Saturday, March 6, 2010

Progressive Perspective on the US Constitution


A True Progressive Perspective on the Constitution

For too long, self-identified conservatives have claimed a near-monopoly on fierce devotion and allegiance to the US Constitution, as if to say anyone with a different viewpoint is somehow ill-disposed towards it. This is a very misguided belief on their part, and in fact could even be construed as “unconstitutional”. To illustrate, let’s go over the Constitution with a progressive eye and see how it looks, starting with the start – the Preamble.

The Preamble begins with the claim by the People of the United States that they came together, first, “in order to form a more perfect union”. This is as clear as can be; the purpose of what follows first and foremost is a desire to ‘come together’ more perfectly than at present. A “union” is the sum total of the whole, not the various splinters. The concept of a “more perfect union” is to bring people together more effectively, whether they’re from a geographical state (such as New York) or a state of mind (conservative, liberal, Catholic, atheist). If this is the purpose, then this Constitution is indeed a “living” or “progressive” document as this state of perfection hasn’t yet occurred (or is anyone suggesting it has?). We’re always striving for, but have yet to progress to, a “more perfect union”.

Next, we want to establish justice, which is a huge effort, and could prove costly. There is still much injustice in the nation, though now an act of remedy might easily be challenged as to whose ‘justice’ it serves, or more importantly, how is it paid for. Sad, that we have to think of justice in these terms, but that is the hard, cold reality. Follow the money, as always.

Following justice, we are to “insure domestic tranquility”. Some might read this as a blank check for keeping the population in a state of near-martial law, others might even use this as justification for laws with-holding important information from the population, such as the high potential for a poleshift in our near future, or impact from an asteroid. In fact, this is probably the constitutional justification that will be used to defend the establishment of the NSA (National [In]Security Agency), which is the only acknowledged agency that the laws of the United States do not apply to, unless they specifically prohibit the NSA from employing that waiver. Yes, you heard me right. The NSA is known even on the street as having the capability to spy on you at will, night or day, no matter what safeguards you think you have in place. A true progressive does NOT accept this state of affairs, because it violates the 4th Amendment that states:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Currently there are government operations that routinely violate this Amendment, and need to be reined in and reminded of this infringement on our liberty. The tendency to that kind of behavior is to be expected when such agencies as the NSA (No-Such-Agency) are given wide leeway to avoid adhering to this amendment in the digital age by claiming digital data – which would logically fall under the rubric of “….papers and effects” – is subject to very stringent TOS (Terms of Service) by ISPs that require the citizen accept “certain limitations” in order to use the software that will translate/publish/operate/manifest/communicate the data. And this is where the heart of the Progressive “complaint” lies. Corporations have the power to render moot many of the provisions of the Constitution, and because we rely on them to provide our jobs and supply us with politicians that have been bought and paid for, we feel vulnerable to their goals of profiting off of us one way or another. They usually want less taxes, but then no-one “likes” taxes anyway, who does? But not only are they tax-averse, they want fewer regulations on who they can hire, how much they can pay them, what kind of work conditions they will provide, where they will build their facilities, who they will trade with, etc. But by their very nature, in order to give the best bottom line (i.e. the most profit or least loss), they are often tempted to cut corners, stretch the truth, outright lie or break laws, just to keep their organization alive and if possible, growing. This is why the Progressive’s natural adversary is the Corporation, because the goal of the Progressive is to advance the cause of the citizen, promote his and her welfare, provide for his and her individual liberty, and ensuring they are reaping their rewards from the bounty of their labor in a fair manner.

The concept of “individual liberty” is one that a Corporation often resents, because it affords the worker they rely on the right to voice their opinion, to wear their hair and adorn their body the way they want, to engage in certain practices and desist in engaging in other practices. So, they have to instruct potential workers that while they are at work, they will have to accept limitations on forms of expression of their liberty. A Corporation wishes to pay the least for their labor, as that is but a “cost” to them. Thus, unions are by nature “progressive” in that they represent the best case for the laborer in negotiations with management as to what constitutes a fair recompense, not only in terms of salary and wages but also in terms of time expected on the job and certain behavior as well. Left unchecked, the Corporations would collude and set the lowest possible costs for labor, the highest possible profit for their products, and the least amount of laws protecting the environment and safety for their workers. Thus, true Progressives are generally supportive of labor and labor’s concern for justice and fair pay, while their conservative opponents are generally supportive of management and ownership interests (generally known as “the rich” or “upper classes”). Conservatives, who by definition want to “conserve” things (such as the culture of a bygone era, their own wealth, social mores, the control their class or clique has in certain areas, etc), generally view the government as an intrusion, since they are the ones that by and large control most of the wealth and media power and stand to lose the most if progress is made by the “lower” classes (which includes at least half of the middle class, also by definition). They often then try to identify their Corporations as individuals, with their own rights, blurring the lines between Corporate interests and those of the individual in order to persuade the lower classes to vote their way and support their candidates. Yet, nowhere in the Constitution is the Corporation recognized as having the same rights as the individual. There are only the three branches of the federal gov’t. as established by the Constitution, and the individual citizens of the Republic, together with the various State governments and their agencies and laws. Corporations, while in evidence at the time of the writing of the Constitution, were not seen as providing such an overwhelming and all-encompassing role in the lives of its workers and customers as well. Not like today.

