History professor: U.S. Constitution a document worth celebrating

BY WILFRED MCCLAY Published: September 14, 2013

This aspect of the American system is ill-understood at home and abroad. When I gave a lecture in Ankara at the height of the Iraq War, a Turkish questioner wondered whether the intense conflict then going on in Washington meant that the American system was falling apart. I responded that this is how the American system is supposed to work and that congressional resistance to the president can be entirely proper and legitimate. The audience was incredulous.

I would tell that audience precisely the same thing today, about Republican congressional resistance to President Obama on various policy fronts. Such conflict can be a sign of health rather than weakness. It would be good if more Americans understood the ways in which the corrective energies of their system actually operate, instead of seeing endemic conflict in Washington in despairing terms.

But for conflict to be constructive, there has to be one point of agreement: prior acceptance by all parties of the Constitution's overarching authority. There can be no successful game without durable rules. And when push comes to shove, the Constitution has functioned remarkably well as an umpire of last appeal in contentious public debates. Its authority remains indispensable.

It deserves to be celebrated — and to be better understood.

McClay holds the G.T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma.