Today, September 17, is Constitution Day. Spearheaded by the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), Congress passed a resolution in 2004 as rider to an omnibus spending bill setting aside this particular day to celebrate the ratification of the Constitution, the document that provides the framework of the federal government and the rights protected under the Bill of Rights.
The Constitution has experienced somewhat of a resurgence in the last several years, perhaps because of the polarization of political opinions in the United States as well as attempts by presidents from both parties attempts consume more power for the executive branch. The revelations about the National Security Agency, efforts to censor speech, expand gun control laws are just the tip of the iceberg of attempts to trample the rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.
In his presidential proclamation marking Constitution Day, President Barack Obama offered some insight into how he views the Bill of Rights. “Our Constitution reflects the values we cherish as a people and the ideals we strive for as a society,” Obama said in the release. “It secures the privileges we enjoy as citizens, but also demands participation, responsibility, and service to our country and to one another.”
Given that this White House is known for its expansive view of executive power, the fact that President Obama views these fundamental liberties to be “privileges” isn’t too terribly surprising. After all, President Obama treats the legislative branch — which is supposed to be a co-equal branch of the federal government — as an afterthought as it arbitrarily changes statues and even refuses to enforce laws.
But words matter. To say the rights secured by the Constitution are “privileges” implies that they can be revoked. Let’s put this another way: a high school-aged kid is given the privilege of taking their father’s car out to go hang out with friends, that is until they abuse it by getting caught speeding or into a car accident. The disappointed father would, no doubt, take away the privilege.
Rights and liberties, however, are based on a solid foundation. They can’t be taken away by some paternalistic president. The view of the framers was that the rights protected under the Bill of Rights existed before the formation of the federal government under the Constitution. In short, they were natural rights.
In fact, James Madison believed that a list of specific rights was unnecessary. Thankfully, George Mason and others, to ensure ratification, convinced Madison to come up with proposals, ten of which were passed by Congress and approved by at least three-fifths of the states.
While Obama is the first president (and he won’t be the last) to try to run roughshod over the Constitution and Bill of Rights, his comments are dangerous. They offer much insight into how progressives view your rights, which is to say they’re just privileges that can be revoked at any time some purported emergency arises.
It’s true that Congress and the federal courts have the responsibility to keep the executive branch in check, but, unless Americans begin to take a strong stand against these abuses, thus preventing presidents from treating their rights as mere privileges, they are ostensibly endorsing the slow deconstruction of the very document that makes the United States such a unique experiment.