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  • Constitutional Mythbusters

    What do the presidential candidates think about the Constitution? In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Seth Lipsky proposed a televised debate for GOP presidential candidates to discuss their views on the Constitution. Sounds great! But if we are going to have a real conversation about the Constitution, let’s not waste time responding to trite fictions about our Founding document. The Constitution has been around for 224 years—long enough for rumors to spread. We at New Common Sense have been keeping track of them. Here’s a look at the top 5 myths about the Constitution:

    1. The Constitution is racist: There is no better way to end a heated conversation about the Constitution than to claim that the Constitution is racist. In his feature on the Constitution, Time magazine managing editor Richard Stengel dismissed the Constitution because the Framers “gave us the idea that a black person was three-fifths of a human being.”

    The Constitution does not classify people according to race. Free blacks in the North and the South were counted on par with whites for purposes of apportionment. Southern states wanted slaves to count as full persons to inflate pro-slavery representation in the House of Representatives. The three-fifths compromise was designed to prevent Southern states from magnifying their political power. The word “slave” or “slavery” never appears in the Constitution. When the 13th Amendment was ratified, not a single word of the Constitution needed to be deleted. As the escaped slave turned abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, once commented: the Constitution “was never, in its essence, anything but an anti-slavery government.”

    2. There is no way to know what the Constitution means: When asked on MSNBC to comment on the 112th Congress’s decision to read the Constitution aloud, Washington Post writer Ezra Klein replied “The issue of the Constitution is that the text is confusing because it was written more than 100 years ago and what people believe it says differs from person to person and differs depending on what they want to get done.”

    Thanks to commentaries, pamphlets, letters, well-documented debates, and drafting records from the Founding, the meaning of the Constitution is, in fact, knowable. The Federalist is one of the clearest explanations of the meaning of the Constitution. The Heritage Guide to the Constitution offers a clause-by-clause explanation and analysis of the Constitution.

    3. The Constitution is an outdated, 18th century document: Certain that the Constitution is trapped in the 18th century, one publishing company warns readers of its pocket Constitution: “This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today.”

    Assuredly, the daily habits of American life have changed since 1787. But technological advances do not necessitate a new Constitution.  The Constitution contains no outdated, 18th century policy prescriptions and is not tied to the material and social conditions of a bygone age. Rather, the Constitution establishes the process by which our elected officials make policies. Through these processes, the American people of any era can deliberate, via their elected representatives at the state or federal level, on the issues of the day.

    4. The Constitution’s meaning evolves with the times: To the extent that the American left praises the Framers, it is because they “wisely left the Constitution open to generations of reinterpretation.” The left presumes that the Constitution can address today’s questions only if its meaning evolves.

    The Constitution means the same thing today as it did two hundred years ago: a republican framework of government that addresses the political questions of the day, whatever these questions may be. The Constitution’s words have a fixed meaning: they do not support perpetual reinterpretation. As former Attorney General Edwin Meese III explains, our written Constitution merits a particular interpretive approach: “where the language of the Constitution is specific, it must be obeyed. Where there is demonstrable consensus among the Founders and ratifiers as to a principle stated or implied in the Constitution, it should be followed. Where there is ambiguity as to the precise meaning or reach of a constitutional provision, it should be interpreted and applied in a manner so as to at least not contradict the text of the Constitution itself.”

    5. Judges determine what the Constitution means: As Representative Bob Brady (D-PA) quipped: “Let the Supreme Court deal with the Constitution. Congress passes laws. That’s what we do.”

    The Constitution is not whatever judges say it means. All members of the government take an oath to defend the Constitution: as a result, the president and the legislature have a duty to interpret and follow the Constitution. In reality, the Supreme Court’s decisions are binding on the parties involved, but these decisions do not rise to the status of supreme law of the land “binding on all persons and parts of government henceforth and forevermore.”

    With these myths aside, let’s have a real conversation about the Constitution. How does tonight sound?


    Posted in First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    8 Responses to Constitutional Mythbusters

    1. George says:

      Not only does the Constitution not say "slave" or "slavery," but the document uses no less than three different expressions to refer to African slaves. The Framers were embarrassed by the sin of slavery, and there would be no United States today without some kind of compromise with the southern colonies. Does that make it okay? Well, no — but to say the document and the authors were inherently racist, and they should all be dismissed out of hand, is a laugher for the ages.

      • Cheryl says:

        It is critical to view the document in the time period it was written — rather than with 21st century vision. Your history is correct as I understand it. Nonetheless, I do not apologize for the Framers because when the document was written slavery was a fact.

    2. Jeff, Illinois says:

      One thing's for sure the country's founding fathers would be aghast at the present GOP. What's patriotic about statements that the number one mission of the GOP is to make sure our President does not get re-elected . . or that they've all signed a Grover Norquist pledge to not raise taxes for any reason, . . or a party that's completely sold out to billionaire corporations and recently sent a letter to the Fed directing that that institution to do nothing that might help the economy (( and in affect . . which might help the President )).

    3. West Texan says:

      The written constitution in itself is not perfect, but it's original intent is darned close. Unfortunately, all three branches of federal government over time have purposely grabbed evermore power in the name of social progress. Nice sounding phrase that hides the unfair advantage used against law abiding citizens and their home states. Article VI, section 2 is a good example showing the manipulative use of the supremacy clause, which sought to protect people's inherited freedoms. Instead, self-promoting politicians and self-righteous judges have used the clause to satisfy their own personal and ideological goals, respectively. The Bill of Rights did limit some of this aggressive unethical behavior, Unfortunately, the demagogues and wannabe tyrants figured out how to abuse the amendment process, like stripping states' of national representation via the 17th con job.

    4. Bobbie says:

      Government representative that sees threats to America and the peoples Constitution is rightful and honorable to call out the leadership that's destroying it.

    5. West Texan says:

      " … but [its] original intent … " Happens every-time I hit send. I welcome grammatical editing.

    6. Restrict Government says:

      We the people are the best defenders of the Constitution. But we must be educated as to the words and intent of the constitution. By the members of Congress, by the president of the United States, and by the Supreme Court feeling free to changea Constitution and expand their powers, the purpose of government has expanded to control every aspect of our lives. Only by promoting the intent of the Constitution to those members of the branches of local, state, and federal governments can the people ever expect to return to a time when their lives were in there hands.

    7. wesinthemidwest says:

      The Constitution is a great document.
      Now we just have to find an administration that will honor it and
      follow it instead of trying to subvert it.

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