So, while the Conservative ideologue (not such an oxymoron as they would have you believe) likes to bring up the 2nd Amendment, which true progressives also recognize (though with reasonable restrictions on what differentiates an individual right to bear arms and bear an arsenal – especially an arsenal they haven’t been licensed to maintain), they have given only lip service to the 4th Amendment described above and even less attention to the First Amendment. In pushing for the rights of the Corporation to enjoy the same “fruits of liberty” as the individual does, without recognizing the inherent differences, the Conservative is actually working against individual liberty.

Consider the First Amendment in simple English: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  Here the idea is clear that Congress make no laws restricting the “FREE exercise thereof”, but the operative word here is FREE. But before we get to the issue of FREE and who pays, we have the issue of religion in public life. Often smaller municipal or state government entities feel they have the right and almost obligation to manifest biblical quotes, prayers, and admonishments (such as the Ten Commandments) in buildings and public spaces. They have no idea that they don’t have the absolute right to simply do those things.  What if there is a significant number of citizens in the town who are atheists? Jewish? Or Hindu? Or even …… muslim? So, better that the government remain a secular one, devoid of any taint of providing “special treatment” for any one religion. The progressive doesn’t feel the government needs to be anti-religious, it just needs to be secular, as the Constitution plainly states. On Sunday, or any other day, or in the privacy of their home, or church, or synagogue or temple, the citizen practices and celebrates their religious beliefs, and can even proselytize in the public square as a private citizen if he or she wants, but attaching them to anything purchased with tax revenue, or established by federal law (national parks, court buildings, etc) is strictly forbidden by the Constitution.

While Congress can’t make any laws restricting the right of freedom of speech and the press, and the power to assemble peaceably, a Corporation can and does, merely by owning the means of production of putting one’s speech on the air and made available to the public. What good is the ‘freedom of speech’ if you have no access to speak freely, or the means to access a communications system (phone, fax, computer, world-wide web)? Even when they are able to access those means, the rights are effectively stripped away by such restrictive measures that take advantage of the individual’s notorious impatience and inability to understand the lengthy legal disclaimers they are forced to agree to (speaking here mainly of internet software) in order to access the communications functionality. Just because human invention has brought us marvelous new communication technologies does not infer the Constitution has to be left behind to only the technologies that were available at the time it was written.

To return to the Constitution, let’s recap so far how the progressive views the Constitution:

The purpose of the document, as clearly stated in its preamble, is to “form a more perfect union”. That means stop squabbling about “state’s rights”, which while recognized and respected within the body of the document to follow, should not be inferred to supersede the purpose of FORMING A MORE PERFECT UNION. Meaning; try to find ways of answering the Rodney King question, “why can’t we all just get along?” Really. Instead of always finding ways to divide us, whether by state or state-of-mind.

The second purpose is also clearly stated; “establish justice”.  That means things like civil rights for everyone, regardless of…..ANYTHING. NO EXCEPTIONS. Not by race, creed, gender, religious beliefs, sexuality, physical handicap, etc. It also refers to such issues as “Equal pay for equal work”. Sometimes it means taking into account that some crimes are motivated by beliefs that hold some citizens are less-equal than others, such as racism, sexism, bigotry, homophobia, etc, and while victims of those crimes are no better than victims of other crimes, the perpetrators of those crimes need to have the full measure of justice applied so that justice can be established clearly for the future progeny.

The third purpose is to “insure domestic tranquility”, and while the progressive recognizes that there are legitimate issues that this injunction addresses, it can be abused to ensure that the body politic often has pertinent information suppressed from its awareness, lest it disturb its more na├»ve elements.

