Thursday, September 10, 2009

52 words

Fifty two words: "We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, 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.''

What follows are several articles setting out the mechanisms for electing and removing representatives, divisions of power, allocations of responsibilities, and twenty seven amendments correcting, modernizing and otherwise making more (or in some cases less) perfect this experiment in government. You should read it, it takes less than an hour and can be found in any library in the country and about twenty six million places on the internet.

Since ratified, this document, more than any created before or since, has been scrutinized, dissected, pored over, mulled, modeled, muddled, misconstrued and manipulated. It has been used to further and beleaguer the same issues, to ascribe rights by inference and deny them by constructionism. Liberals and conservatives, the fearful and the fearless, solace seekers, religious zealots and atheists, businessmen and unionizers all frequently point to the same article or amendment to press their case. Indeed, its very existence solicits these debates with the implied promise that each decision rendered regarding the broad, and deliberately vague it seems, words within, will make incremental steps toward that 'perfect union', so unattainable, yet wished for so devoutly.

But it seems to me that so many of these debates miss the main idea and forget a critical point. Those fifty two words, which I was required to memorize in the fourth grade, are not just the 'preamble' to the Constitution, they are the soul of it. Everything that follows those fifty two words are just the sausage of lawmaking; the meat and potatoes the founders created in order to implement the ideals and goals so nobly and simply advanced at the outset.

Raging now is the debate about healthcare reform. Outrageous lies fly carelessly about in a maelstrom of partisanship. Each histrionic syllable is breathlessly reported by an increasingly flaccid Fourth Estate, which has overthrown responsibility for ratings, and rushes past reasonable discourse to get to the most contentious and least illuminating sound bite. Creeping Socialism, Death Panels, higher taxes, hidden agendas, birthers, do nothings, abortion squads, Medicare killers, these are all code for the right wingnuts (yes, I do mean wingnuts) to try to cobble together the remains of what was once a party that honored those fifty two words, into a mean-spirited cabal of embittered, racist, fear mongers. I don't use these terms carelessly; words matter, lies matter, truth matters and these words reflect what I believe to be true.

Lest anyone think I'm just another leftie posting an anti-conservative screed, I should tell you I'm a Republican. Or at least I was. Now I guess I'm a republican-one who favors the republic form of government-soon to be no longer a member of the Republican Party. When I change my affiliation back to Independent it will be done wistfully, wishing that the Bill Buckley's of today's party, if any are still out there, would have the backbone to call out, expose and excoriate the misanthropes that have hijacked and held hostage my party. They are killing thoughtful conservatism, and in the process, strangling those precious fifty two words.

Surely it is not just, that the most vulnerable among us perish at the doorsteps of insurance companies for want of affordable healthcare, any more than it was just that children should labor at dangerous machines for long hours during the industrial revolution. That was wrong and our government made it illegal over the vociferous objections of business owners, yet our Republic survived, thrived even, as an example of enlightenment.

The common defense is not just about wars and rumors of wars, but about enemies within and without. When the Constitution was written little was known of disease, medicine had little or no scientific basis, and food born illness was only a vaguely formed theory. But these were, and are enemies within. We as a nation commonly defend our citizens against disease, regulate foodhandling and purity and devote billions for the relief and reconstruction of the ravages of disasters natural and man made. How is defending our population from illness on an individual basis through health care suddenly creeping Socialism? It's not, purely and simply.

The general welfare and the blessings of liberty are not free. Civil war was waged (and in some quarters is ongoing) over civil rights. The opportunity to vote as a person of color or as a woman required repairs to our founding document's articles, but not to it's ideas. However this debacle over health care resolves, whether with justice and dignity for all citizens or as a lingering albatross around our collective necks, is yet to be resolved. But I believe in those fifty two words. They are why I fly the flag. They are why I get sentimental at parades and put my hand over my heart to say the pledge. They are why I thank members of the Armed Forces for their service. They are why I decided to start this blog. They are what set forth the most precious tenets of our Republic. They provide the working definition of what it really means to be an American.


