We the People…
OK, let’s have a show of hands…how many of you are opposed to the United States Constitution? (If you are not an American citizen, as many of you are not, you are excused from having to answer.) So any opposed?
Yeah, me neither. Now that we have that out of the way; now that we have not broken into two groups, one believing in the Constitution and the other determined to destroy it, we can talk about it. In this election, and in the conversations of pundits for some time, you might think that Americans actually do break down into those two groups.
Political candidates, mostly Republicans but sometimes Democrats, are doing their best to rally pro-Constitution voters to their side. If you listen to some of the speeches you could almost make a drinking game out of favorable mentions of and/or dire warnings about the Constitution. (Disclaimer: I am not promoting the idea of a Constitutional drinking game.) I’m actually getting kind of tired of hearing this kind of talk. Let me share a few of my pet peeves.
First up is the false distinction between “we the people” and the government. In the last Republican debate, defending how his Christian beliefs can be reconciled with his opposition to social programs, Ben Carson made it clear that it is the role of “we the people” to help the poor and needy, not the government. Implied was the idea that “the government” was somehow a different entity altogether. This is a common theme, most extremely promoted by the sovereign citizen movement, but even some of those who see sovereign citizens as whackadoodles sometimes use that logic.
If we read just a little past the opening three words of the Constitution we will see this: “We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” In other words, the government is the agent through which we the people work. We can add to that the closing of the Gettysburg Address – “we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” This is the same people/government connection. Agree or disagree with government plans and I will support you, but please don’t cast the government as the enemy of the people – just elect new leaders.
Then too there is the implication of near-infallibility for the writers of the Constitution. I know, I know, nobody is saying they actually are infallible but the “strict constitutionalists” treat their work as such. If you read the writings of some of those involved in actually drafting the Constitution, most notably Thomas Jefferson, you will find they were quite troubled that they may have screwed up. Yet many today are cheerfully sure that the Constitution contains clear and unambiguous instruction on, for instance, how to resolve the question of whether Apple should assist the government in getting information from a terrorist’s IPhone. Again, take either side of that issue you want, but please don’t tell me that our founders spoke knowingly into all 21st century matters.
Finally is the fact that everyone is a strict Constitutionalist, except when they aren’t. Republicans, the party of strict Constitutionalism, see no problem at all in not taking up discussion of any nominee that President Obama makes to the Supreme Court. They want “the people” to decide in the next election. Forget that “the people,” knowing that he had the duty to nominate people to the Supreme Court, already did elect a President, and forget too that this delay is nowhere endorsed or even hinted at in the Constitution. Of course, to be fair, Democrats suddenly find themselves afflicted with the urge to be strict Constitutionalists and vote on an Obama nominee. If you don’t like a nominee, or for that matter any policy, vote them down but don’t pretend you are doing anything other than political maneuvering.
Tonight is the next Republican debate and I expect to hear more about the Constitution. Maybe I will play the drinking game after all. Sadly, I don’t have any beer in the house and I don’t think it works with iced tea.