Not too long ago it was popular for candidates to wrap themselves in the flag, you know, declare undying patriotism for the good old U.S. of A., but that was right after 9-11 when people were reportedly friendlier than they had been in decades.
There was a renewed sense of national unity back then, we were told. We had been attacked and needed to all pull together. Any behavior which questioned our reaction to the attacks was subject to being labeled “un-American.”
These days things have changed. Drivers might wave at you but without using all of their fingers, the Bush Administration has been painted as the cause of all our troubles, Dick Cheney has been vilified, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are booed and the new meme for politicians is to wave the Constitution rather than the flag. But there’s a danger with that of which you need to be aware.
The Constitution was written with the aid of some very well educated men. Despite the quaint story of how they were all farmers and merchants in reality they were deep thinkers with an education far different than any among modern politicians.
The framers of the Constitution were trained in the classics. They studied ancient history. They were well versed in The Bible. They lived in an era where the knowledge base was far more focused on how men interacted throughout history than how to program an I-phone.
The battle between good and evil was real. They had seen brutality at the hands of Tyrants with their own eyes, but more importantly, they had studied all of the methods by which men had tried to govern other men over the years and boldly exploded that notion, filling the void left by their actions with a government where men governed themselves. Their understanding of what the Constitution did had a far greater certainty to it than what lies at the base of modern zeal.
I have made a study of the Constitution all my life. I wrote papers about it in high school. I studied it in college. I focused upon it in Law School. I have practiced law in defense of the Constitution for 32 years. I have read about, written about and spoken about the Constitution for decades. And though I am encouraged to hear that more and more people are paying attention to it these days than they have for a long time, I perceive a danger.
You see, there is an inter-relationship between a number of our founding documents, such as The Bible, the Mayflower Compact, the Articles of Confederation, The Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers that many self-proclaimed “constitutional conservatives” ignore when proclaiming what the Constitution says.
In addition, while most of these people will loudly proclaim that the Constitution must be applied strictly as it was written, they will themselves often tell audiences what they think it says, thus interpreting it through their own set of biases in much the same way as the “activist judges” they so despise are frequently accused of doing.
And since I’ve met most of these folks who now treat the Constitution more as a talisman than as a legal document I can also tell you that few if any of them have read any of these other founding documents, read any of the ancient history which the authors of the Constitution had in mind when they drafted it and have read little if any of the various writings from that time or since which have discussed the contextual meaning of the words used or what the authors intended them to mean in the future.
Do I claim to be the pre-eminent expert? No. And I am very happy that more and more people are starting to read the Constitution. I am particularly pleased to see that more and more candidates have started to read the Constitution in light of the fact that their oath of office will require them to defend it.
But I am very concerned that any number of citizens who are not as motivated to read the document itself, and certainly not as motivated to spend over forty years studying Constitutional Law, are being treated as political prey by snake oil salesmen of the political type. I hope this is not the case, but I do see crowds responding with great enthusiasm to such candidates.
Instead, I’d rather be more optimistic and think that many of those candidates who have just discovered the Constitution are driven by the kind of passion that makes them kindred spirits with our founders. And if so, perhaps a word or two from one of the most senior, and most brilliant of them all, might help guide these newcomers on their journey.
What would Ben Franklin say? He might repeat on of his most famous quotations: “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.”
Marcus Carey is a Northern Kentucky lawyer with 32 years experience. He is also a farmer, talk radio host and public speaker who loves history and politics. He is a prolific and accomplished writer whose blog, BluegrassBulletin.com is “dedicated to honest and respectful comment on the political and cultural issues of our time.” He writes a regular commentary for KyForward.