Dahlia Lithwick remembers the Constitution -- why don't her colleagues?

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

Slate's Dahlia Lithwick is disappointed that there wasn't more talk of the Constitution at last week's Democratic convention:

Now maybe I just need to get out more. Maybe I live in a teensy little rarefied bubble, in which a handful of constitutional law professors, tetchy libertarians, and paranoid bloggers have been tearing their eyebrows out for the past seven years over the president's use of the "war on terror" to run his tanks over great swaths of the Constitution and much of the Bill of Rights. Maybe I overestimate American concern that their president likes to eavesdrop on their phone calls and root through their library records. Yet Jane Mayer's book The Dark Side is on the best-seller list. Sixty-one percent of Americans oppose warrantless wiretapping. And both presidential candidates have recognized Guantanamo for the international disaster it is. So clearly somebody cares about the loss of civil liberties in America. It's just that nobody wants to talk about it.

It may bear repeating that the Constitution matters. America was born of a struggle for freedom from tyranny, not lower gas prices. Of course the public should be upset about jobs migrating overseas and the rising price of health insurance. But the implication from Denver that secret government searches and indefinite detainment of U.S. citizens are minor annoyances-ranking somewhere between the neighbor's overgrown hedge and tooth decay-is insane.

Read the whole thing.

One reason politicians don't talk much about little things like the Constitution is that reporters don't ask them about such topics.

Last November, I read through the 1,500 questions that had been asked during the 17 presidential debates held up to that point, and found that only a small handful dealt with the constitution, presidential powers, torture, wiretapping, civil liberties or other similar matters:

Only one question about wiretapping. Not a single question about FISA.

There has, however, been a question about whether the Constitution should be changed to allow Arnold Schwarzenegger to be president.

Not one question about renditions. The words "habeas corpus" have not once been spoken by a debate moderator. Candidates have not been asked about telecom liability.

But there was this illuminating question, asked of a group of Republicans running for president: "Seriously, would it be good for America to have Bill Clinton back living in the White House?"

Though Republicans often claim that the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping of Americans is necessary to prevent "another 9-11," debate moderators have not once asked candidates about recent revelations that suggest the administration began its surveillance efforts long before the September 11, 2001, attacks, not in response to them.

But NBC's Brian Williams did ask the Democratic candidates what they would "go as" for Halloween.

No moderator has asked a single question of a single candidate about whether the president should be able to order the indefinite detention of an American citizen, without charging the prisoner with any crime.

But Tim Russert did ask Congressman Dennis Kucinich -- in what he felt compelled to insist was "a serious question" -- whether he has seen a UFO.

No moderator has asked a single question about whether the candidates agree with the Bush administration's rather skeptical view of congressional oversight.

But Hillary Clinton was asked, "Do you prefer diamonds or pearls?"

A full list of the relevant questions is available at the end of that November column.

There are roughly two months until Americans will choose their next president. The news media can spend that time ensuring that the candidates have to answer questions about serious matters that go to the very heart of who we are as a nation. Or reporters can continue to obsess over polls and salad greens and play armchair campaign manager. It's their choice - but the consequences will belong to all of us.

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