In Defense of the “Oath of an American Citizen”

A number of people with whom I shared the Oath of an American Citizen balked a bit at me using the word “responsibility” in relation to when our government goes awry. Responsibility, their argument went, creates too much of a commitment and renders the pledge too harsh. A better word would be “right”, they said. I want to take the time today to answer those concerns.

The fact is that I chose the word “responsibility” over the word “right” on purpose. A right is something one is allowed to or encouraged to do, but it’s also optional. Free speech and religion, the right to bear arms — these are rights. Nobody is required to exercise them, but they’re there just in case. A responsibility, on the other hand, is something one must do. It is not only allowed, not only encouraged, but necessary. Paying taxes, defending your home or family. My oath is all about responsibility, because having rights isn’t enough. Let me explain why.

There were two attempts at framing a government after the Revolutionary War, and the first was an utter failure. It failed for a number of reasons, but foremost among them was that it didn’t properly connect to the citizenry. While the Articles of Confederation did combine the 13 states as a nation and created an overarching federal structure, the citizens felt no responsibility towards it because the government had no power over their lives, and for their part the citizens had no direct voice in the government. The states had that responsibility. Within 10 years, as citizens ignored the national government, the founders could see anarchy on the horizon, their enemies in Europe waiting with bated breath. Their answer was the Constitution.

This second attempt created a federal structure with three branches, one of which consisted of two parts: one representing the states (the Senate) and one representing the people (the House of Representatives). Additionally, the federal government was given more power than it had before: ratify treaties, to raise an army, handle trade, and levy taxes, among them. The Constitution, in other words, gives the federal government direct say over people’s lives in very specific ways, but also gives people a direct voice in the government without removing states’ rights.

The Republic we are involved in requires full participation from all of its parts in order to be a cohesive whole, and one of those parts is the citizenry — it’s not a “House of Representatives” if they don’t “Represent”. It has survived — a second war with Britain, a civil war, the expansion west and the addition of 37 new states, two world wars — on the assumption that voters will choose representatives who serve their region’s needs, but also will have the presence-of-mind to understand those needs on a national scale. However, when a small percentage of a region’s voters turn out to vote, representation becomes “factioned”. In other words, a specific group becomes represented over a particular region.

And that brings me back to the topic of “responsibility” versus “right”. If it is only our “right” to vote, then we can choose not to exercise it. When that happens, it is inevitable that we will become a faction-controlled Republic, and the evidence is mounting quickly that we are already there. Voter turn-out has declined steadily since 1870 to the point where a “mandate” in 2006 was enacted by just 37% of the eligible, registered voters. We can see the results of this kind of “governing by the few”.

However, if each of us sees voting as our responsibility to the sanctity of our nation, each citizen sees the fate of the country as partly their task, and each citizen spends their requisite amount of time and energy applying themselves to that task, a faction-controlled government is theoretically impossible. Imagine, for instance, a mandate that was really a mandate. Imagine a president elected by more than a 25% “majority” (George W. Bush received 49% of the vote from 67% of the voters in 2004).

So yes, I used “responsibility” instead of “right” and I meant it. It’s not easy being a citizen of this experiment that is the United States of America, but then it was never intended to be. Easy citizenship leads to anarchy, fascism, monarchy. The founders expected their descendants to be intelligent and worthy of the mantle of responsibility thrust upon them by the Constitution. Are we, though?

Important article from The Guardian

Please read this article by Naomi Wolf. It’s a great breakdown of the steps to Fascism, and follows the events of the last seven years as moving through those steps.

Is The United States of America becoming Fascist? Some signs point to yes. Please read the article. Please vote your conscience. Don’t let the system control you, because the Constitution allows us to control the system.

Voting: why and why not?

Before I continue my analysis of the U.S. Constitution, I want to explore the topic of voting for a post or two. I’m interested in finding out what voting means to people, why people choose to vote or not, and what the driving issues are behind those decisions.

What I understand from my research so far is that while the voting-age population in the United States has increased since 1930, the percentage of those people who have actually registered and participated have decreased markedly since around 1900. I’ve got data and fancy charts I’ll post in a couple of days.

What I don’t understand is why there’s this drop-off in participation. We’ve gone from nearly 95% participation of registered voters circa 1850 to only 69% of registrants voting for the president in 2004 — meaning George W. Bush won with 39% of registered voters’ approval. The participation is even less during the congressional election cycles.

This is where you come in. Do you vote? If so, why. If not, why not? What are the issues that drive you to vote? Do you feel it makes a difference? If you feel it doesn’t, what about voting makes you feel that way?

I’m trying to understand what people feel about this topic in order to wrestle my observations and see what I can make of them.

Go ahead and post a comment with your response, and send this on to someone — or many someones — you know. Help me try and understand these trends.

I will be posting my findings, calculations, charts, graphs, and analysis on this issue over the next couple of weeks amongst my thoughts on the constitution and the process in general.

