How relevant is the Constitution?

© St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Tad Armstrong

The first reading of the United States Constitution in the House of Representatives last month caused some to question its relevance in today’s world. How could the supreme law of the land, complete with provisions allowing Americans to change it whenever their proposal is strong enough to persuade representatives in sufficient numbers to do so, possibly amount to anything less than the essence of contemporary relevance?

The National Constitution Center, created by Congress, is housed in its Philadelphia facility at a cost of $185 million. It is defined as a “non-partisan” organization dedicated to increasing awareness of the Constitution’s “relevance” in the daily lives of Americans. President Bill Clinton and names like Bush, Carter and Ford appear in leadership positions at the Center. Congress didn’t launch such a project intending to prove that the word “relevance” is really code for “irrelevance.” I’m just sayin’.

The focus of our Constitution is the birth and preservation of freedom. The rest of the world seeks more of it with greater frequency. Witness Egypt. President Obama correctly urged President Mubarak to support the “universal” rights of the Egyptian people by immediately restoring the free speech of internet communication and refraining from government encroachment on peaceful assembly.

Hypocrisy apparently cannot be embarrassed. Space does not permit an extended discussion of this administration’s ongoing efforts to curb free speech via the non-sequitur known as the “Fairness Doctrine” and a Federal Communication Commission that has its sights aimed at taking over the internet, not to mention ridiculous efforts to make the foregoing gun metaphor a free speech violation and the ongoing assault on the constitutional right of peaceful assembly right here at home. Our children must be very confused.

While the rest of the world seeks to gain freedom, some of our immediate past and current representatives in Congress seem determined to take it away from us and far too many of our citizens appear willing to let it happen, thus permitting more government control of our lives in return for government promises that (a) cannot possibly be fulfilled and (b) will serve to entrap many into a life of dependence. Harsh, you say? Please. The consequences of saying “no” to more governmental entitlements don’t begin to approach the certainty of an appointment with the gallows for those who declared their (and, by default, our) independence if they had failed.

So, what was the reaction to the first-ever reading in the House?

Several Democrats criticized the failure to read repealed provisions relating to slavery, calling the omission revisionist history. No one with integrity could ever suggest that we sweep our national disgrace from the pages of history, but this was not a day to dwell upon our mistakes. It was a day to remind sitting legislators of their obligation to support the “existing” Constitution, inclusive of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, and to let the American people know that their obligation to act within its limits will be honored.

Vanity Fair criticized the Republican-led effort by coming up with a half-baked formula concluding that the three hours it took to read our national treasure cost American taxpayers a tad more than $1 million. (Sound engineer, please turn on the canned laughter while we ponder VF’s attempt to paint Republicans as hypocrites for spending $1 million while promising an agenda to seriously bring down a crippling national debt of over $14 trillion.)

Some Democrats and far too many media outlets have mocked this attempt to raise awareness of the Constitution. Many Democrats no longer pay any attention to its constraints. We know who you are because you have unashamedly told us exactly where you stand. You should be expelled by your fellow congressmen for your brazen repudiation of the solemn oath you took to support the very document that enabled your insolence.

The idea that we cannot come together as a nation to simply read the text in its current form without cynicism and rancor is just shameful. I have never failed in the last 15 months of this column to call Republicans to the carpet for squandering opportunities at statesmanship. Those Democrats who failed to participate in this symbolic gesture missed the boat on this one. Indeed, our children must be very, very confused.

The Constitution was not set in concrete. If you do not like how it reads (or how it is being interpreted) and you do not have the will or facts to gain the consensus necessary to add amendment 28 to the previous 27, perhaps you should understand this simple truth – you lose. Join the club, for the rest of us have been on the losing end of some of the battles you have won. That is the American way.

Irrelevance lies not with the Constitution, but with those distorted views from either side of the political divide that fail to find the requisite Article V support of the American people.

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