Today is Constitution Day, a day that should be a bigger holiday in the U.S. than it is.
Back in 1987, the publisher of the first newspaper I worked for called, on the 200th Constitution Day, to “celebrate … cerebrate … the Constitution.” (He was … fond … of … ellipses.)
“Cerebrate” apparently is a word, given that it shows up in a web search. So, consider this some cerebration on this Constitution Day.
For those who consider the Constitution to be important (which is a distressingly small group), it is fashionable to complain that the Constitution is being shredded more than ever by whoever happens to be in power at that particular time. Which doesn’t mean that’s not an accurate statement.
Consider Article I, section 8:
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;
To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;
To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;
To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;
To establish Post Offices and post Roads;
To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;
To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;
To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
To provide and maintain a Navy;
To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;–And
To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.
The U.S. Archives says of the Constitution: “The work of many minds, the U. S. Constitution stands as a model of cooperative statesmanship and the art of compromise.”
One main reason our politics are as disgusting as they are today is because of the lack of “cooperative statesmanship and the art of compromise.” That is because whatever party is in power seeks to grow its power over the government. Everything detestable about politics today — lack of civility, excessive campaign spending, the commercials, etc. — is because the stakes in elections are too high; the power of government is too great.
It’s also fashionable to say that there is less respect than ever before now for the First Amendment. Which, again, does not make that an inaccurate statement. The fact that politics has in fact been nastier in centuries past than now (two words: Civil War) is somewhat irrelevant given that history isn’t that important to most people, and that most people’s frame of reference is their own lifetime.
So: There is less respect now than ever before for the First Amendment specifically and the Constitution generally. President Obama has kept the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration essentially the same as the Bush administration. Neither has contributed to domestic security. (The term “homeland security” sounds vaguely fascist to me.) The disaster-in-progress known as ObamaCare is supposedly constitutional under the general welfare clause of the Constitution, which is a laughable premise. Obama and the Democrats favor shredding the First Amendment because they don’t like results of recent elections (which come, they think, from campaign spending from the wrong places, instead of voters rejecting their bilge.) Closer to home, anyone who supports stoplight cameras to catch those driving through red lights ignores the fundamental constitutional right of the ability to confront your accuser in court.
I doubt you could find 1 in 10 people who understand which body of government is responsible for which governmental responsibilities in the Constitution. Or the concept of small-R republican government, as opposed to small-D democracies. (In the latter case, 51 percent of the population could vote to imprison 49 percent of the population.) Or that the purpose of the Bill of Rights is to protect the rights of political minorities. Or that — news flash — the U.S. Supreme Court gets things wrong from time to time. (Two words: Dred Scott.)
But we have freedom of expression. Or, more accurately stated, freedom of expression (as long as you agree with my point of view). Those who do not agree with your point of view get threats of, or actually, canceling your subscription, or hitting the off switch, or sticking their fingers in the ears and making enough noise to not hear a contrary point of view. Conservatives more often than not do not listen to Wisconsin Public Radio. I know this based on their online poll results, which suggest either that they don’t, or that 85 percent of Wisconsinites are left-wingers. Liberals watch MSNBC; conservatives watch Fox News.
None of this should mean to you that the Constitution is perfect. The Founding Fathers lacked the foresight of being able to predict the latter-day followers of Karl Marx, so it doesn’t include an Economic Bill of Rights (as devised by Milton Friedman, someone who actually earned his Nobel Prize) to require balanced federal budgets, sound money, free trade and controls on government waste — I mean, spending.
Constitution Day 2012 comes at the same time that this country has had American soldiers and an ambassador killed within the past few days in the Middle East by adherents of the radical form of a religion that support neither free expression nor freedom of religion. It is ironic beyond words that the Democratic Party, by refusing to consider radical Islam a threat to this nation, is siding with a radicalized religion that supports nothing the Democratic Party does — for instance, gay rights and women’s rights.
The U.S. Constitution is 225 years old today. At this rate, I doubt it, or we, will last four more years.