Today, Saturday, Sept. 17, is Constitution Day, set aside for remembering the Constitution of the United States. It is worthwhile to consider the great charter of this nation and where we are headed.
There are only seven articles in the body of the Constitution, with the Bill of Rights making up the first 10 amendments, amplifying or clarifying the understanding of those who developed the document so crucial in the development of this country. Its specific purpose is to limit the federal government and to protect the citizens from the abuses which come from power.
The founders were intelligent, well-read people. Hundreds of written works were collected from around Europe and sent to America so that the writers of the document could get as clear a picture of political reality as possible at the time. They set out to institute something that had never been tried: a nation founded on rights of the individual instead of power for the political establishment.
The original Constitution was certainly not perfect, but it laid the foundation for free society and economic progress. The amendment process is a key provision that affords the opportunity to correct defects of the original document and prior amendments while protecting it somewhat from the vagaries of political expediency. The amendment mechanism is intentionally difficult and provides a high threshold for passage to guard against the influence of special interests as much as possible.
One of the oft-depreciated provisions appears in article six, the requirement that "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officials, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution." Senators take the following oath: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God." All high officials in state and national government take a similar oath before assuming their duties. The purpose of the provision is to use the honor invested in national and state offices to ensure that the provisions of the document are followed.
How well have our officials honored their oaths? Nancy Pelosi, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, was asked at a press conference where in the Constitution was Congress given authority for a specific act which she was championing. Her response was to laugh at him and move on to the next questioner without any answer.
Presidents, legislators and jurists have all laughed at the idea that they are bound by the constitution. In other words, their oaths of office held no meaning for them. That is the fundamental weakness of the Constitution. There is no provision for holding officials accountable for lying while taking the oath or subsequently rejecting the honor inherent in the oath and their office. The Constitution is meant to protect the people from government, but our elected representatives and unelected officials treat it as a blank check, giving them whatever powers they can get away with.
Many politicians and intellectual leaders trample the Constitution and treat it with contempt, putting forward the argument that it is a living document and that it must change with the times. That argument is valid as far as it goes. The amendment process is the provision for keeping the document fresh and relevant. Interpretations at odds with the obvious wording and the meaning distilled from the writings of the founders are not the way to keep the document alive but rather ways to kill it, to deprive it of meaning, of force, and of potential to restrict the evils of concentrated power and the tyranny of the majority. The true living constitution is the one that can continually perform the original task for which it was designed: to bind the hands of the politicians and the special interests and to maximize the freedom and prosperity of the citizens. The honor of elected representatives to their oaths of office is the only way to do that. Americans, wake up and make your politicians accountable and hold them to the honor of their solemn promises, honor displayed by their faithfulness to the Constitution.
Dan McLaughlin is a columnist for The Post-Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.