I was on a radio show earlier today where E.J. Dionne was one of the liberal panelists. Dionne argued that liberals shouldn’t make fun of House Republicans for their public reading of the Constitution “because it is our Constitution too.” (I’m quoting from memory.) But he allowed that the Constitution meant different things to liberals and conservatives. He elaborated on this view in his Washington Post column:
From its inception, the Tea Party movement has treated the nation’s great founding document not as the collection of shrewd political compromises that it is but as the equivalent of sacred scripture.
Yet as Gordon Wood, the widely admired historian of the Revolutionary era has noted, we “can recognize the extraordinary character of the Founding Fathers while also knowing that those 18th-century political leaders were not outside history. . . . They were as enmeshed in historical circumstances as we are, they had no special divine insight into politics, and their thinking was certainly not free of passion, ignorance, and foolishness.”
An examination of the Constitution that views it as something other than the books of Genesis or Leviticus would be good for the country.
I’ll leave aside the obvious snark about liberals’ respect for the books of Genesis or Leviticus and get to the main point: The argument for strict adherence to the Constitution doesn’t rest on the Constitution being “sacred scripture” or the Founding Fathers having a “special divine insight into politics” (though I’d definitely take them over the contemporary political class). The Founding Fathers had their disagreements and their flaws, but the Constitution was the final document containing their compromises about what the federal government should and should not do.
The federal government is bound by the Constitution not because the Constitution or its Framers were perfect, but because it is the instrument through which the people delegated power to the federal government. This is a government of laws, not of imperfect men, and constitutional government is lawful government.