Time for a Constitutional Congress

Posted: Jan 17, 2011 12:01 AM

As with any national tragedy, the senseless attack in Tucson by an isolated citizen, the outpouring of support for the survivors and for those who lost loved ones, and the search for lessons learned have grabbed the attention of our nation and deserve our continued prayers.

At the Tucson memorial service in memory of the fallen, President Barack Obama’s called for a new era of civility, “Let us remember it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy. It did not. But rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud.”

His call for unity and an end to the early groundless attempts to blame the attack on heated political statements should be supported. Civility in political discourse is important, and all should aspire to exercise it in our comments. But the response to “hate” speech should not be government control, but more speech to counter such statements. Freedom of speech is too critical in maintaining liberty to let any event curtail its exercise.

Such emotionally challenging events underscore the importance of our Constitution in calling us back to our founding freedoms. That is why Americans should unite behind the GOP’s attempt to take the Constitution off the wall and use it as a guide to legislative action.

Unfortunately, the New York Times strongly criticized the Republican leadership for the first ever reading of the Constitution aloud to start the new 112th Congress: “It is a presumptuous and self-righteous act, suggesting that they alone understand the true meaning of a text that the founders wisely left open to generations of reinterpretation. Certainly the Republican leadership is not trying to suggest that African-Americans still be counted as three-fifths of a person.”

It’s the New York Times that is guilty of the presumptuous and self-righteous act by assuming that the Founding Fathers ever wanted the Constitution to be “left open to generations of reinterpretation.” On the contrary, they produced a precious founding document and gave “We the People” a means by which to amend it to adjust to future realities. And, through much difficulty, discussion and effort, Americans have amended the Constitution.

In case the New York Times hasn’t checked history, the “three-fifths” provision was included by the Northern states to curtail the power of the slave states and was part of the chain of choices in America’s history that eventually resulted in an amended Constitution and African-Americans receiving full rights as citizens.

The frustration and growing anger that many Americans feel today is at how easily judges and politicians seem to reinterpret the meaning of our Constitution without precedent or due process in order to justify what they want it to allow. They don’t want to do the hard and important work of convincing enough Americans to amend the Constitution. No, they have the arrogance to believe that they know what is best without having to secure approval.

I applaud the Republicans for reminding Congress and Americans that we have a founding document that limits the size, scope and power of government. It clearly defines what government’s roles are and what it cannot do to limit the liberty and rights of its citizens.

Even more important than reading the Constitution to start the new Congress is living by it in making their decisions. In suggesting the reading of the Constitution, Virginia Congressman Bob Goodlatte asserted: “This is a very symbolic showing to the American people and a reminder to members of Congress that we are a government of laws not of men, and that this Constitution is the foundation for all of our laws…. One of the key provisions of our Pledge to America…was that every bill has to contain a declaration of the portion of the Constitution upon which the bill is founded, the basis on which the Congress could act.”

Reading the Constitution could be criticized as “political theater;” requiring new legislation to identify the justification for the bill by referring to the powers enumerated in the Constitution will help to define what a Constitutional Congress ought to be. A Constitution doesn’t only belong on the wall or in our history books; it should be used to drive our critical decisions as we move forward as a country. I applaud the GOP leaders for once again reminding us all that the Constitution is there to protect the rights of its citizens. It shouldn’t be changed by “interpretation” or as a result of a tragic event, but through the established amendment process.

Walter Williams observed, “If the House of Representatives had the courage to follow through on this rule, their ability to spend and confer legislative favors would be virtually eliminated. Also, if the rule were to be applied to existing law, they’d wind up repealing at least two-thirds to three-quarters of congressional spending.”

In this time of big government and unsustainable deficit spending, “We the People” must hold them to that pledge to revitalize a truly Constitutional Congress.

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