Today E.J. Dionne writes about the Declaration of Independence. More specifically, he compares Tea Party rhetoric with sections of the Declaration to demonstrate that the baggers are not exactly the Founding Fathers’ representatives on earth they make themselves out to be. “We are at odds over the meaning of our history and why, to quote our Declaration of Independence, ‘governments are instituted,'” Dionne says. It’s a very good column, and I recommend reading it. See also Steve Benen.
Dionne also takes a swipe at Rick Perry —
This misunderstanding of our founding document is paralleled by a misunderstanding of our Constitution. â€œThe federal government was created by the states to be an agent for the states, not the other way around,â€ Gov. Rick Perry of Texas said recently.
No, our Constitution begins with the words â€œWe the Peopleâ€ not â€œWe the States.â€ The Constitutionâ€™s Preamble speaks of promoting â€œa more perfect Union,â€ â€œJustice,â€ â€œthe common defense,â€ â€œthe general Welfareâ€ and â€œthe Blessings of Liberty.â€ These were national goals.
Hold that thought.
The literacy challenged Robert Stacy McCain posted about the Dionne column, and he mis-characterized Dionne’s column as a claim that people are not capable of understanding the Declaration, which was not the point.
To prove that people can understand the Declaration, McCain posted the entire text of the Declaration. He may not understand what the text means, but the boy can copy and paste with the best of ’em.
But then the commenters go on to disprove McCain — the Declaration is right in front of them, and they have no idea what it means. So, apparently, they really aren’t capable of understanding it.
Dionne: “This misunderstanding of our founding document is paralleled by a misunderstanding of our Constitution. â€œThe federal government was created by the states to be an agent for the states, not the other way around,â€ Gov. Rick Perry of Texas said recently. No, our Constitution begins with the words â€œWe the Peopleâ€ not â€œWe the States.â€
Right there, in a nutshell; he doesn’t understand that ‘the States,’ in this regard, are representatives of their citizenry, and speak in those citizens’ voice and name, not the other way around.
Against my better judgment, I responded —
Speaking of the Declaration, you may have missed the part where it says,
“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation
on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
In the minds of the Founders, governments ultimately take their legitimacy from the people, not from other governments.
What I didn’t say was — you’ve got the bleeping text of the bleeping Declaration right in front of you, and you still can’t see it!
Further — originally in the Constitution, it was understood that the states were represented in the Senate but the people, not the states, were represented in the House. In Federalist Paper #52, James Madison described his idea for the House of Representatives to be the “branch of the federal government which ought to be dependent on the people alone” and not on state governments. So while we think of representatives as being from states, they are not representing the states but the people. Go give Federalist #52 a careful read if you don’t believe me.
So, while the Constitution was ratified by delegates from the states, it was not created to be an agent of the states alone. Some parts of it were set up to represent the interests of states, but other parts of it directly represent the interests of the people directly. And the federal government ultimately takes its authority to govern from the people, not the states.
Another commenter disagreed with this, saying, “the federal government gets its *just*” powers to govern from the Constitution, not from the people or the states.”
To which I did not say —
“Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
This is the foundational philosophy that our country was built on; this was Jefferson laying out the moral justification for declaring independence. It’s right there bleeping in front of your face, and you can’t see it.
But I didn’t say that. I said,
No, you’re confusing two different things. The Constitution lays out the charter of how the government is structured and how the state and federal governments relate to each other, and of course it is the supreme law of the land. But the Constitution takes its authority from the consent of We, the People; see the preamble and also the Declaration.
This same commenter, btw, seems also to want to appeal the 17th Amendment and give the job of choosing senators back to state governments. Yeah, state governments are so much better.
The next rightie site I looked at was American Power, where our friend DD (I am not linking to him because if I do he will spend the next three days finding ways around the twit filter to drool on my blog) wrote,
Anyone can cherry pick the founding documents to find passages and quotations to fit their agenda. Progressives like Dionne are depressed that it’s been conservatives and libertarians who’ve been much more successful in capturing and representing the spirit of individual liberty animating our political culture.
But, weirdly, it’s the righties who are moving away from the spirit of the Declaration, and its argument that the just powers of government come from the consent of the governed, from We, the People. If you present this idea to them — plainly stated in the Declaration, which they apparently really can’t read — they blink at you as if you were speaking Martian. It’s an utterly alien idea to them.