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On Constitution Day, the document lives on in political debates

In many ways, views about the Constitution are reflected in the debate over how President Obama is handling the issues of the day.

By Staff writer / September 17, 2009

In this April 22 file photo, the White House, Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial are seen in Washington.

Ron Edmonds / AP / File



There aren’t fireworks or turkey, but Thursday is Constitution Day.

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Two hundred twenty-two years ago, George Washington and the gang argued their way to the Constitution’s approval, causing Ben Franklin to sigh, “It’s a republic, if you can keep it.”

This old piece of parchment defines the limits of federal government and guarantees the self-determination of its citizen benefactors. But make no mistake: Although those ideas have been around for a while, they’re very much alive today – and part of current heated debates.

This summer has put America's "owner's manual" to the test. Government reforms, bailouts, Second Amendment rights, and the quarrel over White House “czars” all touch on constitutional points. And in many ways, the debate revolves around how President Obama has handled the issues of the day.

In the eyes of many liberals, Obama is expanding the Constitution’s notions of “general welfare” for the common good. For conservatives, Obama’s initiatives amount to one of the greatest challenges to the Founders’ intent to limit the scope of federal government.

The philosophical battle under way may even come to define the Obama presidency.

“It’s in our national psyche basically, after so many years of fighting communism and socialism and collectivism, to have someone in such a prominent position proposing things that, while not socialist, have the same feel – a common good, greater welfare of all people,” says Michael Boldin, director of the Tenth Amendment Center, which espouses limited federal government. “When people hear that, there’s a natural resistance to it.”

Liberal groups have begun to refer to people drifting to federalist ideals as “tenthers” for focusing on the 10th Amendment directive that all powers not granted to the federal government were reserved to the states or the people.

“Such retreat to fringe constitutional theories is one of the right’s favorite tactics during times of historic upheaval,” writes Ian Millhiser in a recent issue of the liberal American Prospect magazine.