  1. Wonderful, thoughtful post! A pleasure to be reading. :)

  2. Thanks for this. I enjoyed reading it.

    Maybe you are one of the thoughtful conservatives who could take back your party from the misanthropic wingnuts. Someone's going to be there to pick up the pieces at the end of the GOP's slow-motion implosion, and we'd all be better off if it were people like you.

    --(a friend of TD's)

  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  4. Thanks. I often feel saddened, disappointed, and think that all the calls, letters, protests, and other work that people have put in just won't get anywhere because it's Rule By Wingnut, and has been since as long as I can remember...and how the Jackass Party does nothing but try to placate and bend over for them. 3000 people march down the streets of Seattle in support of healthcare for all, and the only response we get is a bunch of Tea-Bag types calling us traitors and whores, accusations that we're in bed with Bin Laden or advocating Stalinist takeover of everyday life.

    This is why I ceased to be insulted when someone calls me a Socialist, and ended up wearing the label with a certain, bitter pride.

    Having just lost my insurance due to a layoff, I am mad as hell that I don't seem to have options, especially given a pre-existing condition. I also had to learn a friend died at age 32 because he had no insurance and couldn't afford care until he ended up in the ER, and it was too late for him. The fact he is dead while the insurance mafia gets double-digit profits and cuts people off on technicalities is total bull. It's killing small business, it's killing the middle class. It will completely crash our economy as the Boomers age.

    Where is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for anyone but the insurance cabal?

    But America is ruled by the wing-nuts, the shallow, and the spineless. I'll be shocked if anything remotely resembling reform passes.

  5. For Allronix1, and all who commented, my thanks, and this notation: America is ruled more by complacency, inattention and fear rather than the wingnuts of either party.

    Always there has been, and always will there be rancorous debate, ignorance (both unintentional and willful), sluggishness and disingenuous actions by partisans on all sides.

    As I see it there are two things that have routed efforts at civility and genuine attempts to reach a working consensus--however fragile or tense it might be; and they are speed and fear. Speed is best represented by this very post. Never before has so much information, communication and organizational technology been so widely available at such a cheap price. It now costs relatively nothing to create a site or blog,(or both), populate it with whatever untrue tripe you wish and create a following of the ignorant, ill informed and poorly prepared populace that wants to believe what it wants to believe irrespective of truth, common sense or even personal self-interest. Gadgets at a blog can make mass emailings from fruitcakes disproportionately effective against legislators seeking to take the pulse of their constituents.
    Speed also steals the time for thoughtful consideration. Ideas, like a good tea, need a bit of time to steep. Instead legislation is now more like a fast food meal, filling but not in the least nutritious.

    The other factor is fear. Shakespeare's Hamlet pointed out that most of us would rather bear the hardships we know than try on another set of fears. We may not like the present conditions, but at least they are familiar, maybe comfortable, even. Legislators have lost courage, too. It takes courage and vision to do the right thing even if you know it will cost you your seat, but we need strength from our leaders to take the temporal risk of merely losing an election in order to create the greater good of doing what's best for the country.

    Most of us live our lives paying attention to politics every couple of years, judging whether things seem to be going along sort of okay, or not so well, and vote accordingly.

    What is currently missing is for the Democrats to finally recognize that part of the reason we returned them as a decisive majority was so that things could get done in spite of opposition from the right. Bi-partisan? Please...that's not American. Majority rules; that's American. It's in the Constitution. You could look it up! I did.

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  7. Thanks for sharing your viewpoint, Robert. I'm a friend of Todd, who can probably attest to my passion for politics as well.

    At any rate, Barry Goldwater, one of the most famously ideological politicians, memorably said, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Barry Goldwater has been dead for 11 years, but the real tragedy is that his breed of politicians has been dead for nearly 20.

    For the party that created our crises of misbegotten war, mismanaged economy, the lack of regulation of our banking industry, and handing our country over to rich obstruct the one person who is trying to repair the damage is indefensible.