Happy Constitution Day! That's right, it was 222 years ago Thursday, on September 17, 1787, the Constitution was signed at Independence Hall.
Who'd have thunk that the Constitution, the convention that negotiated it, and the ratification debates that followed would have such relevance 222 years later -- and even precisely regarding the topic-du-jour (forgive my French, nativists), health care reform?
The lessons and echoes are legion:
CONFUSING DEBATE: So many plans, so many moving parts... No I'm not talking about the health care debate, I'm talking about the Constitution. A refresher from civics class: The Philadelphia convention actually considered five separate plans. Sound familiar? And even if teabaggers don't understand that laws get made by melding multiple proposals together, the framers of the Constitution did. So for those who don't have room in their brains for the multiple House and Senate proposals and understand how it will emerge as a single bill, well... Re-watch the old Schoolhouse Rock videos.
AN IMPERFECT COMPROMISE: The Philadelphia convention was of course the ultimate exercise of political negotiation and compromise -- including the infamous compromises over slavery that left a moral stain on the founding document and seeded the inevitable conflict that would become the Civil War. Even so, it was an impressive achievement in horse trading, sausage-making, and any other political metaphor being used to describe health care now. Benjamin Franklin said, "There are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them. ... I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution...." If only Chuck Grassley would show a little more Ben Franklin...
AN DOCUMENT REQUIRING AMENDMENT: The Constitution was no more a complete document upon its signing than any of the health care bills currently in Congress. Madison and others had to promise the Bill of Rights would be added to the document to win passage by North Carolina and Rhodes Island, the last two states to ratify. Which is to say: don't like the health care bills yet? Wait til the amending process and conference committee. (Or if you're a teabagger, ignore the legislative process, lose all patience and go directly to loco. Ooops, that last word was Spanish).
STRONG, CRAZY, AND LYING OPPOSITION: Passing a Constitution is no easier than passing health care reform. Most Republicans will never vote for reform, just as most, including the young Rep. Bob Dole, refused to vote for Medicare in 1965. So too several figures wound up opposing the Constitution. George Mason refused to sign on to the final document. Patrick Henry famously refused to even attend the Philadelphia convention, and made statements Glenn Beck would be proud of, saying he "smelt a rat in Philadelphia, tending toward the monarchy.. (These anti-Constitutionalists, interestingly, have become heroes of the modern conservative right, lionized by the right with eponymous). The Constitution era even had their version of the teabaggers - Rhodes Island's Country Party, an armed band of farmers who marched on the statehouse threatening revolution rather than ratification.
So, to those fighting for health insurance reform suffering the slings and arrows, take heart: if the framers could pull off the Constitution under similar conditions, methinks there may be still be a decent shot for health reform.
Then again: did the Framers have to deal with bloggers and 24/7 cable news coverage?