Editor's note: This column was co-authored by Ken Klukowski
Time magazine’s cover story shows the U.S. Constitution and asks, “Does it still matter?” Reading this story, we kept waiting for Emmanuel Goldstein to show up for the Two Minutes of Hate. It was difficult to discern whether we were reading Time, or Orwells’ 1984.
It portrays the Constitution as an outmoded document that we should ignore to whatever extent is expedient to pursue someone’s vision of a better society: “We cannot let the Constitution become an obstacle to a future with a sensible health care system, a globalized economy, and evolving sense of civil and political rights.”
The story shows all sorts of poll questions that present a false choice, such as, “The 14th Amendment says that any person born in the U.S. automatically becomes a U.S. citizen… Should [it] be revised?” The Citizenship Clause says no such thing, because it adds that anyone “not subject to the jurisdiction” of the U.S. is not a citizen.
That’s why children of foreign ambassadors, prisoner soldiers and heads of state born here do not become citizens. The question is how broad that “jurisdiction” clause is. Could Congress exclude illegal aliens? It’s an active debate in legal circles, with no clear answer.
Instead, the questions should have included: “Are you more interested in the Constitution today that you were four years ago?” “Do you agree or disagree with candidates discussing the Constitution more in their campaign speeches this year?” “Are you now aware that the Constitution only vests the federal government with power of specific areas of life, leaving the states sovereign to decide all other issues?”
Or questions on enduring constitutional principles. “Do you agree with the Supreme Court’s 1803 pronouncement that any law contrary to the Constitution is null and void?” “Every government officer (including every judge) takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Should they apply its original meaning to current challenges?”
Does the Constitution still matter? Look at huge crowds of Americans cheering at rallies, whether it’s a spending protest or a pro-life rally. It matters to them, and they vote.
The story was so riddled with distortions that it obscured its message. For example, it says we must raise the debt ceiling because, “the idea that we can default on our debt is not only reckless; it’s probably unconstitutional.” It twists a provision from the 14th Amendment that has nothing to do with the debt ceiling.
The reality is, revenue government collects every month so vastly exceeds our debt payments that we could easily meet our monthly obligations. We would just have to cut discretionary spending on other programs. But it’s deceptive to suggest that not raising the ceiling automatically causes default, and it’s wrong to suggest it’s unconstitutional.
The most disappointing part of the article mischaracterizes the Obamacare legal fight. It says Obamacare’s individual mandate requiring you to buy health insurance is constitutional because government takes your money in taxes and requires you to buy car insurance.
The writer obliviously ignores that the Constitution expressly creates a federal government of enumerated powers. The feds can tax you because of the Taxing Clause of the Constitution (though even then only four types of taxes are legal—not the mandate). And states have authority to make you buy car insurance under state police power, but if the feds required it, such a law would be illegal because the feds have no police power.
Since there is no Healthcare Clause in the Constitution, the feds try cramming it in the Commerce Clause. That’s the whole fight: Whether Congress can control your personal decisions whenever Congress declares such decisions impact interstate commerce.
Every decision in your life has some tangential relationship to interstate commerce. Does that mean the Constitution allows the government to control your every decision? It makes a mockery of the concept of limited government.
The story concludes, “The Constitution serves the nation; the nation does not serve the Constitution.” The connotation is that we shouldn’t be too slavish in our fidelity to the Constitution.
Like the rest of this article, its conclusion misses the point. The Constitution serves the American people as an unbreakable constraint on those in power, dictating their duties and the limits on their authority. The Constitution serves We the People by requiring every government official to take an oath to obey its every word.
The picture art at the outset of Time’s story showed the Constitution cut in dozens of narrow vertical strips. Clearly it had been run through a paper shredder.
Evidently this is wishful thinking for some on the Far Left. The only problem is that it’s false. Interest in the Constitution is resurgent, and that renewed interest is the key to America’s renewal in our third century.
Ken Blackwell and Ken Klukowski are fellows at the American Civil Rights Union, on faculty at Liberty University, and authors of Resurgent: How Constitutional Conservatism Can Save America.