Americans love the Constitution. We might argue what it means or try to change parts of it, but as a general rule we like it.
It’s not so much the document we like as what it represents – the ideal of a Republic forged in the blood of fallen heroes against an oppressive monarchy out of touch with its former citizens, forming a new world and a new way of life unlike what was known before and we pay taxes to our own government, not someone else’s.
Despite this adoration, it seems people aren’t as familiar with the document as you might expect.
For example, certain individuals might have said the Founding Fathers did not have “anchor babies” in mind when drafting the Fourteenth Amendment. Unless they had a witch doctor help them I doubt the Founding Fathers cared, as they had been dead for several decades. The Fourteenth Amendment was added in 1868.
I honestly don’t know what’s worse here; that people misquote the Constitution to rouse a response, or that other people don’t question it. As I’ve said in earlier articles, I am not a Constitutional lawyer, but I am a history major. It might seem like I’m on a soap box preaching, but that’s because my historical forte is Nineteenth Century U.S. history. And yes, I am on a soap box. That’s my job. But also, the Constitution was ratified in the eighteenth century, so there.
Now I am not saying people are intentionally misquoting the Constitution for their own ends. Some probably are, but it seems people just don’t know when they do it, like when someone complains about his or her First Amendment rights being infringed by people complaining about racial slurs on a radio program. That might fall under slander, but in any case I digress.
I am not advocating every single U.S. citizen having to have an in-depth knowledge of the Constitution. I’m just saying it would be nice if you remembered the basics you were taught in high school, like separation of powers, the Bill of Rights and maybe a few other key amendments — simple things.
This is important, because when someone misquotes the Constitution, intentionally or not, what he or she says will carry a lot of weight if people don’t know it’s misquoted. Like I said, people really like the Constitution, and when people reference it, their message becomes more powerful and more able to sway listeners.
Understanding the Constitution will prevent these people from having that power. It also will prevent those who don’t intentionally misquote the Constitution from embarrassing themselves when their mistake is observed and reported on, shaking the confidence people might have for that person.
So take the time to know the Constitution on a basic level at least. It will prevent people from exploiting the document for personal gain. It will prevent idiots from making their weak case stronger. Most of all, it will prevent you, the voter, from being duped or swayed by false rhetoric.