The fourth purpose, “provide for the common defense”, is yet another purpose that has been abused by chief executives and their congressional allies in the course of the nation’s history. One particular example is the Iraq War, initiated in March 2003 under false pretenses by then-President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, their cabinet and congressional allies. There was no threat to the American citizenry that it needed to have their tax dollars diverted to pay for a war against the Iraqi regime in power at the time; in fact, the chief executive never acknowledged the cost to carry out this war, and simply foisted the responsibility onto the Congress, to pay for it in “supplemental appropriations”. For this reason alone, those responsible for that blatant abuse of constitutional authority should be tried and either hung or imprisoned for their treasonous participation that fraud.

The fifth purpose, “promote the general welfare”, is probably the purpose dearest to the Progressive heart. It means that the Constitution should be used to guide the efforts to help the citizenry pro-gress. It means that the “general welfare” is an important element in the life of the citizenry, and should be promoted to ensure that ALL citizens, not just a privileged few, have their lives improved by efforts made by those elements stipulated in the body of the document. That the laws, as passed by the Congress, be mindful of this clause, and not promote the welfare of select groups at the expense of other groups. “A rising tide lifts all boats”, as well it should. When the gross domestic product increases, laws passed by the Congress should keep in mind that the “general welfare” should be promoted, so as to avoid a situation whereby certain private citizens, hiding behind their Corporation identity, are able to profit exclusively while not promoting the welfare of the workers that have given them those profits. Again, Corporations are often used by one group or handful of individuals to concentrate power and then that power is often used to oppress or suppress the welfare of other groups or handfuls of individuals. The truly progressive person recognizes that while Corporations can do immense good in the public life of the nation, they are often used to do immense harm if left unchecked. Especially when those Corporations, and the handful of individuals who own and manage them, are used to purchase the loyalties of congressional lawmakers, who rely on them to provide for the costs of mounting and winning campaigns for public office. In short, they are a threat to “individual liberty”, especially when they succeed in having themselves accorded the same rights and privileges as “individuals”.

“Secure the blessings of liberty” that the preamble concludes with is a reminder that the Constitution is a pro-active document, recognizing that those blessings constantly need to be “secured” against threats of one kind or another, even if those “threats” aren’t part of an overt and malicious attempt but natural states of being that by their nature aren’t naturally conducive to providing “liberty”, the definition of which is: a. The condition of being free from restriction or control. b. The right and power to act, believe, or express oneself in a manner of one's own choosing. Often those crying “liberty” forget that the definition of ‘liberty’ means that, for instance, homosexuals who want to marry should be free from restrictions in doing so. It means they too should have the power to express themselves in the manner of their choosing. As a caveat, it does NOT mean that they have the power to run naked and screaming through the streets, but neither do heterosexuals, because that would not only “disturb domestic tranquility”, it would rightfully offend even other homosexuals or heterosexuals, who simply want to be acknowledged for who they are instead of having others define them – often in a hateful way.

While Article One defines both houses of Congress and their rights and responbilities, most of which don’t warrant particular scrutiny as they are commonly accepted, Section 8 Clause 1 is particularly notable: “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States”. This is the clause where the rubber meets the road. The Congress, NOT the President, or the Federal Reserve, defines and writes the tax laws. They also have the power to collect the taxes and to pay the nation’s debts (usually to the Federal Reserve), as well as fund the troops and provide for the general welfare. The progressive recognizes this and so is very interested in who is funding the elections of these lawmakers, to better understand whose agendas they will be furthering when carrying out these duties.

Clause 11 of Section 8 also states that the Congress has the power to declare war, NOT the President. Clause 12 goes on to state that Congress is the body that has the responsibility to “raise and support armies, but no appropriation for that purpose shall be for more than two years”. Clause 15 states “To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions”, with Clause 16 adding “To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress”.  The meaning is clear. While the individual states have the power to name the officers and provide for the training of what is now known as the “National Guard”, it is the US CONGRESS that provides for calling them out to enforce the laws of the union, suppress insurrections (against constitutional authority) and repel invasions.

Section 9 also has a couple of noteworthy clauses of interest to the progressive. Clause 2 states that the writ of habeas corpus shall NOT be suspended, the meaning of which is very simple. No-one can be detained against their will, without a hearing before a duly-appointed judge to determine if the arresting authority acted lawfully. Individual liberty is as sacrosanct to the progressive as it is to the conservative, notwithstanding all the hate propaganda that denies this, or attributes an anti-individual liberty bias to those historic personages often described as “progressive”, such as Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Careful study will show that their aversion was not to “individual liberty” but to a mis-named “right” of wealthy and powerful corporate interests to suppress true “individual” liberties when purchasing the labor of citizens and selling their products back to them.

© 2010 by Don Deppeller. Reprint freely with attribution.