday’s debate—betrayed by Democratic leaders named Obama and Clinton. “Citizens, it’s time to take our government back,” said Carly Fiorina. “America is at war,” said Senator Ted Cruz. “Our country is out of control,” said Donald Trump. “ISIS . . . is the most sophisticated terror group that has ever threatened the world or the United States of America,” said Senator Marco Rubio.
As we hurtle into battle, the time may have come to lighten the wagon. “You talk freedom of speech. You talk freedom of anything you want. I don’t want them using our Internet to take our young, impressionable youth,” said Trump. Carson said it’s time “to get rid of all this PC stuff” and monitor mosques. Planting government agents inside houses of worship to monitor what’s said—or maybe we could simply bug them—might, in some eyes, compromise both freedom of religion and freedom of assembly, but when Senator Rand Paul put in a good word for the Constitution, Trump set him straight: “These are people that want to kill us, folks, and you’re—you’re objecting to us infiltrating their conversations? I don’t think so. I don’t think so.”
It was a good night for the redressing of grievances—the candidates all brimmed with grievances they swore they’d redress the moment they arrived in the White House—but everything else took a beating. Speech, religion, assembly. . . As for the press, among Republican candidates its perfidy has always gone without saying. Who was it Fiorina wanted to take our government back from? “From the political class, from the media, from the liberal elite,” she said. “It can be done, it must be done.”
But without a First Amendment, what’s America to do? This is where we see the Founding Fathers’ genius. They wrote the Second Amendment as a backup. If there’s no freedom of speech, or religion, or the press, or assembly, how will we Americans ever manage to conduct our affairs? Exactly. We’ll just do everything at gunpoint.
The Second Amendment stands ready to guarantee America won’t be stopped dead in its tracks just because it can no longer put up with the First. Gun control hasn’t had much of an airing at the Republican debates because it doesn’t seem to enjoy a whisper of support from anyone on stage that night, but the latest mass shooting, by jihadists in San Bernardino, inspired Cruz to address the tragedy. Cruz blamed it on “political correctness.” The same with the bombing of the Boston marathon in 2013. “Political correctness is killing people,” Cruz complained.
Which makes the First Amendment its sinister accomplice.