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News of the Day: Which Constitution?

News of the Day: Which Constitution?

July 8th, 2019 // 9:03 pm @

I. Today in the News

There is so much going on in the news these days–big events that have major potential to influence the future of our nation and freedom. Unfortunately, almost all the news is reported with strong partisan leanings. The slant and spin are frequently overwhelming.

To respond, I’ve decided to do an in-the-news series that steps away from current partisan spin and addresses the big news of the day from the perspective of the U.S. Constitution and the viewpoint of the American Founding. It will give readers a different way to look at things. I’ll try to keep these brief and to the point, just a few paragraphs per post. I hope you will comment and share so this can influence people…

II. July 2019: Which Constitution?

Myth: The other side (Democrats or Republicans) don’t care about the Constitution.

Fact: Actually they do. Both sides care deeply about the Constitution. But, it turns out, they care about different Constitutions. This isn’t surprising, given the way Red and Blue State cultures tend to disagree on almost everything. But most people, on both sides, don’t understand the way the other side passionately likes the Constitution. Here’s a quick primer.

Blind men describing an elephant

Three scholars (Pozen, Talley, and Nyarko) tallied speeches and comments made on the floor of Congress between 1873 and 2016 and put them to computational analysis. (See “Republicans and Democrats are Describing Two Different Constitutions“, The Atlantic, June 2, 2019) They learned that “…today’s conservatives” use the following constitutionally-charged terms a lot:

  • Founding Fathers
  • First Amendment
  • Second Amendment
  • Tenth Amendment
  • individual liberty
  • original intent
  • inalienable rights
  • states’ rights
  • limits on government

Democrats, in contrast, are more likely to use the following constitutionally-charged terms:

  • equality
  • federal authority
  • flawed origins of the Constitution
  • civil rights
  • right to vote
  • government power

While Republicans tend to emphasize the stories and values of the American founding, Democrats the stories and values of Reconstruction and the Civil Rights era. When speaking of American flaws, Democrats frequently point to the Antebellum South while Republicans often criticize the counter-culture wars of the 1960s.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress do tend to agree on one thing: citing the Constitution to make their point. However, as Pozen, Talley and Nyarko put it:

“To an unprecedented extent, Republican and Democratic members of Congress no longer speak the same constitutional language. Underlying this polarization of constitutional discourse…are competing constitutional vocabularies.”

Bring up a controversial issue, and both sides are likely to appeal to the Constitution for support. (e.g. “The Constitution requires Trump to give Congress his tax returns” vs. “The Constitution prohibits the Treasury from giving Congress the President’s tax returns.”) The two sides cite different clauses in many cases, and nearly always provide opposite definitions and commentaries.

The bad news: the Constitution isn’t a unifying document in modern partisan politics. No surprise there. But it’s unfortunate. The good news, however, is that our nation’s top officials and experts are providing such different accounts and explanations of the Constitution that the only way most people can separate fact from fiction is to read the document for themselves. We’ve reached an ironic juncture in our era of hyper-partisanship:

Americans who want to know the real answers need to read the Constitution.

Not a bad place to be. And before you discount this and assume almost nobody from the “other side” will do it, stop and ask yourself:

Will you?

Is understanding what’s actually happening in the news worth a few minutes a day of looking it up in our nation’s most important document?


Category : Blog &Citizenship &Community &Constitution &Culture &Current Events &Education &Featured &Generations &Government &History &Independents &Information Age &Leadership &Liberty &Politics

One Comment → “News of the Day: Which Constitution?”


  1. Daniel Felsted

    2 months ago

    Along these lines, we have to constantly ask questions of those who disagree with us to try to get past their emotions on the issue and get to how they’ve come to these feelings. We don’t get anywhere when our emotions rule the conversation. I’ve found that it is so hard to be rational when it’s needed. Thanks for making me think more about this issue.


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