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On Constitution Day, tea party and foes duel over our founding document

It's Constitution Day in the US, which this year features a healthy debate about the limits on government power. The growth of the tea party movement has heightened that continuing argument.

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Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor holds a copy of the Constitution before a recitation of the preamble at the National Constitution Center, Friday, Sept. 16, in Philadelphia. Saturday marks the 224th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution.

Matt Rourke/AP

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It's Constitution Day in the US, but that doesn't mean it's a day for the nation to unite around its founding document amid peace, love, and flowers.

Not in a year when Michele Bachmann is trying to keep within an elbow's length of Rick Perry in the Republican presidential race, both standing for limited government. Not when the Republicans are attacking President Obama for constitutional over-reach. Not when some experts are asking whether the nation's fiscal problems are too intractable to resolve without amending the framework of checks and balances that the Constitution's framers designed.

Let's just say we're in an era of healthy debate about the meaning of the Constitution, and over its future. Just like James Madison lived through in his own day.

The central dispute now is about the limits on government power.

Libertarians and the tea party movement have grown their ranks by asserting that the country has strayed far from its constitutional roots. The federal government has taken to itself all kinds of powers not enumerated by the Constitution, they argue, and the public has too often gone along.

But the very force of their rallying cries has spawned a countering effort by defenders of current federal powers.

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