THE BLOG

Constitution, Shmonstitution!

Our beloved commander in chief recently blasted the Constitution as "just a goddamned piece of paper." This may be the first true thing -- perhaps the only true thing -- that George W. Bush has ever said.

Mr. Bush probably doesn't understand the meaning of the words "strategy" or "victory," and he sure doesn't appreciate concepts like honesty or integrity or self-determination. People pursuing truth, integrity or self-determination at home are called traitors; abroad, they are terrorists. Freedom of the press means something truly unusual and odd to our dear president. The Bush war on terror and the Bush occupation of Iraq both qualify as confusing and disturbing activities for our ostensible Republic. Counterproductive and often illegal, they are yet vigorously and even passionately pursued by our republican and democratic leadership, heads bowed, in reverence and hopefulness, towards the Oval Office.

But George gets it right on the Constitution. The guy who penned the Declaration of Independence had little direct participation in the subsequent Constitution. That guy believed "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants" and that "Our liberty depends upon the freedom of the press."

Bush's contempt for the Constitution as a restraint on rapacious state power was typical of many of the founding fathers. When Bush denounces the "piece of paper," particularly those troublesome first ten amendments, he is reflecting the views held by Madison and Hamilton and others who felt it more correct and useful to establish a strong and powerful central state and an even stronger executive. Jefferson, from his position overseas as the United States minister to France, pushed hard for the Bill of Rights and the idea of securing private property, and persons, from a hungry central state.

From President Jefferson to President George W. Bush, we are witnesses to a stark and frightening intellectual devolution. But Jefferson knew well what Dubya sees through a glass darkly. The Constitution, some years after our War of Independence, was designed to establish a more centralized state, with a stronger executive -- perhaps even a kingly commander. It was only reluctantly and weakly constrained by those amendments we call the Bill of Rights, and in light of Patriot Act renewals and a host of other infringements, it is primarily that part of the Constitution Bush so heartily denigrates.

The Constitution really is just a piece of paper, designed by those who wanted a centralized state with a strong leader. It was only mildly amended in its design for central power by Jefferson, and Jefferson understood how weak those amendments would prove to be. To naively expect the state to voluntarily constrain itself, to expect a Congress to actually balance or control a President who values the same centralized ideal, would be to naively expect Congress to hear its constitutents and overwhelmingly reject any renewal of the Patriot Act.

We would do well to study Jefferson. When we are ready to set off on another bloody rebellion against a power mad tyrant, perhaps next time we can have the party within our own borders.