Imagine this scene, one that we imagine is familiar to many readers: you’ve just done something of which your parents do not approve. Perhaps you’ve tracked mud into the house. Perhaps you were playing ball indoors and smashed a prize lamp. Your parents scold you, preparing to hand down their discipline sentence. “But,” you say, pointing at your siblings beside you, “They did it too!”
How many of your parents thought that was a valid excuse? How many of your parents smiled and said “Oh, okay then, none of you have to be disciplined.” The answer probably lies between zero and none. Yet this was exactly the argument that Rachel Maddow used on her show Friday night in order to attack the “defund ACORN” act. Yes, it’s silly. Yes, it’s a logical fallacy. And yes, as mothers, fathers, teachers, and preachers have been saying since time immemorial, two wrongs still don’t make a right.
Maddow used this argument in one of her delightfully amusingly titled segments of “The TRUTH about the LIES about ACORN.” Tonight’s show didn’t talk much about ACORN. Instead, she mostly railed against other government contractors – mainly defense contractors and security firms – in the service of defending ACORN to the last.
We will ignore Maddow’s typical ad-hominem opening and jump right to her “point.” First, though Maddow chooses to focus on the possibility that the “Defund Acorn” is a bill of attainder. Maddow would have you believe that it’s a sure thing that bill is unconstitutional. That’s mainly because her heroes on the left are saying that very thing. The reality of the matter is more complex. Legal professor and blogger Eugene Volokh discusses the matter in greater detail on his post here.
He cites precedents and laws which may render defunding ACORN a bill of attainder, but also points out that, among other things,
At the same time, even legislation that singles out individuals is not a Bill of Attainder if “the law under challenge, viewed in terms of the type and severity of burdens imposed, reasonably can be said to further nonpunitive legislative purposes.” See Nixon v. Administrator of General Services (1977); SeaRiver Maritime Financial Holdings Inc. v. Mineta (9th Cir. 2002) (upholding the legislative exclusion of “any vessel that spilled more than one million gallons of oil into the marine environment after March 22, 1989″ — a class that includes only the Exxon Valdez — from Prince William Sound, because it has the legitimate nonpunitive purpose of “reduc[ing] the environmental risk to the Sound” by excluding “a vessel with a history of substantial spillage, and encourag[ing] SeaRiver and other tank vessel owners to take greater steps to avoid a similar spill in any marine environment”).
Since ACORN’s history of (both successful and unsuccessful voter and voter registration fraud could clearly be taken as a threat to the legitimacy of our elections and our very system of government, we could see someone very easily arguing that including language that the bill prohibits Federal funds for “any organization that has been indicted for a violation under any Federal or State law governing the financing of a campaign for election for public office or any law governing the administration of an election for public office“clearly serves the purpose of keeping our electoral process intact. Whether the Supreme Court would accept that argument or not is another question.
Maddow doesn’t dwell on that point for long though, because she has to gleefully point out that the bill as written would prevent large defense contractors–for example Lockheed Martin, Boeing, or General Dynamics—from receiving federal funds. If she’s stopped there, she might have had a decent point. After all, her point was to try and save ACORN from being defunded, but she may have stumbled onto a good point. Fraud is fraud, no matter who commits it, and that should be punished. But the actual reason for defunding ACORN goes beyond that, to aiding and abetting criminal activities and actively working to undermine our system of government. And there’s a huge gulf between voter and election fraud and overcharging for the F-16 fighter.
But Maddow doesn’t stop there. She goes on to accuse Blackwater of murder. Blackwater is one of the left’s favorite punching bags, but maybe they had best let the judicial system sort it out, since no one has been convicted and the whole affair is a messy, confused they-said-they-said about who shot first, when and where. ACORN employees have been convicted of crimes—as of now, those Blackwater employees have not. This is far from the only time during her show she either is unaware of (unlikely) or intentionally conflates (more likely) the difference between accusations and convictions.
In the middle of all of this, Maddow takes yet another opportunity to muddy the waters of the ACORN case with her particular brand of disinformation. She claims it’s all about prostitution—ignoring the tax evasion, sex slavery, human trafficking, and even murder issues the videos raised. She of course makes the already-thoroughly-debunked claim that these activists “went from ACORN office to ACORN office with a hidden camera until they got a reaction that would play well on Fox News.”
No Maddow show would be complete without a guest brought on to noddingly agree with her. Tonight’s echo chamber guest du jour was Jeremy Scahill, whom Maddow introduced as an author but who is a also a contributor and correspondent on the radical hard-left news broadcast Democracy Now and writer for The Nation. Scahill repeated one of the lefts favorite misdirections about defunding ACORN—that it’s only a matter of $53 dollars over the last twenty or so years. He completely ignored the billions of dollars avaialble to ACORN from the President’s wasteful stimulus package which is naturally the greater target of this legislation.
What’s interesting is that Maddow is far from the only left-winger using this line of “defense” for ACORN. The Huffington Post, Daily Kos, and the like were all saying the same thing (gee, almost like they get together somewhere to talk about what stories to run for the day)–you can’t defund ACORN, other people are bad too! This is in addition to the repetition of the “ACORN does good things too” red-herring defense we brought to light yesterday (and repeated by Maddow today whenever she could). Regardless of the failed logic of their reasoning, we’re pleasantly amused to see so many on the left take a sudden and intense interest in the minutia of the Constitution.
Or that is, we would be if we thought they would remain so interested in the actual Constitutional powers granted our government when the next gun-control bill comes up, or the next judge uses extra-constitutional “emanations from penumbras” reasoning or cites foreign law to interpret US law. But we don’t count on it. If past behavior has taught us anything, it’s that the left only has a use for the US Constitution when it can be used as a sledgehammer against the right. We see no underlying belief in the concepts of limited government, accountable government, and separated government that the Constitution details. More’s the pity.