The Cognitive Dissonance of Mike Lee

Mike Lee is running for the Utah’s open Senate seat and he claims to know intimately what the Founding Fathers intended in writing the U.S. Constitution.

The Cognitive Dissonance of Mike Lee

You see, Mike Lee is what’s known in constitutional law as an “originalist.” So, it comes as no surprise when one learns that Lee clerked for current Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. What a pleasure—and party favor—it must be to be able to channel the constitutional perspectives of long-dead statesmen.  One might say that Mike Lee the Candidate should rather be called Mike Lee the Medium.

Lee’s nomination as Republican candidate was controversial even in Utah, where the incumbent, Bob Bennett—a moderate Republican—was ousted through the right-wing reactionary group that call themselves the Tea Party. Yes, I said it. No longer will I allow that group to invoke the American Revolution through the clever re-branding of the Boston Tea Party; an historical event which they could not possibly understand given their quite limited intellectual capacity. They are reactionary nincompoops. Extremists. And henceforth they shall be called simply “Reactionaries.”

And so the Reactionaries managed to get Mike Lee nominated as the Republican candidate for one of Utah’s Senate seats, mostly through being loud. This is Utah, after all, where the Reactionaries are right at home. But, who have the Reactionaries helped nominate?  Well, Lee has been called the “Rand Paul of the West.”

Makes him sound like some pistolero armed not with a gun (though he probably owns many) but with the immutable words of Jesus, especially that Jewish carpenter’s many essays on capitalism, constitutional law, the pleasures of nuclear arsenals and tax breaks for oil companies.

The Reactionaries have elected one of their own: an individual suffering from cognitive dissonance.  What is cognitive dissonance? It is the ability to hold two opposing ideas simultaneously. Let’s take a brief look at Mike Lee the Medium’s political philosophy.


Lee clerked for Samuel Alito, so it doesn’t take much to imagine where Lee’s judicial philosophy lies on the constitutional law continuum. He would work to eliminate the so-called “judicial activism” that guaranteed civil rights, for example, but which also paved the way for abortion in America. Lee is committed to the idea of “original intent,” which, in essence, means Lee has a belief that he knows exactly what the Founding Fathers intended when writing the Constitution.

To put this philosophy into perspective, if original intent had held sway through the centuries, the 14th Amendment wouldn’t have granted equal protection under the law to all citizens, paving the way for civil rights victories. The original intent of the 14th amendment really only dealt with ensuring the equal protection of citizens, but it led to the separate but equal doctrine which essentially allowed states to segregate.  Mike Lee would call the application of the 14th amendment to render separate but equal unconstitutional a case of judicial activism.  Put Mike Lee back in the early 1800s and he would gleefully enforce the continued disenfranchisement of women and African-Americans.

Lee’s brand of judicial philosophy was even deemed “reactionary” by the Salt Lake Tribune, and that to implement his ideas it would require “reversing much of the jurisprudence of the 20th century.”

How is it that a Mormon, whose religious views are protected under the 14th Amendment, could espouse an originalist point-of-view of the Constitution? Cognitive dissonance, or the ability to hold two opposing ideas simultaneously.

Lee & the 17th Amendment

The 17th amendment grants the citizens of each state the right to elect, by popular vote, their Senators. Before the amendment, state legislatures appointed Senators. Which meant powerful state legislators, through politicking and gambit, in many ways determined the course of the legislative agenda of the upper congressional house.

Mike Lee has been quoted (on CNN) as saying “I do think the 17th amendment was a mistake… I do think that we lost something when we adopted it, but I don’t think that in our life times we’re going to see any movement afoot to do that.”

What was lost? The right of the powerful, the elite, to totally determine through back-room deals who became a Senator and who did not?

How does a man running for Senate, appealing for the votes of Utah’s citizenry, and benefiting from the frothiness of the Reactionaries, believe that we would be better off if the 17th amendment had never been? That’s right: cognitive dissonance. The extreme Right is full of this sort of psychological behavior.

Oil Company Liability Caps

Mike Lee would like to eliminate the Department of Energy to save taxpayer dollars. He’d also like to lower the liability cap for oil companies, which means that when there is another oil spill of the magnitude of, say, the BP oil spill, an oil company would only be liable up to a certain dollar amount. After that threshold has been reached, taxpayers would then be responsible for any further cleanup and restoration costs.

How does one want to both save taxpayer dollars and simultaneously risk using tax dollars (for cleanup in the event of an oil spill instead of holding the oil companies’ feet to the fire)?  Cognitive dissonance.

Abortion & War

Mike Lee the Moral Crusader believes in the sanctity of life and thinks that Roe v. Wade usurps a state’s right to “protect the most vulnerable members of society.” He also would like to increase spending on America’s war-making capabilities to project power abroad and update the U.S.’s nuclear arsenal.

There is the question that was raised long ago by St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas of what constitutes a just war: that it can neither be waged to retake land and possessions nor to punish an adversary. The thing about reactionaries (and now I’m using the term more generally) like Mike Lee is that virtually any war is a just war in their opinion. The right wing’s criteria for what constitutes just war differs on a fundamental level from international opinion. If there are deaths to protect the faithful or the citizenry, then the cause is just. The quantity of blood shed has no consequence.

What might provoke Mike Lee to sound the drums of war? Does he agree with the Republican strategy of pre-emptive strikes that violate state sovereignty, supposedly allowed under America’s commitment to the endless War on Terrorism?  And where do civilian deaths rate on his moral barometer—are they equal or lesser tragedies, in his mind, than aborted fetuses? How does a religious man simultaneously have two antithetical viewpoints?  If he’s anything like other extreme right Republicans, the dilemma is rendered irrelevant because he is cognitively dissonant.

Immigration & the ‘Anchor Baby’ Loophole

Candidate Mike Lee, Medium of the Founding Fathers, would like to close a loophole in immigration law that grants citizenship to babies born of illegal immigrants while in the United States. Babies born of immigrant parents and granted the right of citizenship are the very foundation of America. Without them the country wouldn’t exist. Without it, there is no Mike Lee the American, the Medium, the Reactionary. He would not grant babies the very same right his family surely enjoyed?

Lee has nothing against the babies per se, but he does have something against the mothers, fathers and family who supposedly use the baby as a means of staying in the country.

Lee states (in his reading of the 14th amendment): “The way I read that amendment is that you’re not necessarily subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. just because you’re born here… If you’re born to parents of illegal aliens who have come here in open violation of our laws, you’re not born in the US and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.”

The Constitution is quite clear on the point in Section 1 of the 14th amendment: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

How come ye are so very cognitively dissonant, Mr. Lee?