Saturday, February 11, 2012

Constitution: Living Document or Parchment Guarantee?

This article caught my eye recently because it touches on a subject near and dear to my heart, as well as most people I know. It concerns our Constitution and a comparison of it to other, more recent Constitutions, written and adopted by nations inspired largely by the example America has made to the world - which is overwhelmingly good.

But, anyone with a conscience does know that our Constitution -excellent as it is- is not perfect; in fact, in some regards, it is clearly deficient and/or lacking in some of the freedoms we think we have. Some do simply choose to believe our Constitution IS perfect and we should not even think about changing a word, letter or a punctuation mark in it; which extremely difficult to do anyway under the rules that have been adopted.
“the U.S. Constitution is the most difficult to amend of any constitution currently existing in the world today."
You can speculate on the reasons for this ultra-conservative view as well as I can and maybe better, but why is such a position the one of choice for so many? To me, it seems that some people put so much faith in the lofty principles our Constitution embodies that any attempt to revise, clarify or add to it by Amendment amounts to heresy. Of course, that view amounts to defending individual belief systems, much like religion; which of course is protected under the very Constitution in question! How's that for circular reasoning? Maybe a better word than 'reasoning' is argument.

I suspect our Constitution offers different perceptions to different people, with just enough vagueness to guarantee wiggle room for those who want to debate their favored issue. Maybe that's why our Founders decided to let Thomas Jefferson write the first draft; he knew how to appeal to higher values without being too specific. Never mind that improvements would be needed later; it was necessary to get a document that could pass muster at the time -and our Constitution was the best compromise available to keep our shaky union together against outside forces. Why else would politics be called the art of the possible?

Thomas Jefferson, in a 1789 letter to James Madison, once said that every constitution “naturally expires at the end of 19 years” because “the earth belongs always to the living generation.”

But, getting something passed on principle is easier than getting every eventuality covered, as we have learned from the necessity for the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments and interpretations of the Constitution. That process is ongoing, as it should be, but difficult at best because entrenched thinking has come to look upon those vague words and lofty principles as agreeing with a host of secular opinions. People feel threatened by the very idea of changing something upon which rests their faith in the system that they have come to believe benefits their individual interests. Thus, any change is defended against with all the passion that is necessary to preserve their perceived advantage. They have learned to live with the status quo and just don't want to risk changing anything that might create altered circumstances.
...."the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, adopted in 1982, may now be more influential than its American counterpart."
Fortunately, there are others in the world who also admire our Constitution's concepts so much that they use it as an example to develop their own, as many countries have done. In some of these cases, the principles upon which the US of A was founded served as their starting point, but they were not entirely limited by it, because there do exist multiple possible improvements that can become an extension of it and benefit modern society.

The article cited describes research done by two distinguished professors of respected universities, one of them my own - U VA, the school founded by the same Thomas Jefferson who wrote our Constitution. Among the authors conclusions are some really interesting findings after extensive study of some 170 different constitutions; that ours is rather 'terse' by comparison and lacks clear statements of many rights now expected by many citizens.

There are, of course, limits to empirical research based on coding and counting, and there is more to a constitution than its words, as Justice Antonin Scalia told the Senate Judiciary Committee in October. “Every banana republic in the world has a bill of rights,” he said.

“The bill of rights of the former evil empire, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was much better than ours,” he said, adding: “We guarantee freedom of speech and of the press. Big deal. They guaranteed freedom of speech, of the press, of street demonstrations and protests, and anyone who is caught trying to suppress criticism of the government will be called to account. Whoa, that is wonderful stuff!”

“Of course,” Justice Scalia continued, “it’s just words on paper, what our framers would have called a ‘parchment guarantee.’'
Related to the susceptibility of our Constitution to be misinterpreted and warped to the advantage of some, is the current national debate over who controls Washington and our economy.

To hear how corrupted our system has become by the over-concentration of wealth and power is troubling to most of us, including an increasing number of conservatives who prefer real facts and rational reasoning over narrow, self-serving ideology and its rampant promulgation of propaganda to an audience that has become alarmingly ignorant and susceptible to often repeated corporate rhetoric in sound bytes.

A new term has been coined to describe that mass of people who often tune into FOX News for their info-mation; Ignorati a contraction of the words ignore and ignorance.
As a modern retro-counterpart to the Illuminati of ancient times - those who dared question Church dogma - these new, 'Ignorati' simply choose to be ignorant by ignoring anything that tries to awaken them from what they prefer to hear; especially factual explanations for things they choose to believe. Now, that is truly dangerous!

A recent PBS interview by Bill Moyers with former Reagan economic advisor Bruce Bartlett is an example of what I see as push-back against the Ignorati agenda.
Bartlett's remarkable conversion from a trusted member of the conservative establishment to an outspoken critic of it's corrupted policies has earned him nothing less than total ex-communication from his former colleagues
Why has he turned against such strongly held opinions?; because he can't stand the hypocrisy of constantly touting lies to bring down our government to benefit a cabal of crazy ideologues!
I would call that the courage of an honest person - even a hero - wouldn't you?

Watch the film clip to learn why Bartlett has come to think as he does, and why he believes it may even be possible for current, self-professed Tea Party members to eventually join the Occupy Wall Street movement!