After considerable thinking on the subject I have finally formulated in my mind what has happened to our country. Over the past centuries, decades and years since the Constitution was ratified in 1789, the citizens of America have slowly but surely traded their guaranteed rights and liberties as represented by THAT Constitution and have replaced them with an invisible, pernicious set of new rights as represented by the present laws of the United States and not necessarily the Constitution as it stands today.
What do I mean by this and how did it happen?
What I mean by this is that words mean something. And so does intent. We have the actual words written in the Constitution as our guide to what our government may or may no do when representing our interests as a nation. In fact, these words were written quite plainly such that an average American citizen in the 18th century could understand and internalize the content and the intent of this document. There was no interpretation necessary: No lawyers were required to explain their rights and liberties to the citizens of the new nation. They were all in plain view and all citizens, from elected representative to field workers, had a common understanding of their meaning and intent.
Over time, however, it became clear that divining the meaning of the Constitution and furthermore transmitting its meaning to the hoi polloi was highfalutin business, and certainly not within the scope of intelligent or cognition of the average Joe citizen. On the Constitutional level, because there were so many opportunities for legal and political hijinx, we apparently needed legal scholars, steeped in the precedents and traditions of American law. Gradually, the Constitution itself began to take a back seat to the subordinate laws allegedly written to support it. Immense legal weight was and is given to “settled law,” even though the under-girding of these settled cases may be flimsy or possess the most fragile constitutionality. Law schools began to teach the importance of case law rather than focus on strict constitutionality. So instead of being the subject of the curriculum, Constitutional law and compliance became seminar topics in curricula dominated by case and tort law. Unfortunately in many law schools, including those in the rarefied air of the Ivy League, the Constitution has become a mere footnote when training our nation’s lawyers.
And with regards to the law and the Constitution, something more insipid has occurred. With every interpretation or mis-interpretation of what the Constitution “allows” our elected representative to create as laws of the land, the system maddeningly and chillingly adds layer-upon-layer of complexity upon our original Constitutional rights. The federal government now has rule after rule, dictate after dictate, mandate after mandate, regulation after regulation — you get the picture, that weighs upon the ability of the average American enjoy their life and liberty, or to ultimately pursue happiness.
But what does the legal system have to do with citizens anyway? In the end, the citizenry are supposed to toe the line and obey the dictates of the government, bolstered by the laws that our “representatives” have put in place. Right? First and foremost, we are supposed to be a nation of laws and not men — at least as posited by John Adams. But in a seminal sense, we are a nation of Constitutional liberties and freedoms, which cannot be superseded and subordinated by well-intentioned laws. But indeed this subordination has consistently happened over time. Sometimes for very good reasons, like truncating the freedom of speech to exclude crying “Fire” in a crowded theater, but most of the time it has been done for sinful and self-serving reasons by corrupt and contemptible legislators. Or even worse, determined as the intent of the Constitution using beneficial penumbras and the favorable interpretations of words and clauses by Supreme Court justices who were more ideological politically than they were loyal to the original intent of the document.
Making matters worse its that the Constitution was intended to be a user friendly document…as was supposed to be the nation it provides the operating framework for. The Framers never intended this to be a nation of law givers and law receivers — the rulers and the governed. No, the Constitution used simple, non-legalistic prose to convey its intent and its message to citizens and representatives alike. But again, with the passage of time American citizens have allowed a corruption of both the original intent and the process of governance to occur.
Our government and our society now supports a legal caste system when it comes to the Constitution and to the law. As individuals, the law is completely out of our hands. Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to submit or suffer the consequences! The laws, and their prospective constitutionality, are now in the retinue of high priests and priestesses of a new religious sect. A sect complete with rites and rules and regulations, and secret handshakes if you will, and with impenetrable powers with regards to the laws and the true (and often hidden) meaning of the Constitution. Our law givers have in essence become much like the fire bearers in ancient societies: Functionaries instilled with great responsibilities and importance in our society.
The Congress and the “Governed”
All the while that the legal system was being configured as an ersatz religion, our Congress was being co-opted and configured as a place where the average Joe citizen is unwelcome. It’s almost as if a sign were placed on the Rotunda that says “Citizens need not apply.” This sense of exclusion is anathema to what the Founders intended for the composition of the Congress. From the very beginning of our country, the Congress was intend to be the representative body where citizen-legislators of all occupations could participate. The Constitution makes no exclusions or allowances for the nature or situation of the representatives that each state may send to this body. Yet again, time coupled with corruption have made it difficult for an average citizen to be elected to the House of Representatives or nearly impossible to be elected to the Senate. We have now replaced traits like horse sense and virtue with Ivy League educations, past legislative “experience” and political connections. Couple these new determinants of suitability to the representation task with the fact that it takes a plump campaign war chest to overcome the inertia of a candidate deeply embedded into the two party political system, and you have a dire situation indeed for the average citizen who wants to honorably serve their fellow Americans.
