THE CONSTITUTION: Often Ignored; Never Irrelevant

RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., September 17, 2013 – Today marks the 226th anniversary of the Constitution of the United States, and with each passing year, we seem to become more ignorant of its contents and intent. The fact that the subject of Civics has given way to more “politically correct” subjects in our public school curricula may be one of the root causes of the problem, but there is no excuse for our 537 federally elected officials to be unfamiliar with its substance.

Perhaps it’s time to provide a refresher course for those who need it.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s concentrate on the 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.”

Notice that it begins with the words “We the People” … not “We the Democrats” or “We the Republicans;” not “We the Men” or “We the Women” or “We the Gays” or “We the Straights” or We the Blacks, the Whites, the Hispanics, the Asians, the Native Americans” or any other category used to separate individuals for political purposes on a basis of otherwise irrelevant characteristics. It begins with the words “We the People” because it is meant to represent all citizens “of the United States;” not just those who donate to a political campaign or represent a special interest group that can deliver votes to a particular Party.

The Preamble also clarifies that the “People” are “of the United States” to distinguish its formal citizens from those whose allegiance may be affiliated with other countries.

Now, let’s examine the purpose of the Constitution as it is defined by the Preamble.

The Constitution was ordained and established “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.”

The first purpose suggests a comparative responsibility. Specifically, “to form a more perfect Union” than the one that existed at the time. Imagine what could be achieved if we were to assume this as the ongoing responsibility of every citizen and, in particular, the responsibility of our elected officials.

What could we achieve if our focus was on the constant improvement of the Union rather than trying to realize increasingly divisive political victories for one Party or another? What if we applied all the time, money and resources that are squandered on maintaining and expanding political power and, instead, redirected them at preserving individual liberties, expanding opportunities, and constructing a society that would serve as a role model for the rest of the world in efficient, effective and representative government?

The Preamble also calls upon us to “establish Justice.” How well are we doing in that regard?

We seem to struggle with the concept of justice particularly since the notion of political correctness entered into the equation. There was a point in our Nation’s history during which the Judicial Branch meted out “tough love” with respect to preserving fundamental rights even when the application was manifestly unpopular. Now, judicial temperament has seemingly given way to what’s “trending.”

A more linear interpretation of the Bill of Rights would help to once again “establish Justice.”

For example: The First Amendment would have more meaning if it weren’t as politically flaccid. The major Parties often argue in favor of one element within the First Amendment while ignoring another.

Case in point: When there was a discussion about the construction of a mosque at Ground Zero, many Conservatives, who normally cite the importance of freedom of religion, temporarily abandoned that position to condemn the mosque. Meanwhile, Progressives, who typically are the champions of free speech, attacked the right of Conservatives to express their point of view.

Just to emphasize the problem, here are a few additional examples.

Consider how your privacy under the Fourth Amendment is permitted to be breached today in the name of protecting the country or enforcing its laws. Your personal correspondence is now subject to governmental examination though little evidence exists to suggest that the magnitude of the exception is necessary to support the associated objective.

Then, somewhat ironically, there’s the fact that the IRS may provide special scrutiny of your tax status if you dare to use the word “Constitution” in your organization’s title or bylaws.

The right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment is almost a thing of the past. Perhaps it’s because we rank as the number one country in the world with respect to per capita prison population, or maybe it’s because our laws have become so complex that almost everyone is technically in violation of some element of the criminal code.

Correspondingly, don’t even bother to read the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. It seems that nearly anything can be justified as being delegated to our federal government at this point.

Now, let’s move on to our responsibility to “insure domestic tranquility.”

Rather than to “insure domestic tranquility”, we seem more destined to disrupt it. With increasing regularity, our Nation has promoted an emotional environment that can best be described as an attempt to create The Divided States of America. The major Parties use stereotypes to foster a sense of oppression and a “We versus They” mentality for the singular purpose of gaining political advantage.

As an example: Our justice system imposes a higher level of punishment for violent assaults against members of specific categories of our society by identifying those acts as “hate crimes.” Yet, that same justice system often argues that punishment has limited value as a deterrent. Trying to rationalize a legal distinction predicated upon victim characteristics rather than the nature of the crime seems specious at best.

To paraphrase former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (testifying about the murders in Benghazi): Does it really matter? Isn’t the consequence of the assault the same to the victim, or is it somehow less relevant if it’s perpetrated upon an 87-year-old man who had served his country in WWII and earned a Purple Heart as opposed to a person of color or a person with a non-traditional sexual orientation?

