'This Week' Transcript: The Battle for the Constitution

Thank you all for being here. Let me start with you, George. How do you explain the ubiquity of the Constitution today as a real living piece of political debate?

WILL: Well, first of all, American politics always has a retrospective cast, always looking back to the Declaration and the Constitution. All of our arguments get litigated through these documents. Did Jefferson have the power to make the Louisiana purchase? James Madison, his successor, the architect of the Constitution, vetoed an internal improvements bill because he thought that went beyond the powers of the federal government, right then to today, when the most novel new development in our politics, the Tea Party movement, is named after something that happened in 1773. So there's a retrospective cast naturally built into our politics.

But what has happened today is a large number of Americans, this one included, believe that the somewhat promiscuous expansion of government power in recent years raises questions about whether we still have a government of limited, delegated and enumerated powers. That is, is the Madison project still viable.

AMANPOUR: You say over the last few years. Do you mean particularly now in the Obama administration?

WILL: Yes.

AMANPOUR: What do you say to that very categoric --

DYSON: Well, I think that this retrospective cast that George Will refers to is absolutely right. But there's some gaps, some holes, lacunas, gulfs, abysses. You know, you read the Constitution in the Congress, but oops, I forgot the part about slavery. You talk about women and people of color who have been elided, distorted, relegated to the margins, and altogether seen as marginalia.

I think that the Constitution is a powerful, living, vibrant document. I think it's been hijacked by people with narrow, vicious and parochial visions. And I think the assertion that now we, of all people, this generation is somehow vulnerable to rebuff of the Constitution is like a Hagelian problem. You think your generation is the greatest generation, and the apotheosis of history finds its resting point in you. Slow down.

The point is that the Constitution is durable, it's powerful. Because of its flexibility, black people and others were able to argue their way into an American identity and a vision for democracy that initially they were barred from. So I think that it's powerful.

AMANPOUR: But you do say hijacked by a vicious band of people. Do you think that's fair? I mean, is that what is going on right now?

LEPORE: I think it's the case that the Constitution has always been a subject of contest. Each generation of Americans struggles to inherit the mantle and claim the mantle of both the revolution and of the Constitution.

What is actually to me been unusual about this political moment, is that a lot of people are trying to claim both the revolution and the Constitution. It's usually been more of a kind of an oscillation. The revolution is more often claimed by the left; the Constitution is more often celebrated by the right. The Tea Party movement has really embraced both, and in a certain kind of way collapsed the two, which is interesting as a historical phenomenon. But it's not -- it's neither novel nor sinister.

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