In reality, nearly the opposite was true. The Constitution's Framers engineered the most significant transfer of power from the states to the central government in U.S. history. They also wanted the federal government to be an engine for national progress, and they had little regard for states' rights.
On a personal level, key Framers, including James Madison and George Washington, despised the idea of state "sovereignty" and "independence." As commander in chief of the Continental Army, Washington had confronted the national disorganization resulting from 13 squabbling states under the Articles of Confederation. The chaos continued into the post-war era with economic stagnation and commercial challenges from Europe.
So, with Washington's staunch support, Madison plotted the destruction of the states' rights-oriented Articles of Confederation and its replacement by the federal-government-is-supreme Constitution. That was the whole idea of the Constitutional Convention held in secret in Philadelphia in 1787.
However, in recent years, the Right's "scholars" -- recognizing the allure of a national mythology whether true or false -- have labored to revise the history. Their makeover of Madison has been particularly striking.
By cherry-picking and taking out of context some of his comments in the Federalist Papers and by exaggerating his sop to the Anti-Federalists in the Tenth Amendment, the Right turned Madison into his opposite, a hater of a strong central government and a lover of states' rights. [For details on how this history was distorted, see Consortiumnews.com's "The Right's Inside-Out Constitution."]
Next, the likes of Glenn Beck popularized this false founding narrative, giving important impetus to the Tea Party. Millions of Americans associated themselves with a movement that they thought was defending the Framers' vision of a weak central government, powerful states and little or no federal role outside the maintenance of a huge standing army.
In effect, today's Right merged Ayn Rand theories of unbridled selfishness with the quasi-religion of magical markets and placed it all under the umbrella of a founding national narrative that equates states' rights and the rights of corporations as the essence of American "liberty."
In an imperfect way that is what Election 2012 is about, which narrative will dominate the future. President Barack Obama, who was a constitutional law professor, sees the Constitution in the context of the pragmatism that was at the core of what the Framers were trying to achieve, that is, a governing structure for addressing the needs of a diverse and growing nation.
Those early national leaders applied the constitutional powers creatively and broadly, whether Alexander Hamilton's national bank or Thomas Jefferson's purchase of the Louisiana Territories (negotiated by then-Secretary of State James Madison).
During the last century, the trust-busting policies of Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and later reforms like Medicare and civil rights legislation drew on those traditions by using federal authority to solve problems impinging on the nation's "general welfare."
Obama has tried to follow that path, albeit with a fair share of stumbles, by pushing through the Affordable Care Act, the economic stimulus bill, the auto bailout and new Wall Street regulations. Broadly speaking, Obama favors putting the power of the federal government on the side of average Americans.
He also has done so in the face of stiff resistance, at a time when the Republicans and many media pundits are enthralled by the revisionist narrative, that American "liberty" has always been about letting corporations and the rich do whatever they want -- and letting states dominate national governance.
The Romney Example
Romney has come to personify that approach, an extremely wealthy financier who prides himself on paying low taxes and who -- in private settings with fellow millionaires -- speaks with disdain about the struggling masses and their need for government help. He also wants to defer to the states on major national problems like health care.
Whether on behalf of his Mormon ancestors or his Wall Street chums, Romney may see his quest for the presidency as a decisive moment to enshrine the anti-government narrative -- and to defeat the alternative one that says "We the People" in the Constitution's Preamble means putting the power of government to work building a country for all.