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September 17, 2013 12:11 PM Constitution Day

By Ed Kilgore

I didn’t mention during the Daylight Video that this is Constitution Day, commemorating the signature of that document in 1787, mainly because there’s just not a lot of Constitution-oriented music out there beyond the stylings of Schoolhouse Rock.

But it’s worthwhile for progressives to pay some special attention today to the Constitution, if only to understand how it has been and is continuing to be misappropriated by some conservatives as an eternal charter for their particular kind of politics.

To put it bluntly, the U.S. Constitution is a brilliant if often frustrating blueprint for a democratic republic that fortunately provides for its own amendment, and relies on judicial interpretation for its continuing relevance. But it was not, best we can tell, written by a deity or derived from the pure essence of natural law. It did not actually incorporate the Declaration of Independence and its substantive claims about the structure of the universe. It required for its most basic functionality major modifications before and after a bloody civil war. It did not anticipate (and thus did not permanently proscribe) the economies or societies of the 20th or 21st centuries, which would have been entirely bewildering to the Founders, who did not, moreover, in holding out America as “exceptional” anticipate (though they would have applauded) the eventual replacement of Europe’s and Asia’s semi-feudal monarchies with constitutional democracies as vibrant as our own.

So on this and every other Constitution Day let’s honor the Founders and their document but push back against any effort to turn it into an idol or as authority for policies remote from the experiences of 1787. It’s sad that many of the people who carry little copies of the Constitution around with them (much like many who carry around Bibles) don’t seem to have any concept of it other than as a validation of their own political, economic and cultural biases. But thankfully we have the freedom and opportunity to read the Constitution and its long history for ourselves, without the interpreting services of the cult of Constitutional Conservatism.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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