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rt,Crlif4X i :.11111r.M1111… fSPHILADVM+11.1 40F , y ESSAYS We the People CONSTITUTIONALLY speaking, it seems to me that in this, the bicentennial year of the glorious document, we fall roughly into three groups. There are those who consider the old charter perfect as written. Their reverence for the work of the founders is such that they wish to see it altered neither jot nor tittle and are original intenters all. One can observe them frequently on the McNeil/Lehrer program wearing threepiece suits and horn-rim glasses; they are distinguished by an air of premature pomposity. I used to wonder where the McNeil/Lehrer folks ever found these people, but I have since learned they are mass produced by the Heritage Foundation. They commune with the founders concerning original intent by the same means Oral Roberts receives instructions from the Lord. Such is their reverence for the founders that they are not only rendered bilious to this good day by the emancipation of slaves and the enfranchisement of women, but are still dyspeptic over direct election of senators and apoplectic over granting the vote to non-propertied white males. Does the Reagan Supreme Court decree that the death penalty shall be limited largely to black people? Some specimen in a three-piece suit appears instantly to announce this was the dearest wish of the founding fathers. Do the Supremes decree that accused citizens can be held in prison until they can prove their innocence? Some peckerwood from a right-wing think tank immediately declares this was the very scheme most cherished by Thomas Jefferson himself. As our only attorney general observed not long ago, “You don’t have many suspects who are innocent of a crime. That’s contradictory. If a person is innocent of a crime, then he is not a suspect.” I was amazed by that statement: I hadn’t realized Ed Meese knew what a contradiction is. Molly Ivins writes for the Dallas Times Herald, where a similar version of this piece appeared. 10 SEPTEMBER 11, 1987 What’s really astounding about these brickheads who claim to be in touch with none of them seem to have read what the founders wrote, from Thomas Jefferson’s essays to Jamie Madison’s they had been alive at the time of the American Revolution, they all would have been Tories anyway. We fall into three groups: original intenters, dunces and hell-raisers. Then, in the second group, there are the citizens of this great nation who have yet to hear about the Constitution. A great many of them live in Texas. You know how fond we are as a nation of those polls that show we’re hopeless dunces “72 percent of all Americans, when asked to locate Japan on a map, put it to the right of Chile” that kind of thing. “Sixty-eight percent believe Chou En Lai is a shrimp/noodle dish,” and so forth. Then we all cluck about how dumb we are. Well, whenever they run one of those tests on the Bill of Rights, some depressingly high percentage of Americans immediately identifies the list as the work of Karl Marx. “What communist swill!” reply 41.7, or whatever the number is this year. Many citizens in this category serve in the Texas Legislature. Take my word for it. This is why, when the Robert Borks of the world, with the complacence of perfect ignorance, announce that questions concerning our fundamental liberties can be safely entrusted to the state legislatures, I can be found on my knees with my liver quivering. Enough said; you know the problem. Then there are the rest of us. I submit to you that only half the reason the Constitution is a great and living document is because our foundin’ daddies were about the smartest sumbitches ever walked and also because they wrote right in there how to keep changing the old charter as need arises. The other half of the credit for the beauty of the Constitution goes to 200 years worth of American misfits, troublemakers, hell-raisers, eccentrics, mavericks, anti-Establishmentarians and outsiders who are ever ready and happy to do battle. In my opinion, there’s not a thing wrong with the ideals and mechanisms outlined and the liberties set forth in the Constitution of the United States. The only problem was, the founders left a lot of people out of the Constitution. They left out poor people and black people and female people. It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America. And it still goes on today. We all have our special heroes from American history and I’d like to salute a few of mine, not a one of whom ever would have been considered for membership in the Dallas Country Club: John Peter Zenger, Lincoln Steffens, Mother Jones, Big Bill Haywood, Clarence Darrow, Susan B. Anthony, Dr. Martin Luther King, Clarence Gideon, Thomas Paine, Emma Goldman, Jennette Rankin, Harriet Tubman, Sam Houston, Frederick Douglass and I.F. Stone, among others, among many others. What freedom fighters they were. What glorious times they had. At the ACLU convention in Philadelphia this year, they gave out some medals to aging freedom fighters who have put in their time and one went to Joe Rauh, who offended so many during the McCarthy Era. Rauh was unable to attend because of illness and sent an old friend in his stead. “What shall I tell them?” asked the friend. “Tell ’em what fun it was,” said Rauh. “Tell ’em what fun it was.” By Molly Ivins