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Washington began a debate about whether the federal government should take action to change the American palate, so that consumers’ taste buds can adjust to the mandatory use of less salt. And John Loughlin, a candidate for Congress, stood in my office with a copy of the Constitution.
Loughlin, who is running as a Republican in Rhode Island, looked and looked. But he couldn’t find where that fell in the scope of the government’s business.
Loughlin is running for the seat currently occupied by Patrick Kennedy, who is retiring. Conveniently, Loughlin’s dog-eared Constitution had “compliments of Rep. Patrick Kennedy” stamped on it. Everywhere I go, some group seems to be handing out copies. The Constitution, it seems, is about the hottest ticket in town.
When I was talking to people and snapping pictures at a recent “tea party,” I ran into a man sitting and reading a Heritage Foundation pocket-sized version. At a cocktail party in Northern Virginia this week, I was handed another one from the American Civil Rights Union. The list goes on.
And then there are the Turner women, who are all about “We the People.”
Juliette Turner read the Constitution over spring break. “I told my friend that I was reading the Constitution with my mom, and my friend — a boy — asked, ‘What’s the Constitution?’”
Juliette is the twelve-year-old daughter of actress Janine Turner, a cast member on NBC’s Friday Night Lights and best known for her role as Maggie O’Connell on Northern Exposure.
As it happens, it was an Alaskan, in part, who inspired Janine to read the Constitution with her daughter, write about it, talk about it, and establish an organization that would encourage others to do the same. “I heard Sarah Palin say at a tea party that we need to educate ourselves about our government. And I asked, ‘How?’”
Janine Turner’s answer: Constituting America. It’s a nonprofit whose mission is “to reach, educate and inform the youth and all citizens through modern technology and modern means, because we must not let those who devalue freedom dominate the debate.”
Who is devaluing freedom? Well, just look around. In the “comprehensive” pushes around our nation’s capital, it’s freedom that gets sacrificed. Compelling abortion funding while trying to hide it in health-care “reform.” A banking “reform” bill which, “as it exists, now, is a change in our philosophy as a country,” as Alabama congressman Spencer Bachus recently explained it to me.
Turner, like many a tea partier, understands that: “I’m afraid that our government seems to be infringing on too many areas of our life.”
How did we get here? How do we reclaim our Founding identity? How about an essay contest? How about a blog? “I keep having a dream about a billboard on the Sunset Strip for constitutingamerica.org,” Turner tells me. There’s no billboard yet, but there’s a communal reading going on. Constituting America’s 90-day read-the-Constitution project is in full swing. Constituting America has got constitutional scholars, activists, and think-tank analysts contributing to an accompanying blog.
And as for the contest: It’s aimed at elementary-school, middle-school, and high-school students. It incorporates verbal and cyber-video talents. Be creative about the Constitution so that you will be “on fire” as a citizen. “On fire” is a phrase you’ll hear frequently from Turner, who has a passion for civics that channels exactly what I’ve seen at tea parties.
“Many of us are finding our voice right now,” she says about it. They’re going to protests and town halls and starting blogs and contributing to Scott Brown and Marco Rubio and realizing nothing is inevitable in politics. They are considering running for local office themselves.
And Janine Turner’s agenda includes building the foundation for the next generation’s civic voice while encouraging all of us to do the same. Starting with her daughter and maybe with an opportunity for yours too. Prizes include, appropriately, a visit to Constitution Hall.
I write this minutes after reading a piece about how the media are overblowing the tea-party movement, which turns out to be just a lot of right-leaning Americans. It’s not a revolutionary movement or a new phenomenon. It’s Americans who see their views being sidelined by those who hold the majority of power in Washington. They are asserting the views they see being ignored.
People have read the Constitution before. People have held essay contests before. Actors have come out as conservative before (really!). But these things are good. They’re good for the continuation of our republic. They’re good when they start in your home or classroom — and it’s good when a familiar face injects a little creativity into the 234-year-old exercise.
Turner, the daughter of a West Point graduate, stood next to me recently looking out on the national Mall. “I think our Founding Fathers would be proud,” she said. Maybe not about “too big to fail,” health care we can’t pay for, or infringements on civil liberties. But they would be proud of the fact that Americans are paying attention and getting involved and never surrendering to whomever looks good and patronizes. Even — maybe even especially — if they voted for him.
– Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.