Teaching in high schools in New York City for twenty-one years, it was disturbing to see that U.S. history textbooks often 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 honor accorded to 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 in their books or hear them from their teachers 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. It had plusses and minuses like all of history, and nothing exceptional occurred. One is reminded of President Obama’s repeated rejections of American exceptionalism, and how our freedoms are defined too negatively by the Constitution, with too many “freedom from” provisions, instead of affirming governmental “freedom to” control, direct, and provide for the so-called general welfare (via redistribution 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 toward 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. Thus, if we have a president who would be a king, that individual is moving directly against the basic constitutional formulation. If we have an entrenched bureaucracy that assumes authority over the citizens generation after generation, then the spirit if not the letter of the Constitution is being breeched. By a strange inversion, the bureaucracy becomes the “new nobility.”
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 two-thirds 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 connotes a belief that said officials should be worthwhile, good, ethical, righteous, upstanding, incorruptible, honest, and 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 to the presidency? Or of bald-faced lies, as we saw repeatedly from the Clintons and now from President Obama?
Original Concept of Liberty. How could anyone imagine enjoying life under the U.S. Constitution without natural and inalienable rights? These rights, defined by the Declaration of Independence, 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. Was there due process when welfare, health care, and immigration legislation were revised by President Obama’s fiats? Is there due process when our government puts guns in the hands of Mexican criminals and one of our honored law enforcement personnel is murdered by one of those guns?
Who will protect us if, under cap-and-trade regulation, our home heating and air conditioning are controlled from a central location by utility companies (final stages of this technology are under development)? And what about the excessive use of eminent domain, and excessive federal regulation of privately held land? Should not these rules be considered fundamental attacks 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. If the case were otherwise, why then would the enumerated powers be 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 lowercase 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 thus of our access to the common sense that liberty fosters, are 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.
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