Wednesday, August 24, 2005

"The Constitution Is For The People"

...so says Chris Bowers:

I carry a copy of the Constitution in my wallet. I keep a copy in every room of my home. I have read the Constitution more than one hundred times. Yet, despite this, I could not tell you what, for lack of a better term, my "philosophy" of the Constitution is.

I may not be able to tell you what my philosophy is, but conservatives can certainly tell you their's. In public, most of them would say they are "strict constitutionalists," and in private a few may tell you that they see "the Constitution in exile." Now, whether or not these frames actually signal a set of ideas people agree with or not, they do at least signal a set of ideas. Because of this, progressives start at a terrible disadvantage in any discussion about the the judicial system. While conservatives have a concise, powerful way to explain their philosophy on the judiciary, more often than not progressives are forced to rely on a laundry list of individual issues. When attempting say, in the case of Roberts, to oppose a conservative nominee, this forces progressives to either try and find one or two smoking guns to expose someone as a radical conservative, or to rely upon an always tenuous "death by a thousand paper cuts" strategy. This means that we are always playing from behind, because they have a philosophy and can explain it, while we must argue the merits of every case in and of itself.

In short, like so many other areas of politics, when it comes to the judiciary we are totally lacking a vision or a set of core values that allows us to engage in a permanent campaign or broad-based movement. Fortunately, however, I think because there has been so much discussion about the judiciary over the past four months, this is a problem that can be quickly remedied. While conservatives view the Constitution as a dead document, a piece of paper that is to be examined entirely in and of itself, progressives always view the Constitution in the context for which it was created: the people of the United States.

The vision of "the Constitution is for the People" is a rejection and an opposition force to "strict Constitution-ism." It believes all of the following:

-The Constitution, written for and approved by the people of the United States, is a living document that is open to change and interpretation by the people of the United States.
-The Constitution, written in order to secure the blessings of liberty, guarantees a general right to privacy.
-The Constitution, written in order to promote the general welfare, allows for broad social investment on the part of the federal government.
-The Constitution, written in order to form a more perfect union, protects the rights of minorities, no matter what sort of minority they may be.

Perhaps it is because I spent so long in graduate school studying literature and other texts, but the obvious philosophical counter to any "text in and of itself" critical methodology is a "text within social context" methodology. To me, it is as clear as day, and I am surprised that I did not see it before, and that more progressives do not use it. Conservatives view the Constitution as dead, as simply a piece of paper. Progressives view the Constitution in its proper context: the people of the United States. That is, after all, the first phrase in the Constitution: "we, the people." That is the proper context in which it should be read, not in some neo-New Critical, quasi-structuralist, text-in-and-of-itself manner. Language, like America, is always alive, and can only be understood within context. The Constitution is for the people. That's my philosophy, and in conjunction with any individual issues surrounding and specific to current and future Bush nominees, it is a philosophy I would like to start seeing more Democrats and progressives express in public.

Couldn't agree more. Post here.

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