In a Washington Post op-ed, E.J. Dionne calls for progressives to reclaim a document that was never theirs, the principles of which are anathema to his fellow progressives. That document is the Constitution.
Dionne is responding to National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru, who wrote that there is “popular interest in constitutionalism,” and its arbiters should extend beyond lawyers and judges to “legislators, and even citizen-activists, [who] have an independent duty to evaluate the constitutionality of legislation.”
Such a concept should not seem revolutionary. The Constitution derives its power from the consent of the governed who elect representatives tasked with expressly delegated powers. All else falls to the states or the people.
Why shouldn’t individuals take an interest in the Constitutionality of legislation passed on their behalf? After all, law is force and represents an encroachment on the people’s liberty – it must be scrutinized under the Constitution or law will lose legitimacy.
But Dionne sees things differently:
“One plausible progressive response is to see Ponnuru’s exercise as doomed from the start. The framers could not possibly have foreseen what the world would look like in 2014. In any event, they got some important things wrong, most glaringly their document’s acceptance of slavery.”
On the first charge, Dionne overlooks the fact that those who created our system of government were astute students of history with a keen understanding of human nature. Dionne neglects the founders’ understanding that the winds of public opinion would inevitably change, they also knew that human nature was unchanging.
The framers studied the governments of great nations that came before them, and formulated a system rooted in the Judeo-Christian principles on which Western civilization is based.
Their emphasis was on ensuring power be divided, checked and balanced to prevent tyranny. They did so because they were wisely mistrustful of fallible man, having studied the classics and seen man’s tendency towards folly.
Not only were they reverent of the past but humble as to their ability to see into the future. Although the founders may not have seen the advent of the federal income tax or the creation of the IRS, EPA, NSA, DOE and the rest of the alphabet soup of bureaucracy, they created a structure that would allow for the system to develop within bounds. They sought to ensure that such changes would be highly difficult to make so as to limit capriciousness, protect the rights of the minority, and again, ultimately prevent tyranny.