Nel's New Day

October 30, 2011

Whither the Constitution?

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 1:57 PM

Worship of the Constitution—and by extension, the country’s Founding Fathers—is a prime tenet of conservatives. Tea Partiers hold a high disregard for the new Occupy movement, yet both groups, the one funded by the Koch brothers and the one that formed through grass-roots work, express similar beliefs that they are an ignored silent majority. Both groups want freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and the right to petition the government for the redress of grievance. Both groups believe that the Constitution supports their rights. And it does. But what more should the conservatives know about the Constitution?

As originally written, the Constitution was an explicitly pro-slavery document protecting the Southern planters and other landed classes. Slaves were considered only three-fifths of a person for the purposes of population census, and “Indians not taxed” didn’t exist.

As originally written, the Constitution attempted to create its own House of Lords, with the Senate selected by state legislators as a check on the House of Representatives. Senators weren’t directly elected by the populace until 1913.

As originally written, the Constitution limited the right to vote to only white male land-owners, creating a large part of the citizens ineligible to vote. During the first election under the Constitution, less than one-fifth of the adult population was eligible to vote. This ruling stayed until the middle of the nineteenth century when North Carolina became the last state to eliminate property ownership as a voting requirement in 1856. Even then, women were prevented from voting in federal elections until 1920.

Conservatives ignore (or don’t know that) the Founding Fathers, including James Madison, wanted the Constitution to protect themselves because they were the ones who held either money or land. They used their personal situations to make the decisions that would result in a document that many people now accept as if from on high. The Electoral College was written in such a way as to deter direct citizen involvement because the Founding Fathers simply did not trust the masses to make a decision as important as deciding the president.

“If you took the originalists at their word,” said David Strauss, a liberal University of Chicago law professor, “you could punish people for criticizing the government, the federal government could discriminate against anyone it wanted to, and there’s a real argument that the interstate highway system is unconstitutional. The federal prison system and criminal law would be in serious question, and forget the Federal Reserve. It would be gone.”

Since the creation of the Constitution, the three branches of the government have fought to broaden people’s rights, liberties, and freedoms by extending the rights of  citizens not specified in the original Constitution. Mass democracy for all the people has required fighting the elite democracy produced by the Founding Fathers.

The Constitution still contains procedures that lack the one-person, one-vote of democracy.  The requirement for adding amendments to the Constitution is that three-fourths of the states ratify the proposed amendment, but this number has no relationship to the number of people voting for or against an amendment. Because of population distribution across the country, one-fourth, or 14, states could have only 4 percent of the entire population, meaning that 4 percent of the country’s population could veto an amendment. Technically, people don’t even vote on ratifying an amendment; their representatives do. So far fewer people than the 4 percent would have any part in this action. Thirty-nine percent of the population can adopt an amendment if they live in the right states, yet the majority of the people are unable to either adopt or veto an amendment.

Some conservatives purport that the only purpose of the Constitution is to limit government; others maintain defense of the country from foreign attack as the only purpose of the Constitution. They missed the first sentence of the document with its six intentions: (1) form a more perfect union; (2) establish justice; (3) insure domestic tranquility; (4) provide for the common defense; (5) promote the general welfare; and (6) secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

In their “cherry-picking” of the Constitution words, conservatives have used their “limit government” excuse to work toward eliminating regulations that actually “promote the general welfare” while they extend government to reduce the ability for everyone to vote and for women to control their own bodies. Conservatives fail to see that every one of the amendments, except the 18th Amendment, either clarified legislative actions or expanded citizens’ rights. The 18th Amendment, prohibiting “intoxicating liquors,” was overturned by the 21st Amendment within 13 years. Thus the history of the Constitution is to ensure rights for the people of this nation.

Despite their supposed reverence for the Constitution, conservatives want changes like those that Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry recommends. He would abolish lifetime tenure for federal judges (Article III, Section I), give Congress the power to override Supreme Court decisions by a two-thirds vote, repeal federal income tax (16th Amendment), and end direct election of senators (17th Amendment). Then he would add amendments requiring the federal government to annually balance its budget, define marriage as between one man and one woman, and make abortion illegal.

The problem is not the Constitution: the problem is that the majority of today’s politicians (and many judges) fail to represent the common good. Instead they represent the powerful private interests which fund them, pursuing self-interest and seeking to retain their offices that bring them wealth and power. In our current system, advertising in the media is crucial. Economic power produces political power, and political power produces economic power.

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