The fact that there exists two political parties is also an unfortunate vestige of past bad practices in our government. The fact that these parties have come to dominate, no rule, our political lives is now accepted as the de facto way that things are done. But what role should parties play in the governance of our nation, given the fact that the Constitution does not mention such political allegiances? How can the real issues and real concerns of the average American be considered in a political process that has been configured for a fight? We now have a Congress that has been Balkanized as a result of these two parties. Primacy of one political philosophy has come to rule the day, and our republic. We now live and fully accept the concepts of majority and minority party rule: Democrat versus Republican. Sure there are so-called minor parties like Libertarians and the nascent Tea Party, but they trail far behind in regards to the political infrastructure, control and most importantly money that the two larger parties can muster and bring to bear.
And certainly making things worse in government is that “representation” has become all about money — all about perks that the government can provide to the citizenry, or more accurately to special constituencies in the citizenry guaranteed to provide generous legislators continued support and grateful votes in the next election. Once upon a time, at least as envisioned by the Founders, our representatives we supposed to, well, represent us…speak for our interests and advocate for our concerns as citizens of an individual state in the Union. Today, we hear a lot of talk about the “consent of the governed” and “doing what’s in the best interests of the citizens” and the “need to govern” being bandied about by our legislative betters. And this is another problem where our representatives have slowly become a select group who governs us. Again, this concept of governance is in direct conflict with the intent of the Constitution. Elected representatives do not govern those whom they represent, they are true advocates and above all they are acolytes of the Constitution. Or at least they’re supposed to be. In a strict Constitutional sense, they should listen to the concerns of their electorate and then voice these concerns to the remainder of the representatives in the Congress and take legislative action if absolutely necessary. Legislation should be used as a scalpel, not as a bludgeon.
But the emphasis on money and entitlements has separated the elected “representative” away from those he purports to represent. Advocacy for the electorate has been replaced by zealotry for the poor, the displaced or other sympathetic constituencies. The new advocacy for the manifold special interests groups in society has become big political business, and an incumbent or a candidate for elective office cannot expect to be (re-)elected without support for these constituencies, even though it may be to the detriment of the vast majority of the people who are supposed to be represented. With this situation, Americans have allowed themselves to essentially be “killed with kindness,” and the result is unsustainable budget deficits and mounting debt that will, unfortunately, never be paid off.
And, worse still, lawyers and the “lawyerly” class have infested our Congress. Roughly one-third of our representatives in the Congress are lawyers. Now considering that 62% of the members of the Constitutional Congress were lawyers, one might not think our modern-day proportion is not so bad. But no fair comparison may be made between the individuals who “studied the law” in Colonial times with our present day bar. Simply put, our contemporary legal brethren are steeped in American case law, precedent and the fine art of skirting the system whereas their historical counterparts were trained in the finer aspects of British law. Colonial lawyers had no preconceived notions about Constitutional interpretation and American jurisprudence, because there weren’t any in existence at the time!
Anyway, back to the proportion of lawyers in our modern Congress. Lawyers make up approximately 0.4% of our population (around 1.5 million of the 310 million total) yet constitute around 33% of our modern Congress. One would expect that based on their proportions in the total population that lawyers would be few and far between in the Congress, yet almost one third of that august body is “skilled” in the law. Why? Because the business of representation has turned from advocacy and rights to legislating and governing. And who better to legislate than lawyers, the ultimate manipulators of law?
The presence of such a preponderance of lawyers serving as representatives has allowed the legislative process to be corrupted from one of service and concerned advocacy to one of conflict between the law givers and the governed.
The Ruling Class
Now that serving in Congress is less about being a true representative of the people than it is about crafting laws, and furthermore since our “representatives” have perfected the process of governance, we citizens now must endure what may be kindly termed a ruling class. The best description of this ruling class may be found in the essay “America’s Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution” by Angelo M. Codevilla in the July/August 2010 edition of the American Spectator. It is a long piece, but it is the most accurate analysis of the ascendancy and then primacy of our contemporary ruling class. As such, I’m not focusing on the hows and whys of why we have such as class, but the reason that it came to power and the method that it holds on to this power.
The reason the ruling class came to power is quite simple. Human nature coupled with human frailty, chiefly in the forms of gluttony, envy and greed, were exploited by the individuals who were fortunate enough to be elected. Obviously the situation existed (and still exists today) where there were legion people who had nothing and wanted something, as unfortunately hard work and and a luckless existence did not reward their efforts. Enter the opportunistic elected representatives! Using a combination of audacity, trickery and legislative hocus pocus, the ruling class (augmented with complicit, appointed judges) started making socio-economic “investments” under the aegis of progressivism.
