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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Department of Book Reports: The Constitution of the United States

Ok, it's not a book. But, with the political headiness of the past two weeks, I thought I would re-read the foundational document of our nation. Twice.

Of course, we could discuss the Constitution forever, and never really reach the depths. Heck, college courses devote whole quarters and semesters to it. Some famous political candidates have been known to lead these classes. But I want to point out a few of the features that struck me this time out.

First, the qualifications for holding the office of President of the United States are pretty clear-cut. Article II Section 5 tells us that the officeholder must be a natural-born United States citizen, be of at least 35 years of age, and a resident of the US for fourteen years. It says nothing about the race or the gender of that person. I'm not sure that the founding fathers ever thought that one day either a black man or a woman could or would hold that office; but other than politicians who are immigrants, it does not preclude much of anybody over the age of 35. Previous executive experience is not mentioned. Nor does there seem to be any bar if one is confused about world geography, nor does it grant experience credits to candidates who happen to govern states that are in close proximity to Russia.

The Constitution also has a remarkable system of checks and balances. One branch of government cannot run wily-nily over another. We have heard for years about activist judges, who legislate from the bench. Of course, that is usually said of liberal judges, who strike down laws as unconstitutional; Conservative judges, of course, would never overturn law. At the same time, you hardly ever hear of activist executives who legislate from the White House. It is also good to note that: 1. Only Congress can declare war (Article I Section 8 Clause 11); 2. The President appoints judges to the Supreme Court, but can only do so with the advice and consent of the Senate (Article II Section 2 Clause 2); 3. The President may veto any piece of legislation sent to him by Congress, which, in turn, can over-ride any veto with a two-thirds vote (Article I, Section 7 Clause 2). All pretty tight, it seems to me.

I know you all know the First amendment to the constitution. It bears re-reading: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or the press; or the right of people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances". Now that is pretty straight-forward stuff.

Remarkably, and the thorn in the side of those Federalist Society members who hold that the Constitution is a "dead" document, without recourse to interpretation other than the intentions of the founders, is that pesky Article V that allows that changes can be made to the document with the consent of 2/3's of the state. (The Federalists have a couple of other problems as well. One would be what T.S. Eliot called the intentional fallacy; we can never know the intentions of these writers with any complete certainty. The other is the hermeneutical problem that their interpretation is yet another interpretation). Re-reading the document convinces me of it's vibrancy, and 'living' qualities. However, with a John McCain appointing justices, we may get saddled for many years with a bunch of these Federalist Society guys, and none of us may outlive that.

Lastly, the Preamble. It states, "We the People of the United States....". People is capitalized. It doesn't say, We, the propertied, white guys of the United States. It says People. This is Our document to love and cherish, and it is ours to lose if we don't set out to save it.

Feel free to discuss. The United States Constitution is available nearly anywhere. Check teh Googles. I read my copy in the 2008 New York Times Almanac.

Your local Fine Independent Bookstore would love to show you more! Jackson Street Books yearns for the day we can sell you books once again. Stay tuned.

démocommié™™™™™©®ç åü courant is busy trying to read all the books Sarah Palin tried to ban, in anticipation of Banned Book Week.

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We'll try dumping haloscan and see how it works.