Earlier this month, President Obama nominated North Carolina Rep. Mel Watt to head up the Federal Housing Finance Authority. Here's a fun little nugget about Watt that has little relevance to the job he's seeking, but has lots of relevance to the current debates over leaks, press investigations, wiretapping, and such:

Back in early 1995, the new Republican majority set out on its "limited government" agenda with a bill to chip away at the Exclusionary Rule, the policy that says evidence found in the course of an illegal search can't be used against the suspect at trial. (Though there are some exceptions.) During the debate, Watt introduced the following amendment to the bill:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

That of course is the exact language of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The House killed Watt's amendment by nearly a 3-1 margin.

There have been a number of public opinion polls over the years showing majorities of American opposed to the Bill of Rights when they aren't told the language they're being polled about is actually from the Bill of Rights. Probably the most famous example came in an April 1969 segment of 60 Minutes focusing on a poll commissioned by the show which asked respondents questions like should the government be able to ban peaceful demonstrations?, and should the government be allowed to censor news stories?, and should the government be able to try someone again after they've been acquitted were already prohibited by the Constitution?. In each case, a majority sided in opposition to the Bill of Rights.

Ten years later, a Gallup poll found that 80 percent of Americans couldn't identify the freedoms protected by the First Amendment, and nearly 40 percent thought the press had too much freedom.

During the height of the drug war, a September 1989 poll by the Washington Post and ABC News found that 62 percent of Americans said they would "be willing to give up a few of the freedoms we have in this country if it meant we could greatly reduce the amount of illegal drug use." Another 52 percent agreed that police should be allowed "to search without a court order the houses of people suspected of selling drugs, even if houses of people like you are sometimes searched by mistake." Another poll showed 70 percent support for warrantless drug raids on public housing tenants, a policy later adopted by the Clinton administration before it was shot down in federal court. Other polls taken in the late 1980s and early 1990s showed majority support of government-mandated drug testing for a wide variety of professions, including hotel employees, lawyers, professional athletes, and entertainers. A 2002 Gallup poll found 7 in 10 Americans thought public schools should be permitted to randomly drug test all students.

In 1991, the American Bar Association commissioned a poll that found that only "one-third of adult Americans can correctly identify the Bill of Rights and fewer than 1 in 10 know it was adopted to protect them against abuses by the Federal Government." That was about the time that the right was making a big to-do about the Supreme Court decision holding that laws against desecration of the American flag were unconstitutional. Polls taken from the era consistently found that Americans opposed the ruling by about a 3-1 margin. Amusingly -- or perhaps horrifyingly -- while these polls consistently show that startlingly high percentages of Americans oppose basic civil rights protections from government abuse, this particular poll found that 3 and 4 respondents thought the Constitution should guarantee everyone free health care.

Most recently, a HuffPost poll taken just last month found that a third of Americans -- and 55 percent of Republicans -- support making Christianity the official state religion. Oddly, at the same time, six in 10 Republicans also concede that doing so would be unconstitutional.

All of which is a good reminder of why we have a core set of basic rights that we don't put up for a vote. (Hell, you might even call them inalienable!) It's worth remembering the next time you hear a politician cite public opinion polls in defense of some new law that will give the government more power, and the rest of us less freedom. As the old saying goes, democracy is three wolves and two lambs deciding what's for dinner.

Also on HuffPost:

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  • Nuts Bring Buckets of Same

    Just in case anyone forgot that the House Judiciary Committee ACORN hearing was a House Judiciary Committee hearing about ACORN, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/02/acorn-hearing-a-barrel-of_n_376882.html">Representative Steve King (R-Iowa) helpfully brought a bucket of acorns</a> to the House Judiciary Committee. Also that day, colleague Lamar Smith praising the "turnout so early in the day" at 2:30pm, and Louie Gohmert offering up the malaprop: “From one acorn, many nuts can grow.” Like, say, Peter King.

  • Hello Kitty, Hello Revolving Debt

    Credit cards. Were it not for them, we would have to save up money in order to buy things. But do some credit cards take it too far, marketing to the youths? Byron Dorgan thought so when he saw the Hello Kitty Platinum VISA. "Does it seem to you like they’re targeting that 10-year-old, the 14-year-old." Ha! He should see the <a href="http://www.shopinprivate.com/hello-kitty-pink-guilty.html">Hello Kitty vibrator</a>.

  • "I'll See Your Baby, And Raise You Two Tweens"

    Last time out, we made mention of Representative John Shadegg's (R-Ariz.) attempt to wield a baby in order to make a point about how terrible health care reform was. We neglected to mention that Representative Pete Stark (D-Calif.) took it a step further, and attempted to bring two young children to make his own points about health care (5:25 in video), at which point the House was officially barred from trafficking in human props any further.