But these investments, investments for controlling future elections and enabling the primacy of a political ideology perhaps forever, required a willing citizenry to accept them. People being people took the bait, and they made the Hobson’s choice of goodies over a strict conformance to the Constitution. I guess it’s the ultimate confirmation of ‘it takes two to tango.’ And by allowing this craven manipulation to occur by their betters, we have insured that we will get more and more of this behavior in the future from the ruling class.
But the allowance of, then the ultimate endorsement of the ruling class (via our precious votes) not only emboldened the ruling class into using the electorate as useful idiots, it once again provided confirmation of a an observation attributed to an 18th century thinker. In 1721, Dr. Alexander Tytler was purported to have said:
A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years.
Prof. Tytler may or may not have actually said these words, but this quote must be considered with caution and we should proceed on our self-destructive path with great peril. Because like Dr. Tytler, the ruling class are excellent students of human nature and behavior. And because of this fact they are not likely to let up with their political philosophy, even though the future of our nation may be damaged through their efforts. See, the ruling class is also wealthier than the average Joe citizen through their exploitation of their privileged circumstances. So for them, who cares if the masses have to suffer economic or even political turmoil and upheaval? The ruling class is all but guaranteed to regain their footing regardless of the mess that they get the rest of us into.
If I were a betting man I would say that the die is already cast and that our future as a nation is dismal. Why? Because we have citizens who are reluctant to refuse entitlements, regardless of the form that they are offered to them in. Another reason for my pessimism is the pernicious and stubborn tenacity of the ruling class. As certain as there are suicide cults, we have among us a political sect hell-bent on implementing their ideology regardless of the outcome, positive or negative. And given the increasing size of the government debt, the ever-increasing budget deficits and regulatory throttles being unleashed upon free enterprise businesses, the outcome of the progressive ideology appears to be quite negative and ultimately most harmful to the nation.
Now understand that things can change for the better. If our representatives can exert some self-control, discipline and a modicum of responsibility — and more importantly, some absolute constitutional fealty and real leadership, we can emerge from our present circumstances in reasonable shape. But this will require corresponding sacrifice as well, but not just sacrifice from taxpayers and “the rich.” We have to embrace a new ethic as individuals understanding that the free ride is over. That entitlements are tolls on the road to perdition. That we have to show the same fiscal restraint in government as we must in our personal lives. To continue to remain a strong nation we cannot trade the future security of unborn generations of Americans for the political gain of the ruling class and the continuation of an underclass co-dependent with government.
These steps are almost impossibly difficult, but like the Hebrews of Moses’ time we have assured ourselves through our own sinful actions that we must wander in virtual desert, free from prosperity as a nation, for a good long time. Only after this cleansing with suffering may we return from the ranks of the governed into the renewed (and hopefully better appreciated) liberty of American citizenship. I’m convinced that time does heal all wounds and that because we are human, we need to have “our noses shoved in it” in order to change our behaviors and to form new opinions — particularly as things relate to politics.
We don’t have many choices left to us. Come November we can re-elect or elect Democrats who will maintain the majorities in the Congress, and buttress the utter madness that the agenda of President Obama has at its core. This would be the ultimate in self-destructive behavior. Or we can elect Republican candidates such that they can achieve majority status in one or both chambers of the Congress. This would effectively grind President Obama’s agenda to a screeching halt. It would be a welcomed half-time in a game where the progressive opponents have been running up the political score with great gusto. And maybe, just maybe, the election of Republicans would lead to the repudiation of Obama the man in 2012. This would be a highly desirable result, but nothing can be taken for granted in the fickle arena of national politics.
Finally, there is a third option, and I believe this is the option that could lead to our ultimate salvation as a nation. We can support, endorse and vote for candidates who are members of a third party. Call it what you will; Tea Party, Constitutionalists, Fiscal Conservatives, we desperately need a viable alternative to ‘None of the Above’ as a category to place our votes. But this new option must not be just a rejection or repudiation of Democrats and Republicans, it must be a real, clear choice that offers voters the promise of Constitutional adherence coupled with fiscal restraint. This option must not be a compromise, it must be an iron-clad guarantee that candidates from this party would not resort to abusing their legislative powers for personal political gain. And it would assure every voter that the Constitution would be respected as it should be, at least according to the oath of office taken by our alleged representatives:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Except that as members of this new party, they REALLY mean it.
Like no other time in the history of the United States of America does its citizens hold its future and its fate in their hands. Our actions, or correspondingly our inaction, will bear grave consequences on the future existence of our nation. It is up to us to show that we can steel ourselves to the choices that must be made and then make these choices, sacrificing our wants and needs, in favor of securing a viable future for our nation’s inheritors. The time is now, and history will either remember our generation for its courage and wisdom, or our progeny will curse us for our continued greed and selfishness.
The future is calling us, and it’s time to answer!