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Unshredding the Constitution December 6, 2008

Posted by Kate Ryan in Constitution, National Politics.
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Those of us of a certain age (not telling) remember the ABC “Schoolhouse Rock” shorts that played after school and during Saturday morning cartoons.  I could never argue over the power of television as I, and a lot of people I know, can still sing the interjection song (Interjections! For excitement! For Emotion!) or “Conjunction Junction” (what’s your function?).  Many people, however, don’t remember that “Schoolhouse Rock” also gave us civics lessons.  I credit ABC for helping me to develop my best drunken party talent – singing the preamble to the Constitution (Mrs. Monroe, my elementary school music teacher gave me the other one – singing the 50 states in alphabetical order).

But seriously, being able to recite (or sing) the preamble to the Constitution has helped more than my social life; it has helped me really understand what America is supposed to be all about.  It has shaped the way I look at the issues and how I believe we should respond to them.   It has also helped me realize that the current administration has rendered it fit only to line bird cages and litter boxes. 

We need to un-shred our Constitution.  It is time that we, as a people, demand that our elected officials respect and honor this document.  Here’s how:

“We the People of the United States”…that’s US.  The people, not Haliburton or Bear Stearns.  Not Exxon Mobil.  Not Homeland Security, or the DoD, or the CIA.  Us.  For too long we have abdicated our responsibility to ensure that the people who run our government run it for us and not for ideological or corporate entities.  We must demand what is ours by right.

“In order to form a more perfect union”… We must demand a union where individual rights are respected and protected.  A union that doesn’t seek to enshrine discrimination in law.  A union that has principles and doesn’t let fear and hatred overcome them.

“Establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility”… We must seek justice for all, not only for those with money – or those that are white.  We must end draconian laws and sentencing that disproportionately affect persons of color.  We must demand that sufficient resources are spent on, yes, fighting crime, but also on making the country a place where one’s best opportunity is NOT crime.

“Provide for the common defense”….Maintain the defense of this nation.  We should not, however, involve ourselves in foreign entaglements that do not directly affect our national security.  We need to rid ourselves of the doctrine of pre-emption.  Yes, there are groups out there that hate us, but if we strengthen our domestic defenses, it is unlikely that we could be attacked on our own soil.  Currently, only 11% of defense spending is applied to keeping our shores safe.  We must demand better.

“Promote the general welfare”…. We must demand what is important.  Health care for everyone, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless.  This is, even in these tough economic times, the richest nation on earth.  It is criminal that we allow people to die for lack of medicine, or food, a roof over their heads, or heat in their homes.  We must spend money on jobs and innovations that will keep creating jobs.  We must follow sensible trade practices that preserve and protect our standard of living and way of life.

“and, secure the blessings of liberty, to ourselves and our posterity”… We must do everything outlined above so that we and our children may enjoy what a few enlightened men 200-odd years ago knew that we could achieve.  We must never forget that what we do today affects generations ahead of us, and that we are responsible to ensure that those generations enjoy what we have wrought.

A long time ago, I thought that Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia was a doddering old duffer that couldn’t give up on the Civil War and Reconstruction.  I never really knew much about him except that he delivered a lot of pork to West Virginia.  Then I watched him, in the fall of 2002, give impassioned speeches against the Iraq war.  He continued speaking out all through that winter and spring of 2003.  After George Bush ordered the invasion, on March 19, 2003, he stood on the Senate floor, tears in his eyes, and said “”Today I weep for my country. I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart. No more is the image of America one of strong, yet benevolent peacekeeper. The image of America has changed. Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned. Instead of reasoning with those with whom we disagree, we demand obedience or threaten recrimination.”

All the while, Senator Byrd carried a small red book, and passionately waved it during his speeches.  I later found out that the book was his worn copy of the U.S. Constitution.  My respect and admiration for the man grew tenfold.  Upon my family’s trip to Washington in 2007, I was given a small white book, a copy of the Constitution.  I keep it with me at all times.

I charge everyone out there to get your own little book and carry it around.  Remind yourself daily what the Constitution is – and means.  And if you get a chance, look up the Schoolhouse Rock video of the Preamble.  I’d love it if more people would sing with me at parties.