Correspondingly, who can forget how well the first post-racial Presidency has been going? While the rhetoric to maintain the politically advantageous racial divide remains in place, (e.g., the Henry Gates incident, the Trayvon Martin incident, etc.), the education, safety, and economic disparities for minorities have actually gotten significantly worse during the President’s time in office.

Domestic tranquility has not only been overlooked in recent years, it’s also been negatively impacted.

Next, let’s consider our obligation to “provide for the common defence.”

While the spelling of “defense” has changed over the years, the core concept hasn’t. Our federal government has a clear responsibility to protect the Union (i.e., the United States). In that regard, it has done an exceptional job.

However, with increasing regularity, our elected officials have broadened that obligation to one that more correctly might be described as providing for the common defense of the world; a position for which the Constitution provides little to no reinforcement.

Most recently, the Executive Branch of our government spent nearly a month campaigning for a “limited military action” that would “send a strong signal” to Syria, which hasn’t directly or indirectly threatened the United States (raising a Constitutional issue itself). Millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours were invested in repositioning our naval resources, petitioning Congress, and appealing to the general public to support the President’s edict in response to a “red line” he had drawn in an impromptu comment over a year before.

Since then, we’ve been informed that the lobbying was part of an elaborate charade to force a diplomatic resolution. In essence, we have been asked to believe that our Secretary of State’s sarcastic answer to a hypothetical question at a press conference was intentionally delivered to outwit our adversaries. Of course, one would have to believe that our Secretary of State knew in advance that the question would be asked. Barring any evidence of that, we are expected to accept the Administration’s word that this was simply the execution of a brilliantly subtle strategy rather than blind luck.

As a result, while our defense capabilities remain strong, the depth of the strategic leadership directing them is somewhat debatable.

On the fiscal side of the issue, Conservatives are aghast that sequestration is forcing cuts in military spending. However, given that the United States spends more on defense than the next 10 countries combined, it is difficult to argue that our nearly-$1 trillion defense budget could not sustain rational cuts; that is, unless we intend to continue occupying other sovereign nations in an attempt to spread “democracy” through the modern, political version of the Crusades known as “nation building.”

Next, the Preamble calls upon us to “promote the general Welfare.”

Of course, “Welfare” doesn’t mean “welfare” in the sense of giveaway programs designed to maintain economic dependence or special favors contrived to placate a political constituency in return for its unwitting support. As is emphasized in Article I, Section 8, the federal government’s responsibility is to provide for the “general Welfare of the United States;” in effect, to address those issue that pertain to the well-being of all citizens.

The right to provide for the welfare of citizens on a non-equal basis is reserved to the States under the Tenth Amendment and to individuals (in the form of charity, etc.) under the Ninth and Tenth Amendments (assuming anyone still pays attention to those provisions). It does not reside within the federal government.

The Preamble then states one final purpose behind the Constitution: to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

This suggests that the Constitution and its Amendments were perceived to be necessary to protect and preserve Liberty. It also reminds us that we have an obligation to not only focus on the present but on the future as well. We have a fiduciary responsibility to consider the impact of our decisions on generations to come.

This applies to fiscal decisions we make, the political system we nurture, the educational and work opportunities we provide, and the natural environment we leave behind. The Founders did not intend for us to selfishly consume the resources we have been afforded. They did not intend for us to escape a monarchy only to yield our sovereign rights as individuals to a new iteration of a ruling elite; one that not only has created the concept of “Too Big to Fail” but also the apparent corollary of “Too Big to Jail.”

The Founders also recognized that the Constitution would be an imperfect charter for the future. That is why they incorporated Article V to allow the core principles to be amended as needed.

Our elected officials complain that the standard for amendment is too high (even though it’s been successfully invoked 27 times). So, they circumvent it altogether by usurping rights from the citizens and the States by egotistically broadening federal power, signing Executive Orders, and bypassing the representatives of the People by permitting agencies to regulate change without legislative authority. Welcome to the new version of an oligarchy in which bloodlines are defined by Party affiliation.

While it is hoped that this Preamble-based primer will remind us of the grand experiment our Republic represents on this special day, our federally elected officials should not need it. They share a common thread otherwise known as their Oaths of Office.

The President has sworn to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Every Senator and Member of the House of Representatives has sworn to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Here’s a simple request on this 226th anniversary of that esteemed document: “We the People” would like you to honor your Oaths.


T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.

This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, A Civil Assessment, in the Communities section of The Washington Times.