The US Constitution is still relevant
A friend of mine sent me a book espousing the irrelevance of our Constitution. The book’s basic theme is that society and civilization have moved on from the political thinkers of the late 17th Century and the country needs a MORE powerful president.
I would agree that the language of the Constitution seems archaic, but it is the theme of the document that makes it timeless. The Constitution gives specificity to the powers the people have granted to the government (i.e. the enumerated powers), but it preserves the individual freedoms they and we treasure by using vague words to prevent it from being doomed by a literal interpretation as preferred by former Justice Scalia and others. For example, the Fourth Amendment refers to papers and “effects” as a specific limitation, but a vague definition subject to evolution. Today, phones, computers, etc. fall under the Fourth Amendment as “effects.”
The Constitution was intended to be difficult to amend to separate contemporary trends that tend to be specious and ill-conceived knee-jerk reactions from systemic issues of a long-term or permanent nature by requiring a tedious process from which only compelling issues could survive the years required for ratification or rejection. So many hot-button issues of the day become vague memories as proponents succeed in Congress or fail through a significant lack of interest from the people, or as we used to say in the Corps, OBE, overcome by events.
There is no doubt a powerful president provides a quicker response to crises and that is why the president is also Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces so defense of the country is quick and decisive. But for offensive warfare, the president cannot act without the consent of the Congress. Aggressive war provides time for deliberation and debate, whereas defensive war does not. Geography also plays a role in our government structure. Our founders knew we had one great ocean but foresaw two oceans to protect us from physical invasion.
Even today, for the Chinese to mount an attack on the continental US our satellites would provide early detection of the thousands of ships and aircraft it would take. Our geography is important to our military posture. We have great fleets and air wings to “project” our military power if necessary, but such projection still takes weeks to effect. When the Brits were attacking the Falkland’s television reported the position every night on TV for the ten days or so it took them to get there. Think the Argentineans needed to do more than watch the news to determine the scope and composition of the attackers?
In our mentality of news sound bites and “fast-food” reactions, a more powerful president seems reasonable, but that thinking begs the question of the checks-and-balances our founders installed in government to try to prevent it from becoming the dominant presence in our lives. A more powerful president or a Gang of Eight in the Congress subverts the idea that we are a republic composed of 50 states and territories that have competing interests and concerns. Those issues must be debated to reach compromise or the government becomes a total dictatorship or oligarchy.
Furthermore, we have no fallback position if we dumped the Constitution. We have no royal family (sorry Kennedys, Bushs, and Clintons) to recall to duty as the Spanish did after Franco’s death. We could establish a parliamentary form of government that may be better suited to the fast pace of the world today, but we have no need to engage in “entangling alliances” as George Washington warned or of perpetuating war through a “military industrial complex” as Dwight Eisenhower feared.
We can remain a dominant presence in the world through our trade and industry backed by a solid military force to punish any aggressor that would cross us as we initially did with the Taliban. We believed the Taliban harbored al Qaeda so in a matter of weeks with relatively few troops, we toppled the government of the Taliban. But then we decided to export democracy and make them like us. Problem being they do not want to be like us despite the trillions we have spent and thousands of lives we have lost or broken trying.
The Constitution has been stripped of many of its original protections. The direct election of president (Electoral College notwithstanding), senators, and universal suffrage has transferred state oversight to Washington. The founders felt only property owners should vote because they had a greater outcome in the fiscal health of the government.
Universal suffrage has in fact, borne out their concerns as government spends incessantly to keep “the masses” at bay. The government creates most problems and then studies them to death or throws more money at them. Solving problems is not the domain of government it is the petri dish for the incubation of new problems that justify the transfer of wealth from the people to the special interests and politicians.
So to those who favor a concentration of more power in the president I say “are you serious?” The will of a more powerful president over the rest of us makes the will of the people irrelevant.
Semper Fi-Col William O’Brien