Monday, January 15, 2001

Week of 01/15/2001

The Constitutional Quiz
- by David Matthews 2

"Today, when a concerted effort is made to obliterate this point, it cannot be repeated too often that the Constitution is a limitation on the government, not on private individuals- that it does not prescribe the conduct of private individuals, only the conduct of the government- that it is not a charter FOR government power, but a charter of the citizen's protection AGAINST the government." - Ayn Rand

One of the buzzwords that’s been passed about by Republicans.. and most notably by conservatives.. is "Constitutional". It’s a word used to describe how judges should be appointed, and how members of the White House should act when carrying out their jobs. When campaigning for president, George W. Bush sometimes used that term. He supposedly wanted to appoint judges that respected the US Constitution and made decisions in accordance to what that document and all of its amendments says.

Conservatives love to use the Constitution to their advantage, especially when their counterparts are flagrant violators of that document. And let’s get brutally honest here.. the government as run by President Bill Clinton in the past eight years has been about as UNCONSTITUTIONAL as it has ever been in American history. Even the American Civil Liberties Union, considered to extremely liberal, has called the government as run by Bill Clinton to be the most unconstitutional administration in history! So obviously the conservatives and the Republicans would want to paint their side as supporters of the Constitution.

And now it’s time for George W. Bush to put his money where his mouth is… to be a leader that respects the US Constitution and to make sure the people working under him also respect that document.

Bear in mind that Bush and EVERY cabinet member will have to take an oath of office swearing that they will protect, preserve and defend the US Constitution. Now certainly Bush wouldn’t want to be seen as a perjuring liar like his predecessor, would he?

So to make sure we can keep the incoming Bush Administration honest, let’s explore what it means to be a supporter of the Constitution.

Let’s suppose you are a newly-elected member of Congress, and you had promised to be a strict supporter of the Constitution. Like the President and his administration, you too have to take an oath to preserve, protect, and defend that document.

Scenario 1: A group of spinsters calling themselves "Mothers For Morality" come to you with a problem. It seems that they have been on a self-appointed crusade to purge all local bookstores of what they deem to be "filth". They’ve managed to get just about every locally-owned bookstore to stop selling magazines like Playboy, Penthouse, Glamour, Mademoiselle, Playgirl, and Cosmopolitan. Even the swimsuit and wrestling magazines have been pulled from their shelves. But there is one bookstore that continues to brazenly sell this "smut" to the public. It is a national franchise store, and the manager there says the franchise will fight any attempt to censor their products all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.

"Mothers for Morality" demand action be taken against this franchise, and they are asking for your help. Do you..

  1. Sponsor a bill that would hold franchise store owners directly accountable for violations of local obscenity laws. This would mean that a franchise owner in New York could be arrested and extradited to Kansas to answer to standards of decency that have not been updated since 1950.

  2. Meet with the franchise owners of this bookstore chain and inform them that you plan to use your political influence to get the Federal Trade Commission and the Internal Revenue Service to investigate their business activities unless they comply with the demands of this special interest group.

  3. Inform "Mothers For Morality" that although you can sympathize with their concerns, that you had taken an oath to abide by the Constitution, and the publications in question are all protected by the First Amendment.

Scenario 2: While visiting a military base in your district, the base chaplain talks about a request he received for Wiccan services by some of the soldiers. Being a Baptist, you find Wiccan beliefs to be akin to Satanism. Do you…

  1. Get the Armed Forces to adopt regulations that would prohibit the exercise of any non Judeo-Christian or Muslim faiths at military chapels, declaring that all other beliefs are merely "cults" and not true religions.

  2. Swallow your personal feelings and realize that under the US Constitution, members of the US Government cannot declare what is or is not a "cult", and tell the chaplain to at least have some materials ready for Wiccan followers to use in their ceremonies should they ask for them.

Scenario 3: A twelve-year old girl recently ran away from home so she could meet with her cyberspace pen-pal. She had been in touch with her "friend" on the personal computer her parents had put in her bedroom, and they had been engaging in some pretty naughty chats. When her mother found out that her credit card was used to buy a plane ticket, she called the police. Only after she was intercepted at the airport by police did the girl find out that her so-called "teenage friend" was really a forty-year old pedophile. Since the girl is from your district, the alphabet soup reporters are in your face with their cameras asking for your reaction. Do you..

  1. Blame the whole incident on the evils of an unregulated Internet, and immediately demand that all Internet Service Providers be licensed and regulated by the Federal Communications Commission just like any phone company, and thus held to the strictest of media standards the FCC can impose by law.

  2. Blame sexually explicit websites for encouraging pedophiles to prey on kids, and sponsor new legislation that would outlaw all material deemed "harmful to children".

