Many, including this correspondent, have lately increased their study of the American founding and the principles at its core, and are sorely concerned that we are losing our "great experiment." And it is happening at such a frenetic pace that keeping up with it and responding seems virtually impossible for those of us at the grass roots level. We despair that the damage being done is irreversible, and that the outcome is unavoidable.
Our current President is on the record saying that he views the Constitution as a constraint on Government action, as embodying primarily "negative rights." It's clear he sees it as an impediment to his agenda. He is an Ivy educated lawyer, and a former "professor" of Constitutional Law. That he could hold such a view with his background is frightening and goes to the very heart of why all civilizations eventually fall.
With all due respect, Mr. President, that is exactly why we have a Constitution: to establish and constrain a system of governance. As someone said, laws constrain people, constitutions constrain government. Laws and government derive their moral authority from the Constitution; if we hold the latter to be irrelevant and malleable, then the former have no foundation and are without meaning.
When you come right down to it, the Constitution is the only tangible framework we have to define our system of Government. Without it, there is no America and no foundation for everything we consider unique to our way of life.
If it is not held sacred and inviolate, than we have a free-for-all subject to public whims. All elected and appointed officials take an oath to preserve, protect, and defend this Constitution, yet it is obvious to all but the most gullible that their oaths have lost their meaning, and that it is a rare official who understands the document in the most profound sense.
The very essence of the Constitution is that we established a limited government with enumerated powers. That is, the Government has only those powers specifically granted to it by the Constitution, and nothing more. Adhering to such a design requires two things: officials who take their oath and the Constitution seriously, and a "watchdog" process that enforces both.
At this point, we appear to have neither. Our elected representatives, always intent on doing good and preserving their jobs, have turned the founding principles on their head. They tacitly assume that government has unlimited powers, they ignore the concept of enumeration, and they dare us to stop them from establishing authority they were never intended to have. They compel us to pay for their creations by force of law. Doing "good" and working in the "helping field" becomes the end all be all justification for everything.
On the judicial front, "strict construction" of the Constitution is derided as a mean-spirited and archaic point of view. The enlightened claim the Constitution is a living document, that it embodies various penumbras, and that our understanding of it should be informed by decisions in other countries.
They argue that we need "moderate" Justices on the Supreme Court, rather than hide-bound ones who dig their heels in when pushed to ignore Constitutional limits.
Justice Antonin Scalia addressed this when he said:
[Y]ou hear in the discourse on this subject, people talking about moderate, we want moderate judges. What is a moderate interpretation of the text? Halfway between what it really means and what you’d like it to mean? There is no such thing as a moderate interpretation of the text. Would you ask a lawyer, “Draw me a moderate contract?” The only way the word has any meaning is if you are looking for someone to write a law, to write a constitution, rather than to interpret one.
In recent months, the concept of an ethnic minority woman reaching wiser decisions because of the "richness of her experience" has been front and center in the debate over the relevance of our Constitution in the modern era. This is a perfect example of how we allow "nuance" and other subjective factors to intrude on an objective subject.
"Excuse me professor; I have a question."
"Yes, Poppy, what is it?"
"Well, isn't the Constitution that the current fashion finds restrictive, irrelevant, dated, living, and malleable the same one that defines and grants the powers of office that these individuals occupy? Don't our President, our Senators, our Representatives, and Justices have their power and authority only by virtue of the same Document that they wish to shape to their own desires?"
"Yes, Poppy, I suppose it is. What is your point?"
"It's very simple, Professor. If we aren't obligated to hold sacred and inviolate the framework embodied in our Constitution, why should we respect and honor their offices, cede them authority over us, and feel compelled to obey their laws and comply with their policies?"
"When you put it that way, Poppy, I don't know how to answer."
"Well, Professor, you could always say, as our politicians are wont to do, 'that's not the issue.' Even though it is."
"And then you could say that you'll get back to me on that after you've had a chance to let your staff look at it."
"You're a regular smart-ass aren't you Poppy? Class dismissed."