  • John Thune's Stackin' Dollars

    How much is too much stimulus? When it allows representatives to make junior high math analogies based on topography and astronomy, maybe. Here, Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) makes some stupid pictures of dollar stacks that extend into the sky, to the celestial firmament itself. “If you took 100 dollar bills, Mr. President," Thune said, "and stacked them on top of each other you would have a stack that goes 689 miles high.” He added, "In other words, if you took the 100 dollar bills and not stacked them on top of each other, but wrapped them side-by-side all around the earth… If you could believe this, it’d go around the earth almost 39 times." So, we cannot stimulate the economy, because of science! (1:15 in clip)

  • Gettin' High On Your Own Supply (Of A Substance That Does Not Get You High)

    Representative Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) wasn't having any of that whole "regulating tobacco" stuff. Why? Because it's "not the nicotine that kills, it's the smoke!" So, he argued, why don't we regulate lettuce, to keep people from smoking lettuce? Wouldn't that prevent a "pandemic" of cancers? This would have been a good point, were it not for the non-existence of either a massive industry geared toward curing lettuce and rolling it into cigarettes, or a target market of consumers who were even remotely interested in smoking lettuce. BUT YEAH OTHER THAT ALL THAT STUFF (and the fact that nicotine is addictive) STEVE BUYER IS A GENIUS.

  • And Now, A Poem From Ted Poe

    From Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas): <i>It came on two pages, It has withstood the ages. / The word "shall,'' is only 10 times mentioned, But enough to get one's attention. / No taxes did this law raise, To this day it continues to create much praise; / Two great religions does it claim, The "Law of the Ten Commandments'' is its name. / A current writing, 1,990 pages long, Has a socialist philosophy that is all wrong; / Difficult for the people to understand, And troubling what big government doth demand. / Over 3,445 "shalls'' it does loudly shout, New massive taxes does it proudly tout; / Written in secret by the bureaucrats, For exclusive use of the taxacrats. / The Congressional bill called "Health Care Reform," Is illusionary, the authors are still ill-informed; / Government ought not take over America's health biz. / And that's just the way it is."</i> And so, America, this is why you should have to die of easily treated medical conditions.

  • And Now, An Even Dumber Poem, From Roland Burris

    From the junior senator from Illinois: <i>"It was the night before Christmas, and all through the Senate / The right held up our health care bill, no matter what was in it / The people had voted a mandated reform / But Republicans blew off the gathering storm / We'll clog up the Senate, they cried with a grin / And in the midterm elections, we'll get voted in / They knew regular folks needed help right this second / But fundraisers, lobbyists and politics beckoned / So try as they might, Democrats could not win / Because the majority was simply too thin / Then across every state there rose such a clatter / The whole senate rushed out to see what was the matter / All sprang up from their desk and ran from the floor / Straight through the cloakroom and right out the door."</i> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/22/burris-backs-reform-with_n_400456.html">There's more</a>, but you will probably want to shoot yourself in the face after you read it.

  • Chuck Grassley Goes All Aggro On The Speaker Box

    For some reason, in the course of discussing fuel efficiency standards, Senator Chuck Grassley decided he should drive his point home by shouting out Ashton Kutcher and his movie, "Dude, Where's My Car." Prior to this, Grassley went on an <a href="http://rawstory.com/news/2008/Speech_by_GOP_Senator_references_stoner_0924.html">extended monologue</a> about Pink Floyd's <i>Dark Side of the Moon</i> album and the shards of a broken prism and the "multishades" of light. Just straight up tripping balls, in the well of the Senate. Anyway, as you now know, this TOTALLY fixed fuel efficiency standards!

  • Sam Brownback Will Save Your Inanimate Genetic Material

    Who's looking out for your precious bodily fluids? Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, that's who. And he's enlisted the help of a young girl, named Hannah, who has the power of talking to human embryos! "<a href="http://thinkprogress.org/2006/07/18/brownback-embryo/">Are you going to kill me?</a>" the embryos asked Hannah, who immediately scrawled a picture of this conversation on a giant piece of posterboard, so that Sam Brownback could stop people from killing the stem cells. And then Sam Brownback went on to support a bunch of wars in the Middle East!

  • The Most Important Prop Of All

    James Inhofe (R-Batshit) hates him some gay marriage, and the gays in general. And to make his point, he carries around with him The Most Important Prop in America: a picture of his family. "As you see here, and I think this is maybe the most important prop we’ll have during the entire debate, my wife and I have been married 47 years. We have 20 kids and grandkids. I’m really proud to say that in the recorded history of our family, we’ve never had a divorce or any kind of homosexual relationship." Ha! THAT HE KNOWS OF!