OPINION: THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW NOVEMBER 13, 2009, 11:47 P.M. ET
Our ‘Constitutional Moment’
The New York newspaperman says our founding document is especially vital today, in an age of expanding state power.
By JAMES TARANTO
Seth Lipsky has a knack for seeing the bright side of things. A nearly 20-year veteran of this newspaper, including its editorial page, he cheerfully acknowledges the obvious: This is far from a golden age of free-market conservatism. Of President Obama, he tells me over lunch, “I sense that he has a very leftist, socialist-oriented worldview.”
Yet this makes Mr. Lipsky anything but grim: “I for one find this very exciting. . . . We’re just at a great moment.”
Why? Because, he says, “America is in what I call a constitutional moment.” Mr. Obama’s efforts to expand government power raise basic questions about the constitutional limits of that power. “The enumerated-powers argument is enormous,” Mr. Lipsky says. “It’s just enormous, the ground that is open for contest here. . . . Right now, we’re at a moment where we’re not going to be able to turn to either the Congress or the executive branch for help on this.” He believes “the only defense now, the only tool we have now, is the Constitution. That’s why I call it a constitutional moment, as opposed to a political moment.”
That makes it an auspicious moment for Mr. Lipsky’s new book, “The Citizen’s Constitution: An Annotated Guide.” The U.S. Constitution is a brief document, taking up just 42 pages in a popular pocket-size edition from the Cato Institute. Mr. Lipsky expands it to 287 pages of 5 by 8 inches, by way of 327 lengthy footnotes in which he discusses each and every constitutional clause in the context of history, case law and current events. There are an additional 36 pages of bibliographic references, making it the only book I’ve seen in which the footnotes have endnotes.