If Americans understand and appreciate their Constitution, they'll be utterly horrified at remarks by Barack Obama in a 2001 Chicago radio interview released this week.
That's a big "if" of course. We have evolved into a society that elevates convenience and expedience above nearly anything else -- including, perhaps, constitutional principles and freedom itself. And the Constitution doesn't seem to be a high priority in public education or public life anymore; it's not all together certain how well we understand our founding document in 2008. We shall see on Nov. 4.
In the startling radio interview, Obama, then a state senator in Illinois, laments that the Supreme Court of the 1960s "didn't break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution, at least as it has been interpreted."
"The Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of basic issues of political and economic justice in this society," Obama says.
Noting that the Constitution makes clear what the government can't do, Obama goes on to bemoan that "it doesn't say what the federal government or state government must do on your behalf."
Interesting. Barack Obama, who has cultivated comparisons to John F. Kennedy, absolutely turns Kennedy's famous inaugural exhortation on its head: Obama is, in unambiguous terms, imploring us to explore what the country can do for us.
But more importantly, these and other comments in the interview lay bare Barack Obama's view of this country and its government more completely than anything that has yet been seen or heard.
He believes the Constitution is "constraining" us from doing certain things, most prominently "redistributing" wealth.
On that fact, we agree. The Constitution does do that. We simply disagree on whether that's a good thing. Mr. Obama clearly believes not -- that the government should be used to etch out its bureaucratic version of "political and economic justice."
What, by the way, is "economic justice," if not allowing people to earn and keep whatever income their abilities, interests and efforts provide?
One wonders what Mr. Obama will really mean if he is asked to put his hand on a Bible and to pledge to uphold the Constitution.
We sometimes hear the term "constitutional crisis" bandied about. It hardly ever is one.
But this is.
The presidential frontrunner either ascribes to constitutional nullification -- the belief that the Constitution should just be ignored out of expediency -- or he is a devout follower of the equally troubling idea that the Constitution is a "living" document that means what contemporary society says it means. But if that's true -- that we can give it our own meaning at any time -- that, by design, renders the document bereft of its own meaning.
Joe the plumber scratched at the surface with his fingernails and exposed Barack Obama's political graveyard. Now, it has been unearthed for all to see.
The real question anymore isn't what political stuff he is made of. Or what he thinks of the Constitution and the role of government in our lives.
The question is whether Americans care.