  3. Say that while you sympathize with the plight of the mother, you must publicly ask why the child’s parents didn’t do a better job watching over the girl’s Internet activities. Point out that the responsibility of watching over a child’s Internet activities rests with the parents, not with government.

Scenario 4: You’re returning to Washington on the same day that a small group of protesters organize a rally against America’s involvement in some third world nation you’ve barely heard of. In the center of this protest you see someone burning a small American flag for the equally small collection of alphabet soup reporters. One of those reporters sees you approaching and asks for your comments about the protest. Do you…

  1. Condemn the flag-burners, and pledge to once again support legislation that would outlaw flag-burning.

  2. Tell the press nothing, but quietly ask the local police in attendance if they wouldn’t mind roughing up the protesters a little bit off-camera.

  3. Condemn the flag-burners, but remind yourself and the press that what they do is protected by the First Amendment, and that all of the flags they burn cannot burn away the freedoms those flags represent.

Scenario 5: Some disgruntled employee with a clear history of mental problems shoots up his workplace, killing fifteen people. The guns that were used in this massacre were all illegally purchased. Since this happened in your district, the alphabet soup reporters are all asking you whether or not you would push for more gun-control legislation like the governor of the state just pledged to do five minutes earlier. Do you..

  1. Agree with the comments of the governor and pledge to do everything in your power to make guns illegal.

  2. Agree with the comments of the governor, but instead blame the "culture of violence" for encouraging the massacre through violent movies, violent books, and violent television programs. Then pledge that you will do everything in your power to see that the entertainment movers and shakers be held responsible for every life lost by violence.

  3. Remind the press that all of the guns were purchased illegally and suggest that if the governor was serious about preventing further atrocities, it would be best to spend the time and money on enforcing current laws on the books and not trying to deprive responsible adults their Second Amendment right to protect and defend themselves.

Scenario 6: A fellow lawmaker comes to you asking for your support on a crime bill that includes provisions that you think are unconstitutional. The bill gives the police greater power to search and seize property on the mere suspicion of illegal activities. It also expands on the number of illegal activities that police can use to justify the seizing of a person’s property. You know that the proposed bill flies in the face of the Fourth Amendment, but this lawmaker promises that in return for your support of his bill, he will lobby heavily for your tax cut package. Do you..

  1. Accept his offer, hoping that the courts will trim the most unconstitutional provisions once it becomes law. Besides, the bill will make you look "tough on crime," and you get another supporter for your tax cut.

  2. Tell your elected brethren that while the bill looks oh so politically appropriate, you cannot in any clear conscience vote for a bill you know is unconstitutional. You would much rather be known for preserving the US Constitution than for supporting a bill simply for political expedience.

So how did you do? It’s obvious which answers were the correct ones, even though they may not necessarily be ones our current collection of lawmakers would want to support.

And therein lies the problem. All too often, we elect politicians who will simply ignore the Constitution in the name of political expediency. Rather than recognizing that there are boundaries spelled out in the Constitution that people in government cannot cross, quite often they have developed the dangerous attitude of "pass them all and let the courts sort them out!"

Some have even developed the arrogance to say that the mere fact that they CAN pass such a law makes that law automatically constitutional. Hey, our legislators have the ability to pass whatever law they want to, but that doesn’t make that law right, and it certainly doesn’t mean they acted within the limitations set by the Constitution.

It’s not easy being a strict supporter of the Constitution. It means having to say no to a lot of backroom deals and looking out for those tricky amendments that get tacked onto bills. It means putting your personal feelings and beliefs aside and realizing that the rights spelled out in the Constitution are not limited to what you deem those rights to be. It means having to swallow your pride and swallow your feelings of self-righteousness.. which is a Herculean task given many of the egos in Washington.

It isn’t impossible, however, because there are some in Congress who try their best to live up to their jobs as spelled out in the Constitution. People like Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, who has been dubbed "Congressman No" for his repeated refusal to support more government. Sadly, though, such people are the extremely rare exception in Congress.

Equally sad is the realization that many Republicans, and indeed many conservatives, are not as supportive of the US Constitution as they claim to be. Indeed, many of the un-Constitutional options listed in my little quiz were based on real bills and actions sponsored by conservatives! More often than naught, their oath to protect and defend the US Constitution falls along the wayside just like any other political promise.

The rights guaranteed by the US Constitution are not buzzwords to be bantered about like "compassionate conservatism" or "family values" or "risky tax scheme". They are the only things that separates a free nation from a tyrannical one. Anyone who takes an oath to protect and preserve the US Constitution should take that oath seriously, and take that oath to heart. And we as voters, for whom the rights guaranteed in the Constitution were designed for, need to hold those lawmakers and policy enforcers to that oath, and hold them accountable when they violate it.

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