With George W. Bush in the White House and Republicans controlling Congress, many Democrats invoked the Constitution when they criticized the administration’s anti-terrorism policies.
With Barack Obama in the White House and Democrats controlling Congress, many Republicans invoked the Constitution when they criticized the overhaul of health care.
In both cases, the criticism had validity.
The famed American patriots who signed the Constitution 223 years ago this month generally viewed the power of government as something that merited a short leash rather than a blank check.
The ensuing years have seen many disagreements over what we now think of as the “constitutionality” of Plan X or Proposal Y, which doesn’t necessarily qualify as a bad thing. We have the concept of competing ideas hard-wired into our national DNA, and resolution through peaceful discourse represents the normal flow.
Unfortunately, our understanding of the Constitution seems to have changed into something abnormal.
Nowadays, very few elected officials think of this inspired document as an all-purpose blueprint for running the government. They tend to treat it as one of the big guns they roll out against their opponents during a contentious debate, only to be rolled back into storage when the dust settles.
Perhaps politicians and judges need a reminder that they don’t get to use the Constitution as they see fit. The Constitution belongs to all of us. Like the Declaration of Independence, it embodies the idea that government should exist to serve the citizenry and not the other way around.
Speaking of rights, we the people share the complicity to some degree. We have allowed government bodies at all levels to involve themselves in virtually every aspect of our lives, to snoop on us, to decide economic winners and losers, and to assume the role of moral arbiter — all in direct opposition to constitutional principles. More than likely, we could use a reminder ourselves.
So here it comes.
This Friday is Constitution Day, the culmination of Constitution Week. Teachers taking part in the Newspaper In Education (NIE) program will include special material on the Constitution in their lesson plans so that students can gain insight on this integral part of American heritage. Those of us no longer in school can take this opportunity to appreciate what the Constitution means — not just to Washington but the entire country.
It protects our right to worship as we please. It protects the sanctity of our homes and our persons. It allows a free press to keep people informed. It also outlines a framework for a government whose ability to wield its power ends precisely where your rights begin. It does all those things and a lot more.
The Constitution is supposed to be one of this country’s guiding lights. Let’s do our part to make sure it’s not used solely as a torch at the latest political bonfire.