Progressives as constitutionalists

Jay Cost of National Review Online ponders progressives’ recent adoption of constitutionalist language.

Mind you, these days, progressives are criticizing the Constitution as much as they ever have. But listen a little more closely, and you’ll hear them singing a couple of tunes from the old Founding hymnal.

I was recently on a panel with a perfectly nice, smart, and earnest progressive academic who complained that Congress is no longer serving the “checks and balance” function outlined in Federalist No. 51. Instead, this person argued, Congress has just acceded to the dictates of the executive branch. This was cited as a reason to vote Democratic in the upcoming midterm.

Fair enough. I certainly agree with the notion that uniform party governance tends to undermine the institutional rivalries that the Constitution establishes. But since at least the 1880s, progressives have been calling for the destruction of these institutional barriers. Checks and balances, we have been told since Woodrow Wilson’s tenure at Princeton, inhibit the government from realizing the national interest. They are an artifact of a long-gone era, a vestigial organ from the days when the American people were separated by vast distances, religion, and even language. Today, we are one people, and our government is supposed to reflect that.

This, at any rate, was Wilson’s idea. And up through November 6, 2016, it was the progressive idea, too, but no longer. Interesting!

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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