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A Plea for Constitutional Literacy on this Constitution Day

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Earlier this summer, I managed to perplex, perhaps even offend, a famous TV interviewer when I declared I want a federal government that follows the U.S. Constitution. Seemingly aghast, the interviewer went so far as to suggest my position was a "highly charged thing to say."

Imagine that. A journalist — who, owing to the Constitution, has the right to report and speak freely — being uncomfortable with a fellow American's allegiance to the Constitution and to the Founding Fathers' vision of a limited central government.

I fear we as a nation have drifted too far away from an understanding and appreciation of the greatest governance document the world has ever produced. We have a president today who usurps power never given to him in the Constitution, a dysfunctional Congress so gridlocked that it can't fulfill its mission as a separate-but-equal branch of government, and a Fourth Estate of media elites who cheerlead for a bigger, more intrusive government that unnecessarily addicts those struggling to escape poverty to handouts, rather than encouraging self-reliance.

Let me be clear. Rightly sized and empowered, government serves an excellent purpose. Our Founding Fathers knew that and created a perfect vision for a republic of independent states protected and served by a central federal government with strong checks and balances. Those checks on powers were essential to the Framers, who established three equal but separate branches to ensure we always had a government "of the people, for the people and by the people," as Abraham Lincoln so wisely said.

But today we have people who are simply overgoverned — subjected to taxation, regulation and intrusions by a massive federal government that our Founding Fathers never would have tolerated. It wants to control what we eat, how we live and even how much we can earn. It values political correctness over freedom, codependence over self-reliance, and redistribution of wealth over personal success.

That's why I said what I did that Sunday morning to that talk-show host.

I told him I would love to have a government again that places the Constitution at the center of its mission, that recognizes government was never intended to intrude on every aspect of our lives. Everywhere I go in this great nation these days, I hear that same plea, from farmers in rural communities fearful the next federal regulation will put their generations-old family farm out of business, to shopkeepers suffocating under an unnecessarily high tax burden, to young people seemingly reconciled that their government will monitor, record and track their every movement.

How do we reverse this creeping despair that we have drifted too far away from our founding principles? It's simple. I think we must go back to the source of our great American experiment: the U.S. Constitution.

In little more than 4,500 words, the Framers created a vision of government that preserves liberty first and foremost and also serves the basic needs of a republic. For 200 years, that document has guided this great nation through dark times and soaring success. For most of our history, schoolchildren were taught the guiding principles of the Constitution from the earliest age, and even members of Congress with controversial civil rights histories such as the late Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia kept a copy of that great document in their jacket pockets to remind them of the responsibilities and limits of governance.

On this Constitution Day, a wonderful holiday created with bipartisan support just a few short years ago, let's recommit ourselves to rereading and appreciating our Constitution and to ensuring that our children and our children's children grow up with the same appreciation we were given. Familiarity with the greatest ideas ever created for preserving liberty will breed appreciation. Appreciation will help us all overcome the ignorant political correctness of a few media elites and governing officials who seem to dismiss the fundamental principles of a government that respects liberty first and foremost.

Ben S. Carson is professor emeritus of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University and author of the new book "One Nation: What We Can All Do To Save America's Future" (Sentinel). To find out more about Ben Carson and to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.

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