History has borne out the truth of President Reagan's words. In the USSR, the government used its constitution to tell the people what they could do—to grant them so-called "rights." It said the Soviet people had a "right" to just about everything. But of course, if a government can grant you a right, it can also take that right away. And that's what the dictators of the Soviet Empire did: they promised their people the moon, but in the end it was the government, not the people, that had the power. It could choose to give its people "rights" or not, and it chose not to, so the people finally rose up.
It's different here, and the reason is our Constitution. I remember memorizing the preamble to the Constitution when I was a little girl in Alaska, watching Schoolhouse Rock at a friend's house. What I was just beginning to learn about our Constitution is that it doesn't give us rights—it describes a government that protects our God-given rights. It puts us in charge. As my friend Newt Gingrich likes to note, our Constitution doesn't begin "We the government of the United States . . ." or "We the federal bureaucrats of the United States . . ." or "We the special interests camped out on Capitol Hill of the United States . . ." It begins like this:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. As usual, the Gipper absolutely hit the nail on the head. The difference, with our Constitution, is those three little words: We the people.
What has struck me most in traveling around the country in the past two years is the tremendous, unshakable love Americans have for their country, even when times are tough, and even when we are most definitely out of love with Washington, D.C. It says something interesting about Americans that this love of country so often takes the form of love of our Founders and our founding documents. Everyone claims to love the Founders, of course. But so many of our so-called academic and cultural elite talk out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to the founding. They pay lip service to revered American figures such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson at the same time that they bad-mouth the principles they stood for. They think Americans such as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton are museum pieces, interesting historical figures with no relevance to our lives today.
You're probably familiar with their take on America's founding. They think the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are just documents written by old white men to benefit other old white men. To really have a just and equal society, they argue, we have to change these documents, update them for the times, and make them no longer mean what the Americans who wrote them intended them to mean. Either that or we have to ignore them altogether.