Tim Wildmon gets it right on Phil Hare and the Constitution

In a letter to his supporters dated July 2010, fundamentalist Christian leader Tim Wildmon leveled a series of charges at the feet of Democratic Party politicians, including the flamingly false accusation that President Barack Obama wanted the Supreme Court to somehow mandate vast redistribution of wealth.

Tim Wildmon doesn’t have a good record when it comes to accuracy, but he got one thing right in his fundraising letter for his “American Family Association.” Wildmon began that letter with a quote:

"I don't worry about the Constitution!"
– Rep. Phil Hare (D-IL)

Dear Friend and Supporter of AFA,

Congressman Phil Hare gave the reply above when asked at a town hall meeting in April where in the Constitution Congress has the power to force American citizens to buy health insurance.

Just look at the video of the encounter with Rep. Hare and you’ll see that in this instance Tim Wildmon not only got the quote right, but nailed the context as well.

Phil Hare: “I know, but I’m trying to finish the point, and the point is that for me, when a little boy…”

Unidentified Interrogator: Yes, I know.

Phil Hare: Well, this is important stuff. It’s people’s lives. It’s people’s children. It’s when you take your child to the hospital and you think it’s really bad and your heart is thumping and bumping and bumping while you’re waiting for the doctor to tell you what it is and then the doctor comes out and says it’s going to be ok, except you don’t have insurance and you’re stuck with a $10 or $15,000 bill, your heart starts thumpin, you know, you start thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’ I talked to a woman who has gone into bankruptcy, a good friend of mine is an attorney, Monday I said to her…”

Interrogator: Well, what is going on with the economy?

Phil Hare: Well, we’ve got to turn…

Interrogator: We could lose more doctors, we could…

Unidentified Cameraman: Where in the Constitution?

Phil Hare: I don’t care about the Constitution on this, to be honest. Well, that’s…

Interrogator 1 and Cameraman: [laughter]

Cameraman: Jackpot, brother.

Phil Hare: Oh, please. What I care more about? I care more about the people that are dying every day that don’t have health insurance…

Cameraman: You care more about that than the U.S. Constitution, which you swore to uphold?

Phil Hare: I believe it says we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Tell me…

Unidentified Interrogator 3: That’s in the Declaration of Independence.

Phil Hare: Doesn’t matter to me. Either one. It…

Cameraman: It clearly doesn’t matter to you. It’s so clear that it doesn’t matter to you. It’s unbelievably clear.

Phil Hare: You wouldn’t know what matters to me. You wouldn’t know what matters to me.

Cameraman: It’s unbelievably clear that the Constitution doesn’t matter to you.

Phil Hare: Oh, please.

Cameraman: You just said it two seconds ago.

Phil Hare: If you’re going to ask me, well, ask me, what’s the question again? Is…

Cameraman: Where in the Constitution does it give you the authority to…

Phil Hare: I don’t know. I don’t know.

Cameraman: That’s what I thought.

Phil Hare: At the end of the day, I want to bring insurance to every person that lives in this country…

Cameraman: This bill’s not gonna do that.

Phil Hare: Well, says who?

Cameraman: Says everybody.

Phil Hare: Are you the expert?

Cameraman: Says everybody.

Interrogator 3: Are you the expert?

Phil Hare: No, I’m not.

Interrogator 3: You said you read the bill 3 times.

Phil Hare: I did, and I believe it is going to bring insurance to 30,000,000 people who don’t have insurance. Do you?

Cameraman: At the point of a gun.

Interrogator 3: Did you really read the bill 3 times?

Phil Hare: Yes I did.

Interrogator 3: That’s 8100 pages. A minute per page to read that and comprehend that? When…

Phil Hare: Do you know what I do for a living? Do you know how many hours I spend a day, even back at my house? Are you calling me a liar?

Interrogator 3: I am.

Phil Hare: My, that’s pleasant. Now I’m a Nazi, a Communist and a liar. That’s great. [Gets up to leave]

Cameraman: Well, you’re stomping all over the Constitution.

Interrogator 3: Why aren’t you going to answer your constituents?

Phil Hare: Well, I answered it. What’s the question? OK: I answered it, and you told me I was a liar.

Interrogator 3: Because you are. How long did it take you to read the bill 3 times?

Phil Hare: Let’s go.

Interrogator 3: How long did it take you to read the bill 3 times?

Phil Hare: [Leaves the room.]

Interrogator 3: How long? How many days?

Cameraman: [Following Phil Hare outside.] Hey, where in the Constitution does it say I have to buy health insurance, or gives you the authority to make me?

Phil Hare: Goodbye, gentlemen.

Cameraman: Answer the question! You have yet to answer the question, sir! Better start looking for a job.

To fact check a bit, the bill isn’t actually 8100 pages long. It is 906 pages long, printed in small pages with just a portion of the text that would fit on the page of a paperback novel. It doesn’t take a minute per page to read; even as a non-lawyer I managed 4 pages a minute in a sample I timed myself. With a number of sections of easily skimmed boilerplate language, it’s entirely possible that a member of Congress would have read the bill three times over the many months during which the bill had been debated.

That said, the fact remains that Rep. Phil Hare failed to distinguish between the Declaration of Independence (a historical document without any force of law) and the Constitution. He failed to identify a place in the Constitution that allows the government to mandate that citizens purchase health care insurance. When pressed, Phil Hare acknowledged that he didn’t know where in the Constitution such a clause exists. The discourteous behavior of Phil Hare’s interrogators does not alter these sticky truths for Rep. Hare.

Further, Rep. Hare’s protestation that he did not care about the constitutional basis of the health care bill in the face of Americans’ difficulties in obtaining affordable health care illustrates an important distinction in American politics. Phil Hare articulated a progressive political stance within the Democratic Party that prioritizes human needs over legal procedure; this is distinct from a liberal political stance within the Democratic Party that prioritizes constitutionality and solid procedure over policy results, and is also distinct from a business wing stance within the Democratic Party that prioritizes the needs of American businesses over the needs of American people.

Rather than characterize the political debate in Congress as a simple two-sided debate between Democrats and Republicans, it would be wise of us to consider the multiple approaches that divide parties and occasionally bridge across parties. Phil Hare doesn’t speak well for himself on video; neither does he speak for every member of the Democratic Party in Congress.

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