Is the Constitution 'antiquated?'

Feb 15 2012 - 12:37pm

It's tough being a "constitutionalist," really tough. You must first study all of the relevant documents including the Constitution, Bill of Rights and amendments and understand them. It's a really big job since the Constitution defines how we citizens should and often must deal with various issues such as free speech, religion, press, assembly and much more.

Some issues, such as the right to vote, have changed over the years. Voting extended to a much smaller segment of the population in the 18th and 19th century than today. The way a president is elected by popular vote and the role of the Electoral College has changed over the years. Many other things changed, and many haven't that perhaps should have changed. For instance, term limits: Congress does not have them, neither do Supreme Court justices.

With Congress, it was assumed that the people would impose term limits at the ballot box. Yet, we know that incumbency and the seniority system are a great advantage to those already in power. Supreme Court justices serve for life, on good behavior, yet no definition was given of the requirement. It's as though the justices are given a pass on accountability. And, we keep re-electing the same people again and again. This system is a major contributor to the malaise of voters today and a reason we have a Congress held in such low esteem. A disinterested electorate also adds fuel to the fire of poor government.

It's not unreasonable to ask if our Constitution has become antiquated, even too complex to truly guide a freedom-loving people? We might also ask, has our society become too complicated, too fractionalized and dysfunctional to be governed by the most nearly perfect Constitution ever written? The executive branch seems to be governing by fiat, rather than constitutionally.

There is no doubt that the founding fathers, through their blood, sweat and tears, created the most inspired document ever for a government. Men and women have, through the ages, defended this set of guidelines and laws with unlimited passion and sometimes have paid the ultimate price for doing so.

It is also true that ours is the longest-standing Constitution in world history and one that is a model for people desiring freedom in other nations.

If we eliminate the possibility of a flawed Constitution we are left with two other possibilities. A flawed society, or a poor application of constitutional principles. It would be unreasonable to think that the founding fathers could have foreseen every possible pitfall that would require some adjustment to the Constitution. But, they did provide a process of amending the Constitution. We may have become lazy in how we approach enacting needed amendments. This is one of the difficult areas of being a constitutional republic with democratic processes.

Many of our so-called "constitutionalists" have not put in the required study to actually become experts on the Constitution. There is no certification required to be a "constitutionalist," just as there is none to be a Republican, Democrat, liberal, or libertarian. It's more of an ideological designation. This doesn't make it wrong, as long as one understands the meaning.

The Republican presidential debates have featured a libertarian, conservatives, and Reagan-conservative participants. They have some views in common and some in opposition. Watching the many televised debates can be upsetting and could cause a loss of sleep, even nightmares.

One might dream, as I did, that Ron Paul was elected president mostly on the strength of having selected the right vice president. His choice was the white-bearded grandfather of the Hoffman clan, Bill from the reality TV show "Gold Rush." These two took the country by storm and were swept into office.

It gets worse. A week after taking office they were heard arguing in the Oval Office about Hoffman's "Debt Reduction Initiative." Seems he had driven his D-8 Caterpillar on to the East Lawn of the White House and was excavating for gold. He also had plans to excavate the grounds of the Washington Monument and use water from the Lincoln Memorial mirror pools to slues the dirt, setting up his rifles on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. President Paul had told Hoffman that our national debt amounted to about $15 trillion and Hoffman had worked out the number of ounces of gold it would take to pay it off; which came out to about 10 billion ounces, unless the price of gold tanked. ...

Mercifully, that nightmare ended, but there is still a nightmare of debt to face.

What is to be done about our dysfunctional government? A change of leaders in Washington may lead only to more of the same, unless we learn to work together and demand accountability from our leaders. The answer also lies in reading, understanding, and applying the principles in the Constitution, including those that tell us how to change the Constitution.

Reynolds lives in Pleasant View. He is a retired businessman and member of the Kiwanis Club of North Ogden.

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