Don Knotts, one of the great comedians of his day, demonstrates how little his character Barney Fife recalled about the preamble of the US Constitution. Ezra Klein, leftist blogger and columnist for the Washington Post would be pleased. Recently he said:
The issue with the Constitution is that the text is confusing because it was written more than a hundred years ago and what people believe it says differs from person to person and differs depending on what they want to get done.
My co-blogger Paul Zummo, at The American Catholic where we also both blog, patiently explains to Mr. Klein why his comment is nonsense:
So the Constitution is confusing because it was written over a hundred years ago (actually it’s over 200 years old, but let’s not let little details like that deter us)? A fascinating comment coming from a Jewish intellectual, because the Hebrew Scriptures are a wee bit more than a hundred years old. Should we disregard the Bible because it was written centuries ago – and in several different languages? Also, it’s not as though the Constitution was written in old English. Sure there are some stylistic flourishes that were more common in 18th century America, but one doesn’t need some sort of secret decoder ring to decipher the meaning of the text. One need not be a PhD in ancient languages to understand the Constitution.
Klein’s comment is quite revealing, though. This is the main bone of contention that most Progressives have with the Constitution – it’s old. It was written over two hundred years ago by some dead white men, and therefore those of us living should not bind ourselves to some outdated and “confusing” text. This is an attitude as old as the Constitution itself, and is implicit in Thomas Jefferson’s advocacy of changing the Constitution every 20 years.
What we see behind this attitude as expressed by Klein is a disdain for permanent things. It is the core issue that separates progressives and conservatives. Conservatives seek to preserve the heritage of the Constitution – and not just for the sake of it. We recognize that if we turn the Constitution into a mutable plaything, ever changing with the times, then we might as well discard the thing and live under the temporary whims of whoever is in charge of the federal government.