The new House Republican leadership was smart to inaugurate their return to power by reading aloud the U.S. Constitution on the House floor. Recalling America's founding principles is never a bad idea. To some on the left, though, the Constitution doesn't mean what it says, but is to be interpreted by judges and politicians. To liberals, this means the document is useful only when it advances a "progressive" economic, political and social agenda. Otherwise, it must be considered a relic of a bygone era.
The Constitution, according to liberal thinking, was written at a time when people — including some of its signers — owned slaves, and so we moderns must interpret and regularly update it, like computer software. These “interpretationists” are like people who appeal to biblical authority when it appears to support their earthly agenda (“turn the other cheek” means unilateral disarmament; numerous verses about helping the poor mandates government welfare), but ignore it when it offends secular pursuits (abortion, homosexuality, income redistribution, capital punishment).
The Emancipation Proclamation and constitutional amendments redressed grievances, such a slavery and voting rights for women. These came not because the Constitution was flawed, but because succeeding generations realized we had failed to live up to its noble precepts, which included the Preamble and its philosophical foundation, the Declaration of Independence. Our rights do not originate with government, but they are to be “secured” by government.
In a recent appearance on MSNBC, Washington Post staff writer Ezra Klein reflected the liberal view of the Constitution: “The issue with the Constitution is that the text is confusing because it was written more than a hundred years ago, and what people believe it says differs from person to person.” Apply Klein’s thinking to other works written “more than 100 years ago” and we can dispense with most classics, including William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and Charles Dickens’ “Bleak House.”
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It is a given that the courts interpret the Constitution for a modern age. The Founders could not have anticipated what the America of 2011 would look like. They set down certain principles that could guide us into the future. These principles — such as limited government — transcend eras. As with Scripture, the Constitution contains eternal truths. If followed, one leads to a more ordered life in America and the other to a better afterlife.
House Republicans may not get far with their promise to require any new legislation to be justified by constitutional language, but the public will get a history lesson about the intentions of the founders. This lesson will remind a new generation how wise the Founders were and what we have forgotten that they tried to teach us.
That portion of the public which has clamored for change from what they regard as the Obama administration’s brand of socialism must not be content with congressional hearings broadcast on the Internet, or legislation posted on a website several days before members cast votes. Those who want smaller and less costly government must do more to take charge of their own lives, serving as examples for others. This means investing wisely for one’s own retirement and maintaining a healthful lifestyle to lessen the need for hospitals and medicines.
Failure to engage Congress between elections will prove the cynics right. Cynics believe, based on past failed reform efforts, that lobbyists and lawyers have the power to quell any true reform movement. Are they right? If they are this could be the last chance for at least a generation to return America to original constitutional principles. If that happens, American decline will be more than a fear; it will quickly become reality.
Cal Thomas, a columnist for Tribune Media Services, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.