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The Constitution, at Last


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National Review:

Charles R. Kesler

Once upon a time, and not so long ago, American politics revolved around the Constitution. Until the New Deal, and in certain respects until the mid-1960s, almost every major U.S. political controversy involved, at its heart, a dispute over the interpretation of the Constitution and its principles. Both of the leading political parties eagerly took part in these debates, because the party system itself had been developed in the early 19th century to pit two contenders (occasionally more) against each other for the honor of being the more faithful guardian of the Constitution and Union. Even from today’s distance, it isn’t hard to recall the epic clashes that resulted: the disputes over the constitutionality of a national bank, internal improvements, the extension of slavery, the legality and propriety of secession, civil rights, the definition and limits of interstate commerce, liberty of contract, the constitutionality of the welfare state, the federal authority to desegregate schools, and many others.

What’s different today is that, although it still matters, the Constitution is no longer at the heart of our political debates. Today’s partisans compete to lead the country into a better, more hopeful future, to get the economy moving again, to solve our social problems, even to fundamentally transform the nation. But to live and govern in accordance with the Constitution is not the first item on anybody’s platform, though few would deny, after a moment’s surprise at the question, that of course keeping faith with the Constitution is on the program somewhere — maybe on page two or three.

Presidents still swear (or affirm, for you sticklers) to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States,” and other state and federal officeholders take similar oaths. And, perforce, constitutional questions continue to arise now and then in our politics. But these rarely command center stage. The Democrats, for example, condemned George W. Bush’s supposed abuse of presidential war powers, but they never bothered to turn their carping into a doctrine; the only remedy they were really interested in was a change of personnel, and Barack Obama now carries out many of the previous administration’s policies without a whimper from the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.


H/T Power Line
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