Thoughts on last night’s post

As I begin my exploration of the Constitution in more depth, I’m struck by the concept of “being a strict constitutionalist”. Two days ago, I would have said that means limited government, Libertarian ideals, and a move towards local control and self-sufficiency.

The idea now comes into my head, however, that if the Constitution is a foundation or framework for government structure, then who’s to say that as long as laws fit within the bounds of the Constitution that they are wrong? What I mean is that if the Democratic party wants to create larger social programs, and their ideas don’t violate the foundation of the document nor any of the amendments, then there’s nothing unconstitutional about those laws.

Problems arise, however, when laws are created that violate the spirit with which the founders wrote the constitution. As I see it, that is what’s happening in our country today.

It seems that our current Congress — and for many years now, actually — feels as though it is they who are in power. Laws are being created and bills are being written that violate — if not the actual letter — the spirit of our Constitution. The President has consistently exceeded his power as executor of those laws, issuing signing statements, acting as war chief, and otherwise trampling on the spirit of the office. For their part, the Supreme Court seems to be happy ignoring the encroaching trespasses on justice, domestic peace, general welfare, and liberty while also allowing the idea of “national defense” to be turned into a “first strike” mentality.

Unfortunately, what the citizens of the United States have not realized is that the elected officials are not who is in control of the country. Or if they are, it is only through our own apathy. Congress has no fear about being re-elected because the people most affected by their violations of the spirit of our foundational rules don’t seem to care. It’s that lack of caring that brings me back to my original point.

Being a strict constitutionalist doesn’t imply one party affiliation over another. What it implies is a willingness to consistently adhere to the principles and spirit represented in our founding document; to eschew apathy; to transcend the general and pervasive air of defeat. Our representatives in Congress are acting within the laws of the Constitution to create laws that may or may not be beneficial to their constituents. It is the constituents’ job, now, to play their part.

Each of us needs to be a “strict constitutionalist”. Each of us needs to understand the spirit of the document, the rules it sets forth, and the roles we must play in the governing of this country. This is not a country of government acting on its own, but for too long the government has acted as though it is. This is not a country run by the powerful, but one where “We the people of the United States” are in charge. It’s no easy task, but it is our job to manage the direction of our government, and this has to be done no matter the party line or ideological beliefs each of us holds. If not, there will be no Constitution left.

On the Preamble of the United States Constitution

To encapsulate one’s political views by attachment to a single party or platform is — in essence — to also limit one’s ability to address issues as they truly are. This is a truth, and one that is difficult for some people to understand. The Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, Green, or any other party is unable to address any issue we face in this country head-on because each member of that party is beholden to a prescribed set of ideals that all lead to the same solutions. One thing I’ve found in my life is that there is no one set of solutions that fix all problems.

To that end, I remain — with a Libertarian bent — an Independent. Proud to owe or show no affiliation to any particular platform, and free to approach each problem our country faces in as objective a manner as possible.

In order to remain objective, one must always have a foundation upon which to build an observation point. For my foundation, I’ve chosen the United States Constitution. Over the next few weeks, I will be examining it in this space.

There is far too much evidence out there that people don’t really understand what the document is, what it really means, and how it can be used to set us all free from the impending tyranny of fear that is rising up in this nation.

I begin with 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.”

For such a short paragraph, there’s a lot being said. What is the purpose of government? What are the ideals of the country for which the government exists? Why does this country exist at all?

The purpose of the Constitution is to establish a foundation for a country that would “form a more perfect Union” than anyone had ever seen before. Specifically, however, there are five items addressed; five reasons the founders believed a government should exist:

  • Establish justice
  • Insure domestic tranquility
  • Provide for national (common) defense
  • Promote the welfare of the population
  • Secure the idea of liberty for all generations

In the eyes of the founders, then, government should do all of the above: nothing more, nothing less. If at any point anyone of us feels that even one of the above is missing from our lives, the government is not doing what the founders intended. This is the philosophy behind the entire document.

The key, however, to the preamble appears when you read it without the five purposes of government and the reason for the document. “We the People of the United States do ordain and establish this Constitution…”. Who establishes the Constitution? The citizens of the country for which the government is established. It’s a powerful realization.

The document is not presented by a government, then, but by the combined effort of a people from a shared region who are agreeing to unite in their common causes; who are working together to solve their problems: to establish justice, peace, defense, welfare and liberty for themselves and the future. This is the foundation upon which our country is built.

We are a United States. United for the betterment of all citizens under the Constitution. United in order to better provide for each other. United in order to better defend one another. United in order to form a more perfect union. It wasn’t intended by our founders, but we are at the point where each of us must be asking ourselves whether or not we are still working towards the five simple reasons for government. That’s how we know if we’re moving in the right direction.

So, rather than attach ourselves to a platform or party of supposed ideology, we should attach ourselves to the ultimate platform and actual ideology upon which all others are based: our Constitution. Each party, after all, is simply an attempt at approaching the creation of government in a different way. Choose however you wish, but never forget the five reasons you are choosing: justice, domestic1 peace, common defense, welfare of the citizens, and liberty.

1. Word added as a clarification. See comments thread for details.