Ed Asner, the Emmy Award–winning actor and activist, aka Lou Grant, reclaims the Constitution from the right-wingers who think that they and only they know how to interpret it in his forthcoming book, The Grouchy Historian: An Old-time Lefty Defends Our Constitution Against Right-Wing Hypocrites and Nutjobs (S&S, Oct.), written with his former Mary Tyler Moore Show producer, Ed. Weinberger.
This is a pretty weighty topic. What inspired you?
Look around you at the chaos of our daily lives. I thought we should get a clear shot at what founded us. Maybe if we’re truly aware of the mixed bag that founded us, then we wouldn’t be too surprised at finding ourselves in the bed we’re in.
Why do you think right-wingers think they own the Constitution?
I think it’s a right-wing attitude that they own the world. They are quite surprised when someone thinks they don’t.
Why do you think the right is for originalism, which the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia explained as “[it] means today not what current society, much less the Court, thinks it ought to mean, but what it meant when it was adopted”?
They act as if they were there when it was written and they are the only ones who know how to interpret what was put down. It’s always in defense of their point or reducing the left’s point to reductio ad absurdum. Only a toad like Scalia would take it to its most nonsensical degree to think that he was a messenger of God and therefore owned it. I like to think the Constitution is a work in progress. That means we will always have new confrontations, which must be resolved in situ by, hopefully, the clear-eyed representatives we have on the Court.
Speaking of which, what would you have asked Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, an originalist, if you had been in on the Supreme Court confirmation hearings?
Not to use that term! To wipe his eyes and nose clean, wipe anything else that needs to be clean, and take a fresh look. To not be hampered by some hangup that he feels he must look to the past to interpret.
You are very politically active, and we are in a very strange time. What do you do to keep from losing your mind?
What makes you think I haven’t lost it?
Finally, we all lost our dear Mary Tyler Moore this year. Anything you would like to say about her?
I owe my career to her. I had seven years of bliss working for her and with her. Nobody will ever get a better partner.
Today, 2:15–3:15 p.m. Ed Asner will appear on the Downtown Stage in a discussion titled “Politics Present and Past.”