Maddow on Constitutional Rights and DADT

Maddow, the brilliant and compassionate:

We’re not just a democracy. We’re a constitutional democracy. There are rights guaranteed to us all by the Constitution. Those rights are not up for a vote. And the reason that’s truly important, the reason it’s not just a romantic sepia-toned flashback to the founding of this country is because people always want to vote on rights. They always want to vote on minority rights. And whenever they do, whenever you put the rights of a minority up for a vote, it almost always fails.[…]

And so now, the Pentagon is surveying the troops on what think about serving with openly gay people. The results may very well be as reactionary as what we saw in those surveys from the 1940s.

And if we are still a constitutional republic, if the concept of inalienable, inalienable equal rights, inalienable equal rights, still means something, the results of that survey will be interesting.

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Transcript after the jump.


We have a correction of sorts to make tonight.

It was believed both by us and by guests who have appeared on this show and, frankly, by lots of other people, that the survey the Pentagon is doing right now to determine how members of the military feel about the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” was an unprecedented thing. We and others believed that when the military had gone through other forms of desegregation either by gender or by race, but they didn’t conduct this kind of a survey, that prior moves to desegregate the military were top-down decisions that were just made without asking the average infantrymen what he thought about the policy change. It turns out that’s not true.

Earlier this week, a Pentagon spokesperson told The Advocate magazine that Defense Department historians have found evidence that the military did, in fact, conduct surveys about racial integration in the military prior to changing the policy in the ’40s.

Armed with that clue, the folks at “Think Progress” deserve props for actually trooping down to the National Archives and digging up some of the surveys that the military conducted around racial integration in the 1940s, ahead of President Truma’s 1948 order to desegregate.

Remember, the basic history here is that in 1948, after generations of African-Americans had served in separate all-black units in the U.S. military, President Truman, as commander-in-chief, made the decision to end legal racial discrimination in the military.

Now, remember, this was 1948, six years before the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education mandating that schools be integrated, seven years before the Montgomery bus boycott, 15 years before Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, 16 years before the Civil Rights Act passed. Interracial marriage was illegal in more than two dozen states in 1948. In other words, ending racial segregation in the military was a very big deal in 1948.

But the military did ask the troops what they thought about the issue beforehand. And the results were — I mean, on the one hand, astonishing, and on the other, weirdly, totally what you’d expect. Here’s what I mean: a 1942– a November 1942 survey of white enlisted men’s feelings about African-Americans in the Air Force found that, quote, “An overwhelming majority of the men feel that Negro and white soldiers should be separated both during and after training.”

Check out the bar graph on this one. Eighty-two percent of enlisted thought African-Americans should attend separate training schools. Seventy-six percent of them wanted them in separate combat crews. And 74 percent thought there should be separate all-black ground crews as well.

Here’s another survey from 1947 cleverly titled, ” Attitudes of Officers and Enlisted Men Toward Certain Minority Groups.” And when they say “certain minority groups,” what they mean is Jews. It was a survey of how members of the armed forces felt about serving not just with black men but with Jewish men. It turns out they were not thrilled about it.

When presented with the statement, “There is nothing good about Jews,” 86 percent of the enlisted men surveyed agreed 86 percent. Also, who wrote this freaking survey anyway? As for the question of racial integration, quote, “Four out of five white enlisted men are opposed to the idea of having Negro and white soldiers in the same unit even if they do not eat in the same mess or sleep in the same barracks.”

Do you know how many officers and enlisted men thought black and white soldiers should work and train and live together? How many people were actually in favor of integration? A grand total of seven percent. Seven percent of officers and enlisted men thought the military should be integrated.

So given that given that these were the views of the troops in 1947, what did President Truman do the following year in 1948? He ordered that there be desegregation. He said to the military essentially, “Deal with it,” and they did. And frankly, that’s the American way.

We’re not just a democracy. We’re a constitutional democracy. There are rights guaranteed to us all by the Constitution. Those rights are not up for a vote. And the reason that’s truly important, the reason it’s not just a romantic sepia-toned flashback to the founding of this country is because people always want to vote on rights. They always want to vote on minority rights. And whenever they do, whenever you put the rights of a minority up for a vote, it almost always fails.

On gay rights, for example, the issue of gay marriage has been put to a vote in 31 states. And all 31 of the states have voted it down.

But because this is America, rights are not supposed to be put to a vote. That’s why they’re called rights. That’s why we have a Constitution and why we struggle every day to prove that we still honor it.

Opinions, surveys, polling be darned; this is America and the rights of man are inalienable no matter what skeeves you out.

And so now, the Pentagon is surveying the troops on what think about serving with openly gay people. The results may very well be as reactionary as what we saw in those surveys from the 1940s.

And if we are still a constitutional republic, if the concept of inalienable, inalienable equal rights, inalienable equal rights, still means something, the results of that survey will be interesting.

They will also be completely irrelevant to the question of whether or not this policy should and will be changed.

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One thought on “Maddow on Constitutional Rights and DADT

  1. Pingback: Maddow on Yesterday’s Blocked DADT Vote « Speaker's Corner

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