We all have been hearing much in this campaign season about the Constitution of the United States. Certain candidates based their platforms on the plea that we need to return to a strict adherence of the words of our Founding Fathers.
Candidates use the Constitution as a basis for their positions -- usually in opposition -- on everything from entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicare, unemployment benefits) to the economy (the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Credit Card Act).
We are not making an argument for or against any of the issues or programs that have come to the fore in the recent months of the Obama Administration, or to which the opposition rails against.
But we have to question the banner within which the opposition wraps itself -- constitutionalism.
Our skepticism is simple enough to see when we re-read the Constitution's Preamble:
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
Read it again. Through the entire rest of the document's seven original articles, the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments) and 17 more amendments from 1795 to 1992; the Preamble remains.
And it is in the Preamble where the Founding Fathers really put us to the test.
What does "a more perfect Union" mean? How about "insure domestic Tranquility"? What about "promote the general Welfare"?
Think you know? Guess what? Other folks think they know what those passages mean, too.
Guess what else? There is no one true answer.
Certainly, Amendments 11 through 27 prove that Americans, when they amass enough conviction (two-thirds vote by the Senate and Congress; and ratification by three-fourths of the states) can add new rules. Indeed, we outlawed alcohol with the 18th Amendment in 1919 and repealed it in with the 21st Amendment in 1933. That proves we can even reverse ourselves.
At one moment in history, Americans thought Prohibition was the answer. Prohibition helped to "promote the general Welfare." At another moment, turns out we didn't think so after all.
And throughout the history of America, the Preamble remains the part of our Constitution that challenges us -- every election season, every day of our lives. The Preamble should cause us to reexamine our desire to change the rules as we will, by simple majority of the sensibilities of the moment.
In short: True Constitutionalists should know that it's not that easy, and that it's not supposed to be.
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