One of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite podcasts is called “Sex, Ducks, and The Founding Feud.” It’s a RadioLab Episode with a great story about lover’s revenge, and an update of the story on the news not too long ago got me so excited that I nearly swerved into oncoming traffic. The crime story is fun, but the part of the episode that I loved the most is the talk about the Constitution and how it was adopted. This starts at the 6:40 mark (but you’ll miss other cool stuff if you fast forward there, so take the 22:31 of your day to listen to the whole thing, trust me). It’s an incredibly simplified version, but so revealing, and with such relevance to where we sit today.
The short version, the part that I take away as being so important, is the description of September 1887 in Philadelphia. The gathering of the best and the brightest of our emerging country, trying to figure out how to unite the colonies. How to bring together incredibly different groups, with fundamental disagreements. Hamiltonians vs Jeffersonians, and the genius of Madison. The generation of a document that made everybody happy, because it was written in a way that achieved the “middle station, where everybody could see what they wanted to see.”
“The Constitution becomes successful because the people don’t agree on what it means…The constitution isn’t a set of answers. It’s a framework for argument.”
Genius. Can’t figure out how to get everybody on board? Just make a document that makes everybody think they’re right. But here’s the problem: creating a document that let everybody see what they wanted to see also created a document that let everybody think they are right, and part of being right means that others are wrong. And that’s where we sit now.
This video is getting a lot of circulation on FaceBook, and the comments are pretty harsh (on FaceBook and on YouTube). When I see this man, I see somebody who is really trying to do what he thinks is right. Somebody who is convinced that the government is oppressive. That the federal government has no role in local matters. That there should be no such thing as federal land. This is not a bad person (at least not based on these beliefs). This is somebody who seems to have a deep sense of obligation to do what’s right…and some of this I agree with.
Where we differ is who he and I might see as “enemies of the Constitution.” I don’t see a strong federal government as being against the Constitution. I don’t see the Federal Government as “outsiders.” Maybe this is because I see what I want to see and read what I want to read in the Constitution. Maybe this is because the genius of Madison. I guess where this guy and I differ is that I’m interested in thinking about how I could be wrong, and trying to see different interpretations. My guess is that he doesn’t do that. Maybe he does, but it sure doesn’t seem that way. He keeps talking about the “damn Constitution” and the “outside entities” that are coming in to oppress his people. But what I haven’t heard is what part of that document, the Constitution, says that the Federal Government doesn’t have the powers that they are using. I guess I don’t see it as tyranny when I don’t agree with the decisions. Maybe I’m wrong…maybe there’s no such thing as right or wrong when it comes to these issues.