Fareed Zakaria and the Meaning of American Citizenship

By: June 07, 2011

A video clip of Fareed Zakaria, the liberal CNN host, criticizing the Constitution in a recent interview by Charlie Rose has been going viral on the internet the past few days. In Zakaria’s own words:
“Whenever we have a problem we tend to think our Constitution is the best ever created in the history of the world, the people who created it were demi-gods, it never needs to be changed, we have the best political system in the world, the Senate is the marvel of the world. The truth is we have a pretty complicated, antiquated system that has gone pretty dysfunctional, the role of money has been so large, our tax system is a joke;  you have a 14,000 page tax code which is basically institutionalized corruption…Why can’t we do best practices? … Are we willing to accept other people know a lot about what’s going on?”

Watching this clip, it struck me that a Voices of the Tea Party e-book on what it means to be an American citizen would be a worthy undertaking, especially in light of the fact that so many talking heads inflicted upon us by the mainstream media have a poor understanding of it.

Putting aside for a moment my irritation at once again being lectured by a talking head from CNN who knows little about America beyond the walls of the Ivy League, New York City, or Washington, D.C. ( Zakaria’s colleague Eliot Spitzer and his former colleague Christiane Amanpour come to mind), let’s examine the merits of his argument, and the authority with which he makes it.

Mr. Zakaria, like me, is an American citizen, and enjoys all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities associated with citizenship. One of those rights is freedom of speech. In his exercise of that right, however, Mr. Zakaria’s own words suggest that he has a flawed understanding of what it means to be an American citizen.

Zakaria has famously suggested that naturalized citizens like himself have a superior understanding of citizenship. “I’m a citizen by choice,” he told Jay Leno recently, “not by an accident of birth.” This bit of snark was specifically directed at Glenn Beck, whose scholarship on American history Zakaria considers not up to snuff.

Mr. Zakaria was born and raised in Mumbai, India. His biography on Wikipedia says his father was a scholar of Islam and his mother was the editor of a major Indian newspaper. At the age of 18 he moved to the United States, and his understanding of our country has been formed by his experiences at Yale, where he completed his undergraduate degree, Harvard, where he received his Phd. in international relations, and New York City, where he’s worked for and edited several magazines, and now has his own talk show on CNN.

Since Mr. Zakaria is a naturalized citizen, somewhere along the way he presumably studied the Constitution, passed the citizenship test, and swore an oath of allegiance to our country. The question that comes to my mind is this: When Mr. Zakaria swore to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America” what exactly did he think he was promising?

For instance, in his Charlie Rose interview, Mr. Zakaria said: “we tend to think our Constitution is the best ever created in the history of the world, the people who created it were demi-gods, it never needs to be changed.” Well, here’s a lesson in American history from flyover country:

1. Our Constitution is the best ever created in history, and the model for most others in the world.

2. Even if our Constitution weren’t the best ever created, you’ve sworn an oath to support and defend it.

3. The people who created it were exceptional individuals, but not demi-gods. Those of us in the Tea Party movement–and those not in the movement–who’ve studied it are well aware of the human flaws of the Founders.

4.  Very few people in America think the Constitution never needs to be changed. In fact, there’s a feature in the Constitution called the amendment process, and its been used 27 times in our history. Apparently he missed this in his studies at Harvard and Yale.

I will give Mr. Zakaria his due in one regard, however. He seems to have accepted as a matter of simple common sense the Tea Party position that our tax code needs to be reformed, and that all special privileges instituted in the current corrupt code should be eliminated. There’s a glimmer of hope, then, even for such elitists as Mr. Zakaria.

Michael Patrick Leahy is the editor of the Voices of the Tea Party e-book series and co-founder of Top Conservatives on Twitter and the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition. His new  e-book, I, Light Bulb: A Death Row Testimonial, will be published in July, 2011. His new book, Covenant of Liberty, will be published by Broadside Books in spring, 2012. He can be reached on Twitter at @michaelpleahy .

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