Seth Lipsky has come up with the best campaign idea so far: a debate on the Constitution.
Watching the early clashes among the Republican presidential field leaves me hungering for a televised debate on the Constitution. America's fundamental law, raised as a flag in this campaign by the tea party, has been eddying in and out of the debates. So why limit it to glancing references?
Lipsky is author of "The Citizen's Constitution: An Annotated Guide" and he could be one of the questioners:
And what counsel from the Constitution would the candidates draw on immigration? What kind of responsibility do they feel is imposed on the federal government by the fact that the Constitution parcels the power to establish a uniform rule of naturalization not to the states but to the federal government? Does the word "uniform" lock the states out of making policy on immigration?
How about talking of the Federal Reserve and Ben Bernanke not in terms of treason but in terms of the Constitution? One of the candidates, Ron Paul, reckons the Federal Reserve Act is unconstitutional on its face. Do the other candidates agree? Where do they feel Congress gets the power to delegate monetary authority to the Fed?…
Mr. Perry is coming under attack for suggesting that not only is Social Security a Ponzi scheme but it is unconstitutional. Why might it be unconstitutional? There are several Supreme Court cases saying that it is constitutional, but one of them was decided by a vote of five to four. It would be illuminating to hear where in the dissents Mr. Perry might find his standing….
I don't know if the term "living Constitution" had come along when FDR was in the White House, but he said that the Constitution was "like the Bible" and ought "to be read and read again."This was about the time he tried to pack the Supreme Court.
So what about the current generation? There is so much to debate about the Constitution-war powers, gay marriage, birthright citizenship, the gold standard, the role of the vice president, campaign funding. One could go on. Holding a debate centered on the Constitution could bring a coherence to the campaign.
And also some fun. One of the big issues this year is the Commerce Clause, one of the grounds on which the Obama administration is claiming the right to have passed ObamaCare. The clause gives Congress the power to "regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes." Do the candidates who reckon that Congress can use this clause to reach into a state to regulate economic activity there also reckon that they can reach into foreign nations and the Indian tribes and regulate their commerce, too?
Why stop with the primaries? I am going to add something to Mr. Lipsky's suggestion: a debate on the Constitution in the general election. President Obama was hailed as a constitutional law professor (his actual title was "senior lecturer", but FactCheck says that the U of Chicago says that this was "regarded" as a law professor), and now he has been president for nearly three years. I can't imagine I wouldn't be enthralled by whatever the president has to say about the document.
Can you imagine the rehearsals for this debate?