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'The Whole Constitution Pledge’ -- Taking our Nation’s Charter Back from the Tea Party

Thursday, September 15, 2011

This post is part of an ACSblog Constitution Week Symposium. By Doug Kendall, President, and Judith Schaeffer, Vice President, Constitutional Accountability Center  

As ACS members know, our Constitution is under attack from tea partiers and other self-professed “constitutional conservatives” who have claimed the document as their own and distorted it to support their ideological agenda. Over the past two years, they have made increasingly extreme, and in some cases absurd, claims about our Nation’s charter. They started with calls to repeal a number of Amendments, including the part of the 14th Amendment that protects citizenship at birth. They progressed to claims that Social Security, Medicare, and portions of the Affordable Care Act are unconstitutional. It’s gotten to the point where it seems that many in the tea party believe the entire 20th Century was unconstitutional. Talk about a bridge to the 21st Century!  The tea party movement seems to want to build a bridge back to the colonial era and the Articles of Confederation.

There is no greater threat to progressive values than this effort to make progress itself unconstitutional. This week, Constitutional Accountability Center and our partner organizations, including the Center for American Progress and People For the American Way Foundation, launched a coordinated effort  -- Constitutional Progressives -- to take our Constitution back and rebut the constitutional fairy tales being peddled by tea party leaders. Our greatest assets in doing so are the text and history of the Constitution itself.

Constitutional Progressives celebrate the Framers for creating the best and most durable form of government in world history, but believe the Constitution today is better than the document ratified in 1789.  Generations of Americans have made our country and our Constitution “more perfect” by ratifying Amendments that have eliminated slavery, protected liberty and equality, expanded the powers of the federal government, and secured voting rights for every adult citizen in America.   

This story of constitutional improvement should inspire all Americans, and we’re asking people across the political spectrum to join Constitutional Progressives by signing the “Whole Constitution Pledge” --  a pledge to support the entire Constitution, including the Amendments adopted over the last 220 years. The Pledge can be signed on line, here. More than 15,000 people across the country have already signed. We’ve made a similar call to all Members of Congress, urging them on Constitution Day to reaffirm their constitutional oath of office -- their pledge to support the whole Constitution, not just the parts they like or find ideologically convenient.

Constitutional Progressives has an ambitious agenda. We will build a grassroots force able to rescue the true meaning of the Constitution. We will closely monitor and respond to the errors and distortions of “constitutional conservatives” and correct the historical record about what the Constitution says and means. We will oppose misguided efforts to amend the Constitution, reverse constitutional progress, and ignore the wisdom of our constitutional forebears. And we will support leaders who respect the whole Constitution and equip them with the constitutional and historical expertise and messaging to respond effectively to the errors and distortions of constitutional conservatives.

Prominent leaders are already lining up behind Constitutional Progressives. This week, Sen. John Kerry sent all of his fellow senators a “Dear Colleague” letter supporting Constitutional Progressives and echoing our call for leaders to reaffirm their constitutional oaths of office on Constitution Day. And, in a written statement, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy echoed Sen. Kerry and called for senators to pledge to the Constitution, not pressure groups.

We hope and expect that these voices will rise to a chorus in the coming weeks and months for a very simple reason and we hope ACS members will join in this effort. The Constitution should be, and it needs to be, a document that unites Americans, rather than one that divides us along ideological lines. We hope you’ll join us by signing the Whole Constitution Pledge, and telling your friends, too. Together, we can take back the progressive Constitution.