by E. Jeffrey Ludwig
Issue 218– December 26, 2012
As a veteran teacher in the New York City public schools, it has been disappointing to note that U.S. history textbooks distance themselves from open praise and delight at the system of government our country enjoys. No sense of resounding gratitude is expressed for our Constitution. Federalism and checks and balances are dryly presented in a detached manner as mere mechanisms. There is no sense of delight at the incredible vision of a government “conceived in liberty” with the centers of power placed under wonderful constraints against tyranny.
Further, students will typically find politically correct statements to the effect that in the beginning women could not vote, the slaves had no rights, and “liberties still had to be won.” These disclaimers are intended to dilute the students’ patriotism. Our founding was just another event on the world stage. One is reminded of Pres. Obama’s repeated rejections of American exceptionalism, and how our freedoms are defined too negatively in the Constitution, with too many “freedom from” (governmental oppressions) provisions, instead of affirming governmental “freedom to” control, direct, and provide for the so-called general welfare (via re-distribution of wealth).
Textbooks must return to glorifying our Constitution so that dissatisfactions and rejection will fade into oblivion. What great truths, then, are enshrined in the Constitution?
Non-monarchical. Our system of government was the first non-monarchical system in the modern world except for a couple of cities in Switzerland. Here we do not have to bow before any man, but can live in the dignity of our personhood with others. William Penn as part of his Quaker beliefs, disdained even the removal of his hat before the King of England as unworthy obeisance. (Fortunately for him, the King was well-disposed towards William!) The section of the U.S. Constitution that disallows the granting of titles of nobility should not be read as a quaint section for antiquarians, but as a lively reminder that we are no longer under the bondage inferred by accountability to a titled class.
Institutionalized Integrity. Checks and balances are often portrayed as a mere mechanism for restraining government. However, the moral implications are significant. Here systemic features of government can restore balance to the government when it is threatened by tyrannies of the majority (legislation can be vetoed) or of a presumptuous executive who oversteps into “high crimes and misdemeanors” or is too willing to override the will of the people (a 2/3 override of a veto may take place).
Further, the very presence of statements in the Constitution about the removal of a President or a judge already implies or connotes a belief that said officials should be worthwhile, good, ethical, righteous, upstanding, incorruptible, honest, honorable, and persons with high moral values. Isn’t this really why citizens are repulsed when we learn of horrible, adulterous fornications by Presidents or aspirants for the presidency?
Original Concept of Liberty. How could anyone imagine enjoying life under the U.S. Constitution without natural and inalienable rights? These are enshrined in the Constitution itself and in the Bill of Rights. It’s a great comfort to know that the states, localities, and all individuals have resources in law for protection against the juggernaut of ever-growing federal governmental power over our lives. Yet, for many citizens a vision of impending chaos and doom is appearing on the horizon. Was there really due process when the government “bailed out” General Motors, but the bond holders did not receive the first payout, and had to settle for less on the dollar than they really deserved? Is this really due process at work?
Today, if a citizen calls Social Security, a recording will notify that citizen that the agent will shortly be available, but then another recording will announce that the caller will have to answer six questions. The recording asserts that these six questions are authorized under Social Security law, and that failure to answer the questions may result in fine or imprisonment! Undoubtedly justified by our government as questions and a threat needed to protect against identity theft, the lonely citizen must now run a recorded gauntlet of intimidation Also, the U.S. Census selected random citizens for an American Community Survey, and the threats of fine and/or imprisonment for not filling out the survey were printed on the envelope. Are these examples not disparagement of the rights of citizens that the Ninth Amendment tells us are not to be disparaged?
Who will protect us if cap and trade legislation is passed and our home heating and air conditioning is controlled from a central location by utility companies? And what about the proposed mandate that we not be allowed to sell our houses unless and until they are certified as properly “green?” Again, is this not another fundamental attack on property rights?
There is a left-wing tendency to try to supersede inalienable rights with the weird category of collective rights. Collective rights result in “protections” for people based on race, gender, age, national origin, disabilities, sexual orientation, etc. These “rights” can never be as fundamental as the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Why? Rights that accrue to one group automatically bring that group into conflict with other groups not in that category. If an act favors a particular race in order to protect it, then it will have discriminated automatically against other races. Similar reverse equations could be made throughout the entire list of protected categories. Thus collective “rights” tend to fragment a society. Justice requires equal treatment under the law for all.
Enumerated Powers. By the enumeration of federal powers in the Constitution, we perceive a priori that there are boundaries to federal power. The very fact of enumeration infers that the list is not to be enlarged indefinitely. Article 1, Section 8 implying power to accomplish that which is “necessary and proper” cannot be indefinitely expanded. That would mean any and all power for the federal government is implied. If that were the case, why then were the enumerated powers enumerated in the first place? The Federal Highway Administration has recently mandated that New York City replace its street signs at a cost to New York of $27 million. Why? They have determined that having streets named in upper and lower case letters is safer for motorists than having their names in all caps. Is this Constitutional? Could this type of mandate possibly have been approved by the Founders? We are entering a no man’s land where loss of liberty and our access to the common sense which liberty fosters is being threatened.
All who would formally or informally change our Constitution to a point of non-recognition sadly betray the vision on which our country was built. In Hebrew Scripture, the prophet Hosea says, “Without a vision my people perish.” Beware.
Jeffrey Ludwig blogs at www.definingjeff.blogspot.com.