The curmudgeonly actor, best known for his zeitgeist-riding portrayal of journalist Lou Grant, weighs in on the Constitution and its discontents in a smart, often entertaining polemic.
It’s a common conservative trope that progressives are on a mission to undo the intent of the Founding Fathers and destroy the compact under which the nation operates. Not so, writes Asner. Progressives, he suggests, are working more closely in spirit with the Constitution on numerous issues, such as its linkage of the right to own guns to service in a well-regulated militia. “Nothing in the Constitution suggests, let alone enforces, the concepts of limited government, limited taxes, and limited regulations,” argues the author, just as very little in the private lives of the founders inspires admiration: more than half of the framers of the Constitution were slaveholders, many were involved in shady land speculation, some later committed treason, and many used public office to line their purses. (As Asner notes, George Washington’s presidential salary of $25,000 a year is the equivalent of $1.5 million today. He adds, “he probably needed the money,” since he was, like so many of those framers, wracked with debt.) The true enemies of the Constitution, Asner holds, are the tea party and Christian right and gun lobby and so forth, about which he impatiently writes, “why don’t they just write our country a new Bill of Rights and be done with it?”—declaring Christianity to be the official religion of the land, kicking down the doors to ferret out gays and abortion clinics, and so on. The opportunities for hyperbole and rant are many, but Asner retains a mostly even tone, closing with a timely line from Thomas Jefferson: “The care of human life and happiness and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government.”
Barbed, to be sure, but less grouchy than exasperated and a pleasure for like-minded readers.