TV’s resounding voice of the Constitution

Published 12:22 am Wednesday, July 7, 2010

In all of television (broadcast and cable), print and the Internet, only one regular reporter/historian focuses regularly on the Constitution — its health and our history of trying to defend it because it protects our individual liberties against the attacks by U.S. governments both Republican and Democratic. He is Judge Andrew Napolitano, a former New Jersey Superior Court judge.

Since 1998, Napolitano has been a regular presence on Fox television as senior judicial analyst. Yet many Americans who profess to be open-minded liberals have hardly ever seen or heard him because they demonize all of Fox as being raucously conservative. And I expect few, if any, on the left have read any of his books. In the most recent, “Lies the Government Told You: Myth, Power and Deception in American History” (Thomas Nelson), the judge writes:

“We have lost a federal government that stays within the confines of the Constitution. … We must recognize that we do not have a two-party system in this country; we have one party, the Big Government Party. There is a Republican version that assaults our civil liberties and loves deficits and war.” Of the Bush-Cheney Patriot Act, he adds:

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“The cynically named Patriot Act is a revolting and unconstitutional example of the federal government taking advantage of people during times of crisis.” This from a Fox regular!

The judge further notes that by the Big Government Party on the other side, this “revolting” law is “enforced by President Barack Obama,” who, as I’ve reported, did nothing, during the Patriot Act’s reauthorization by a Democratic-controlled Congress, to remove any of its savage assaults on the Fourth Amendment and our other liberties.

Napolitano, on the air and his book, emphasizes the accountability of both our current, and immediately prior, federal governments for violations of the War Crimes Act of 1996. This made-in-America law, he explains, “makes it a crime for any United States national to order or engage in the murder, torture or inhumane treatment of a detainee. In addition to those who engage in this conduct, any official who authorizes or condones such abuse violates the Act as well.”

President Obama steadfastly insists on “looking ahead, not backward,” as he refuses to even consider a due-process criminal investigation of the previous administration’s high-level authorization of these brutal war crimes. And although Obama has purportedly closed down the CIA secret prisons and the not-so “extraordinary renditions” of terrorism suspects to countries known for advanced torture skills, how come his CIA chief, Leon Panetta, is continuing the renditions? So the prisoners can savor the culture and scenery of those countries? And what of the “black prison” at our Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan? Will Obama let us look inside?

As Judge Napolitano summarizes our freedoms lost through governments of men, not laws, he includes “the primacy of the individual’s inalienable rights and the concept that government is limited in its powers.” Consider how the present government mandates in cost-efficient Obamacare have endangered our most inalienable individual right — the right to stay alive — by making health care rationing, as in the British system, official.

The judge has a lot of work ahead to inform our citizenry of all political affiliations about their continuing lost freedoms — and how to regain them. Very fortunately, he now also has his own program, “Freedom Watch” — on Saturdays at 10 a.m. and 8 p.m., also repeated Sundays at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. (EST) (Foxbusinessnews).

Appearing as a guest on “The O’Reilly Factor,” whose host would markedly benefit from Napolitano’s illuminations of the Constitution, the judge said that on his new program, he intends “to be the night watchman for the public to expose when the government does wrong things, steals property, steals freedoms, violates the Constitution.”

It’s vital to recognize that this night watchman is a libertarian. In “Libertarian Talk, Now on Fox Business Network” (New York Times, June 14), reporter Brian Stelter makes the critical point: “As any libertarian will tell you, there are sharp differences in opinions between conservatives and libertarians, and now Fox has programs for both.” He quotes Jacob G. Hornberger, president of the educational libertarian Future of Freedom Foundation:

“In an interview, (Hornberger) said, ‘There’s always been this debate between left and right, liberals and conservatives. All of a sudden here’s Napolitano saying, where do you stand on this libertarian position?’ Libertarian commentators, he said, have largely been locked out of TV debates in the past.”

In the interest of full disclosure, although I have been a civil libertarian since, at 19, the President of Boston’s Northeastern University fired me as editor of the college newspaper for exercising free press and speech, I was still a Democrat for many years until recognizing how disposable the Bill of Rights was and is to its party leaders and followers. I now identify myself as a libertarian — out-of-step, however, as usual. And I feel at home as a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute.

Ending the introduction to his book, “Lies the Government Told You: Myth, Power and Deception in American History,” the judge invites us: “Come with me now on a tour of myth, power and deception in American; woven into the fabric of our history, perpetrated even as you read this, and accepted by millions as the norm.”

I very much hope that many more Americans will join Judge Napolitano’s tour Saturday mornings, and the later Saturday and Sunday repeats, on the Fox Business Channel.

If you fear a friend will scorn you for going on Fox, ask him or her gently to read just the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, and check them against what your government is currently up to. Is this government really yours or theirs? Also keep in mind Samuel Adam’s reminder: It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brushfires in people’s minds.” Judge Napolitano is never without a match.

(Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow.)