We Are The Founders

fireworks2 lg 300x299 We Are The FoundersAmerica’s greatest promise lies in the bold idea that each citizen in every generation is Founder of the country. Though the promise remains unachieved, the idea is worth celebrating this Fourth of July.

Authors of the U.S. Constitution, which arrived some years after the day we celebrate as our nation’s birthday, considered their document a living one, one that would safeguard freedom while providing plenty of room for change in future circumstances.

In other words, the citizens of every generation would carry the heavy responsibility of founding America anew. Let that sink in.

This Fourth of July there are a good many tea partiers out there demanding a return to some kind of Constitutional straightjacket that never existed in the first place. While we can support their political engagement, we are justified in our dismay at their ignorance of America’s greatest promise. The Constitution was written to guard against those who would turn it into authoritarian doctrine. They would undo a Constitution they claim to worship.

We have one vehicle through which our founding must be enacted: government. Let that sink in, too, because when it does it becomes clear why America’s current conservative movement is to democracy what a chop shop is to our cars. Trash government and you leave authority in the hands of an ungoverned economic elite, a danger that scared the baggy breeches off the 18th Century versions of us.

During her Senate confirmation hearing this weak, Elena Kagan was attacked by Republican Sen. Jon Kyl for proudly writing of her one-time boss, Thurgood Marshall, that he had “an unshakable determination to protect the underdog.”

Kyl is an apparent underdog hater from Arizona, a Kennel Club of a state where one risks harassment, arrest and deportation if one’s overdog papers are not in order. Woof woof.

Under the Constitution, we are equal in our standing as Founders of America. That is why so much energy must be used to do precisely what Justice Marshall did: lift up the underdogs to full Founder status. It’s about fulfilling the promise of America.

Right-wing demagogues have long tried to subvert this by selling the idea that one citizen’s achievement is another’s loss. In this view, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act handed political and economic power to underdogs at the expense of the overdogs. This is rhetorical dogshit, of course, but once we get to barking at one another, the demagogues run out the back gate with all the money.

I think there is magic is considering one another fellow Founders. As in human thought itself, that doesn’t mean we are unconstrained by the past, but we are free to think and act creatively in ways that benefit all.

It also doesn’t mean that we are going to agree on everything. But we ought to be able to agree that, regardless of how far we must yet travel, no nation in history has ever committed itself to an idea so powerful in pursuit of a promise so glorious.

I’m as skeptical of authority as Tom Paine. When I identify government as the vehicle of American founding and re-founding, I mean to bring it down to earth not exalt it as an unapproachable authority. The best safeguards against the abuses of authority are open, transparent and fair pathways for individual citizen engagement and engagement itself.

Neither yesterday’s constitution nor tomorrow’s will complete the job. It’s up to us, always has been, always will be.

On the Fourth of July we are celebrating a birth that has not yet happened, but is always, with fireworks, happening.

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About Glenn W. Smith

Glenn W. Smith has spent the past 30 years in journalism and politics, where he’s made a name for himself as a writer, campaign manager, activist, think tank analyst and, as Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas says, a “legendary political consultant and all-around good guy.” “There’s no one like him,” says author George Lakoff. CNN commentator Paul Begala says, “He has unmatched experience, a graceful pen (or pixel nowadays) and deep insight into the best and worst of us.” Novelist Sarah Bird speaks of his “lucid and lyrical” prose. And, she says, he’s fun. Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington says Glenn writes with “grace and abundant humor” and “uses his colorful experiences in Texas to enlighten us all.”

Smith led Ann Richards’ successful 1990 campaign for Governor of Texas. He worked for former Texas Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby and U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen. Earlier, Smith was a political reporter for the Houston Chronicle and the Houston Post. He’s coordinated national campaigns for groups such as MoveOn.org. In 2004, he authored the highly acclaimed book, The Politics of Deceit: Saving Freedom and Democracy from Extinction. He also wrote Unfit Commander, a book that detailed George W. Bush’s mysterious disappearance from military service.

In 2004, Smith was featured in the film, Bush’s Brain, a documentary about Karl Rove. Smith provided commentary on Rove’s role as then-President Bush’s senior advisor. He has made numerous media appearances with Chris Mathews on Hardball, Joe Scarborough, Brit Hume, and many others. He writes a regularly for top national web sites, including FireDogLake and Huffington Post.

As a senior fellow at George Lakoff’s prestigious Rockridge Institute in Berkeley he studied, wrote and taught on the power of metaphor and narrative in political communications. He also lectured on religion and politics at the Starr King School for Ministry in Berkeley. As a sponsor and organizer, he has pulled together numerous national events with progressive religious leaders. He also organized a celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King at Riverside Church in New York City as well as “Freedom and Faith” bus tours, which was a nationwide campaign for social justice and progressive values.

Smith’s play, Double Play, which explored American Western myths and legends, was held over to sold-out audiences. He’s even written and performed songs in the Americana tradition, such as his best-known song, “Helping Marty Robbins,” a tribute to his hometown, Houston.

Most recently, Smith is the creator of DogCanyon, a political and cultural web site covering state, national and global issues from a Texas perspective. DogCanyon is an exhilarating and unique site that gets the connections between politics and culture and explores both the personal side of politics and the ups, down, craziness and beauty of “life its ownself,” as humorist Dan Jenkins would say. DogCanyon offers heartfelt personal essays, hard-hitting political analysis, and, most importantly, laughs.

As Paul Begala said, Smith writes in “the finest, firmest, fearless tradition of Texas essayists like Molly Ivins.”