Trace Mitchell – July 4, 2019
This past week, Candace Owens announced on Twitter that if she were president of the United States, “the punishment for burning the US flag would be the renunciation of citizenship. No jail time, no fine — simply one year to liquidate your assets and get the hell out of our country.” In response, a number of individuals expressed concern that a policy like this would be in violation of the First Amendment. Her response was that
1A has limitations. You can’t yell fire in a movie theatre without consequence. You cannot yell racial epithets at someone without consequence. And if I were President, you sure as hell wouldn’t burn a flag without consequence.
This kind of rhetoric highlights the dangers of partisan politics and the need for constitutional constraints on the power of government.
Inconsistent Application of the Constitution
Candace Owens is a well-known conservative activist who has invoked the Constitution to defend her positions or attack her political opponents on numerous occasions. So it may seem strange that she is advocating for a policy that would blatantly violate Article I, Section 1 of the United States Constitution, as well as the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments — a policy that flies directly in the face of well-established Supreme Court precedent and would serve as a significant infringement on an individual’s right to freedom of speech.
However, it begins to seem significantly less strange when you realize what Candace Owens is and what she is not. Candace Owens is not a Burkean conservative, nor is she an originalist in the tradition of Justices Scalia, Thomas, or Gorsuch. She is not a principled defender of constitutionally constrained, limited government based on clearly defined, generalized principles. Candace Owens is a partisan political commentator who is interested in seeing her policy preferences implemented by whatever means necessary. And her recent comments show why that is so dangerous.
Policy can be driven by one of two primary forces: principles or preferences. This is not to say that the two can never overlap. Indeed, in many circumstances, adherence to principles will absolutely result in the actualization of one’s preferences. However, there is an important distinction between the two.
Candace Owens has often used the Constitution and the First Amendment to support her positions and attack her opposition, so it would be inconsistent to support a policy that would so clearly violate both. One can see why implementing policy based on partisan preferences rather than adherence to principles might be dangerous.
As the old adage goes, “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” If one side can implement any policy they want when they are in power without any sort of limiting principles, then the other side will be able to do the same. This would take us back to a system where might makes right and whoever is in power is able to exercise unfettered control over the rest of the population.
Checks and Balances
The Founding Fathers saw the dangers inherent in such a system, which is why they created a constitutional republic. It’s why they developed a system of government based on the separation of powers, strong checks and balances, and a Bill of Rights designed to protect the liberty of its citizens.
It is why they purposefully placed constraints on all three branches of government so they would not be able to exercise unbounded power or cross certain carefully considered lines. This is the system that made the United States unique and set it on the path toward prosperity.
The United States was founded on a system of principles, not preferences. If we allow politicians to work toward their desires without adhering to principles, we will lose the very essence of what made the American form of government so incredible — that each side must follow certain principles even when those principles prevent them from obtaining their policy preferences. Candace Owens’s recent rhetoric highlights the dangers that emerge when we forget the lessons taught to us by the Founding Fathers and the constitutionally constrained government they created.
Image Credit: Flickr-Gage Skidmore | CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)