'This Week' Transcript: The Battle for the Constitution

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN, R-MINN.: I believe in the founding fathers' vision of a limited government.

DONVAN: It's an argument that income taxes and the Federal Reserve and government-guarantee health care and a government that just keeps on growing is not at all what was intended by the framers of the Constitution, those guys whose intellectual garb they honor at their rallies by literally garbing themselves just as they did. We need to go back to what they believed in, is the argument. But who is to agree on what that actually means?

HERMAN CAIN, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need to reread the Constitution and enforce the Constitution. There's a little section in there that talks about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

DONVAN: Actually that's not Constitution, that's the Declaration of Independence.

Lots of people seem to mix them up.

OBAMA: Drawing on the promise enshrine in our Constitution, the notion that we're all created equal.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, HISTORIAN: It's a very slippery slope to start cherry-picking your favorite golden oldie from the founding fathers and slapping it on to political speeches today. Democrats and Republicans quote from the founding fathers, but we shouldn't act like they were somehow omnipotent.

DONVAN: The reality is that the framers, posed in paintings as though frozen on an American canvas, they were not gods. They were guys, guys who didn't give women the vote and who let slavery stand for the time being, and who, by the way, were trying to create at the time a stronger central government -- of course not too strong -- leaving to us a Constitution that we could fix as needed. Sorry, make that amend, which we've now done 27 times.

BRINKLEY: When you look at the founding documents of our country, they are elastic. They are meant to be pulled and bent in different directions as each era dictates.

DONVAN: So, today, right now, as we argue over whether it's constitutional for the president to send drones over Libya, for the government to make immigrants carry I.D. cards, for Congress not to raise the debt ceiling, which could mean the nation defaults, those arguments are only possible in a sense because there is a Constitution. As the framers wrote in its very first paragraph, they wanted to secure the blessings of liberty for our posterity -- that's us, we, the people. We are still here, thanks to them and this piece of paper.

For "This Week" I'm John Donvan in Washington.


AMANPOUR: So, as we have just seen, now more than ever, the Constitution is at the very heart of the political debate these days, and Congress is now requiring that every piece of legislation come accompanied by its constitutional justification. And the Tea Party is demanding a return to the kind of government that the framers envisioned. But just what did those men who lived 200 years ago really want? Joining me now for a discussion of truth and myth -- George Will, Michael Eric Dyson of Georgetown University. Harvard University history professor Jill Lepore, who is also the author of "The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History," and Richard Stengel, editor in chief of "Time" magazine and writer of the cover story on the Constitution, "Does It Still Matter?"

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