It is admitted by all except the liberal media and left-wing ideologues jockeying for political and partisan advantage, neither the tenor nor the content of our public discourse had any bearing upon the tragedy in Tucson. Nevertheless there have been calls for a return to civility in our speech. I heartily second that motion, believing as I do that civility should always be the hallmark of discussion among ladies and gentleman. However, that is not the topic of this discourse.
I seek to call my fellow Americans not to a more civil debate but to The Great Civil Debate. This is the debate we need if we’re to move beyond the gridlock of right versus left, the vitriol of Democrat versus Republican, and the hysteria of a coming conservative authoritarianism or a looming socialist one. The debate I’m calling for is not an innovation in American History. Instead it’s a re-play of a previous event and the sequel to our preliminary event: the debate over the ratification of the Constitution. What we need now is a debate over the relevance of the Constitution with regard to the actions of the Federal Government.
From the day the Constitution was signed, September 17, 1787 to the day it was ratified June 21, 1788, this country rang with the impassioned speeches and stirring essays of both the opponents and the proponents of this our founding document. Today is the day and now is the time for the debate to once again stir the hearts of the nation, will we have a limited government, personal liberty and free enterprise or are we going to have something else? There’s no greater admirer of the United States Constitution then the author of this article. None can be found who gives more veneration to the Framers or who pays more attention to its words.
However, after 222 years there’s no one more convinced that we’ve reached a historical impasse. The Constitution is still in force. It has been amended twenty-seven times, but it has not been supplanted. Yet, it’s all but ignored by the Federal Government. Our continually expanding federal bureaucracy tips its hat to the commerce clause or uses the elastic necessary and proper clause as a political fig leaf to do whatever they want. This being the current situation this article is in fact an intervention. It’s well known that until a problem is recognized there’s no hope for a solution. Therefore, since every other commentator I’m aware of dances around the 800 pound gorilla in the middle of the room, I’ll acknowledge the obvious and take the afore-mentioned primate as my dancing partner and say what must be said: the Constitution has failed.
This is not to say that it is a flawed document, a vehicle for ulterior motives, or that it has always been a failure. This is not to say that I’m offering or advocating for a replacement. As I mentioned earlier, there is no greater admirer of the United States Constitution then the author of this article. What I do mean to say is that this great document which birthed and sustained a limited government for more than two hundred years has now become effectively irrelevant.
The proof for this sad statement can be seen in the unguarded rhetoric of the movers and shakers of our now unlimited government. When asked where in the Constitution a warrant for mandated health care could be found one congressman answers, “I don’t worry about the Constitution.” Another congressman says, “There’s nothing in the Constitution that says that the federal government has anything to do with most of the stuff we do. It means what we say it means.” When asked a question about the constitutionality of health care legislation former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s response is, “Are you serious?”
And we have a President who writes that the Constitution is not “…static but rather a living document, and must be read in the context of an ever-changing world.” No wonder a liberal pundit finds it odd that a candidate for Congress would promise to consider the constitutionality of legislation saying, “that certainly isn’t the job of Congress. They should just pass whatever they want and let the courts worry about it later.” These examples are joined by volumes of others, which show that not only is the Constitution irrelevant to these leaders it has become so accepted as irrelevant that they no longer even have to pay lip service to the integrity of the document they’ve sworn to uphold and defend.
We need a reset button. We need to return to limited government. But how do we get there from here? The Tenth Amendment which says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people” has been emasculated through court rulings. The legal system has moved from original intent to precedent. From what the words mean to what can we say the words mean. This tsunami of change is led by the Progressives who believe that we need to evolve past the ideas and procedures devised and set down by the Framers and create a New America. A transformed America founded not on the equality of opportunity but on the equality of outcome. These big government leaders in both parties seek not mere equal justice for all but social justice, not free enterprise but central planning.
This intervention sadly begins with the assessment based upon the current reality that the Constitution has failed. However, it ends on a note of hope. We’re the descendants of the Pioneers, the offspring of the Framers, and we can do this. We can find a way within the legal framework of the Constitution itself to press that reset button. We can solve this problem, because we’re Americans and we’re a can-do, get-it-done people. But if we refuse to admit there’s a problem we’ll be doomed to suffer silently in the shadows as our beloved city on the hill becomes a lost dream in the twilight of freedom. Instead let’s start The Great Civil Debate. How can we restore limited government, ensure liberty and revitalize free enterprise? How can we get there from here? Keep the faith. Keep the peace. We shall overcome.
Dr. Robert R. Owens teaches history, political science, religion, and leadership for Southside Virginia Community College. Dr. Owens is the author of “America Won the Vietnam War,” “The Asuza Street Revival,” and called “The Constitution Failed.” He is available for speaking engagements.