Washington recently began a debate about whether there should be federal government action taken to change the American palate, so that consumer taste buds can adjust to the mandatory use of less salt. And John Loughlin, a candidate for Congress who recently visited my office with a copy of the Constitution, was not amused.
Loughlin, who is running as a Republican in Rhode Island, looked and looked in our nation's founding document. But he couldn't really find where fiddling with food fell in the scope of the government's business.
Loughlin is running for the seat currently occupied by the retiring Patrick Kennedy. Conveniently, Loughlin's dog-eared Constitution had "compliments of Rep. Patrick Kennedy" stamped on it. Everywhere I go some group seems to be handing a copy out. The Constitution, it seems, is the hottest ticket in town.
When I was talking to people and snapping pictures at a recent Tea Party, I ran into a man sitting and reading a Heritage Foundation pocket-sized version. At a cocktail party in Northern Virginia this week, I was handed another one from the American Civil Liberties Union. The list goes on.
And then there are the Turner women, who are all about "We the People."
Juliette Turner, the 12-year-old daughter of actress Janine Turner, a cast member on NBC's "Friday Night Lights," read the Constitution over spring break.
"I heard Sarah Palin say at a Tea Party that we need to educate ourselves about our government. And I asked, 'how'?" Janine told me of the inspiration to read and discuss the Constitution with her daughter. The senior Turner's answer to the question she posed is Constituting America. It's a nonprofit organization whose mission is "to reach, educate and inform America's youth and her citizens about the importance of the Constitution" and the rights it enshrines and protects.
Who is devaluing these rights? Well, just look around. In the "comprehensive" federal legislation pouring out from our nation's capital, it's freedom that gets sacrificed: Compelling abortion funding while trying to hide it in health-care "reform"; a banking "reform" bill which, "as it exists, now, is a change in our philosophy as a country," as Rep. Spencer Bachus, a Republican from Alabama, recently explained it to me.
Turner, like many a Tea Partier, understands such issues: "I'm afraid that our government seems to be infringing on too many areas of our life."
How did we get here? How do we reclaim our Founding identity? How about an essay contest? How about a blog? "I keep having a dream about a billboard on the Sunset Strip for constitutingamerica.org." Turner tells me. There's no billboard yet, but there's a communal reading going on. Constituting America's 90-day read-the-Constitution project is in full swing. Constituting America has constitutional scholars, activists, and think-tank analysts contributing to an accompanying blog.
And as for the contest: It's aimed at elementary-school, middle-school and high-school students. It incorporates verbal and Web video talents. Turner believes that people who creatively engage with the Constitution will be "on fire" as a citizens. "On fire" is a phrase you'll hear frequently from Turner, who has a passion for civics that channels exactly what I've seen at Tea Parties.
"Many of us are finding our voice right now," she says. They're going to protests and town halls and starting blogs and contributing to conservative politicians like Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and Marco Rubio, running for Senate in Florida, and realizing nothing is inevitable in politics. They are considering running for local office themselves.
And Janine Turner's task includes building the foundation for the next generation's civic voice, while encouraging all of us to do the same. Starting with her daughter and maybe with an opportunity for yours, too. Prizes include, appropriately, a visit to Constitution Hall.
I write this minutes after reading a piece about how the media is overblowing the Tea Party movement, which turns out to be just a lot of right-leaning Americans. It's not a revolutionary movement or a new phenomenon. It's Americans who see their views being sidelined by the majority power Washington, and asserting those views.
Turner, the daughter of a West Point graduate, stood next to me recently looking out on the National Mall. "I think our Founding Fathers would be proud," she said. Maybe not about too-big-to-fail banks or health care we can't pay for or infringements on civil liberties. But they would be proud of the fact that Americans are paying attention and getting involved and, instead of giving up, are fighting back.