Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Crazies Against America

Every day I read about a right-wing political action committee, activists group, news agency or commentator say “we've got to get the Constitution back...we're headed for tyranny...,” or something along those lines. Only yesterday I read about Virginia Thomas, wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, about whom most people know isn't the brightest candle in Washington D. C. and wonder whether there's a light on at all, starting a new political action committee, Liberty Central Inc. My first reaction was, “Ha! She's just putting her name in the pot to collect all that lobbying money being spent on the Republicans.” She's an opportunist. She said the very thing I hear from “Tea Partiers” every day, “we've got to get our Constitution back...” One would think that someone so close to a Supreme Court Justice would know, or have access to a Justice who should know, the Constitution and the ideas behind it.

Then today I read in the New York Times States' Rights Is Rallying Cry of Resistance For Lawmakers .” This article says that states across the country are legislating laws that make Federal Law invalid in their states. South Dakota is making Federal gun laws invalid in its state for guns made and used there. Utah says Federal health care laws are invalid unless approved by its legislature and it is taking federal land through eminent domain. Alabama, Tennessee and Washington are trying to make local police supreme over federal authority. Montana and Wyoming are making their own firearms laws. All of this, the states claim, is done under the authority of the Constitution's Tenth Amendment, entitled “States Rights.”

Here's what the Tenth Amendment says: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” This, it seems to me, is very clear English. It says that the states, or the people, can do anything that the Constitution has not given the United States government authority to do. That's it. There is nothing more to add, in my opinion, nor can there be any other interpretation.

So, you might ask, what has been delegated to the United States that would prohibit the states from making laws that fly in the face of federal law? That comes from Article Six of the Constitution, entitled “Supreme Law of the Land,” which says:

“All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

This, too, is plain English. It doesn't take a law degree to understand it. It says that the Constitution delegates to the United States government the authority to make laws that become “The Law of the Land” and any state law to the contrary is invalid, i.e., “ notwithstanding.” In other words, the states are “bound” to federal law, whether they like it or not. And, every federal, state, and local government official takes an oath to that effect. Plain and simple.

Yet, with the crazies against America so prevalent, 24/7, I have to ask myself, “Am I the one that is wrong?” You know what they say about a person who says, “ I'm not crazy. Everyone else is?” Well, am I the crazy one? Has my meager education really equipped me with the ability to read plain English? Am I missing something? So, even after reading the articles and amendments to the Constitution, and, in my opinion, having a clear understanding of what is written, I still have to go back to the Federalist Papers for a sanity check, to read what the founders had in mind when forming the United States. I've read them several times, and I always get a kick out of reading them the second, third, fourth and tenth time. What were they thinking?

It doesn't take long to realize that Hamilton, Madison and Jay, who wrote the Federalist Papers, were brilliant, well informed men. And, although they wrote the papers, anyone should be able to tell that there was a lot of discussion with Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, Adams, and all of those other Continental Congress members, and others who took action for and who had something to say for our new country, about what to say and how to say it in those papers. There had to be a lot of discussion because the papers discuss the proposed Constitution and new country, the United States, from every point of view, pro and con, and Hamilton, Madison and Jay could not have thought of all of those view points alone. But, to get a sense of what they had in mind, all I had to do was to read Hamilton's first paper, first paragraph. It says:

“To the People of the State of New York:

AFTER an unequivocal experience of the inefficiency of the subsisting federal government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America. The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world. It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force. If there be any truth in the remark, the crisis at which we are arrived may with propriety be regarded as the era in which that decision is to be made; and a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.”

At the time this was written, the states were joined in a lose “Confederacy,” each making its own laws, having fights over boarders and tariffs, making trade agreements with each other, and otherwise behaving like each was its own country, which they were. As Hamilton says, it was an “unequivocal experience of...inefficiency.” It stunk. The new Constitution was proposed for “...the safety and welfare of the parts...,” i.e., the states and people. Joined together, all would be better off and not depend on “accident and force,” on the whims of some special interest group or politician. Not to accept the new Constitution would be “...the general misfortune of mankind.” In other words, the country was a mess up to that point in History and joining together as United States would fix it. Otherwise, we would be like Europe, a bunch of states probably speaking different languages with conflicting laws and armies.

So, after my sanity check, finding that the Constitution and Hamilton, Madison and Jay said what I thought they said, I have to wonder what Constitution and History book people like Virginia Thomas, Fox News, Glenn Beck, etal., are reading. In fact, this may be the first time someone really can say,”I'm not crazy. Everyone else is.” Maybe I should go so far as to say that there really IS a “stupid gene” that I sometimes joke about and that I'll someday be credited with its discovery. The whole idea behind the United States was to have an overall government that wrote laws for the entire country for the common good and to tweak those laws over time, through the representative process, to make them better, again, for the common good. It's a living thing that constantly changes for the better, or at least that's the intent, by majority rule. That's the way it is. But, to tear it apart by obstructionism or the chaos of each state having its own laws is simply wrong. There is no other way to describe it, except anti-American.

To anyone reading this who sides with Tea Parties, Glenn Beck and Virginia Thomas, I have to ask you Hamilton's question: “whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force?” If you're still not persuaded, maybe you don't want a United States at all. Maybe you should think about it. Read the Constitution and at least the first twenty Federalist Papers, but first clear your mind of all the junk you've been hearing from Beck, Thomas, etal.


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