Saturday, July 24, 2010

When Words Cease to Have Meaning

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God" (emphasis mine).
Congressional Oath of Office

I am one of those people that think words mean something. I spend a great deal of my day with words. As a college professor, I love meeting new ones, sorting through my brain to recall old ones, searching the dictionary for a precise meaning of a specific one. I hang my hat on words. I depend on them. I respect them.

Which is why I am so troubled with the careless and reckless disregard for the meaning of words in our Congress and by this President. Joe Wilson took a lot of heat for shouting "you lie" during President Obama's health care speech. Decorum aside I didn't really see what all the fuss was about. We don't live in a monarchy or a dictatorship. Disagreement, discourse--these are givens in a free society. One has to merely watch a few minutes of floor debate in the British Parliament to appreciate the relative benignity of Wilson's comment. I am not justifying his outburst, I am merely reflecting on his right to do so. I encourage you to listen to the speech and determine for yourself if the President spoke the truth or Congressman Wilson did.

In Federalist 51, James Madison writes: If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

Our government is out of control. In the last year and a half our President has repeatedly overreached the bounds of his office. Congress has passed thousands of pages of new legislation without reading it and without demonstrating a sound understanding of the very Constitution that provides their job description. The one that they have sworn to uphold. Their lack of respect for the Constitution may come from a lack of familiarity with same. House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Representative Jon Conyers referred to the "good and welfare" clause as his justification of the health care bill's constitutionality. There is no "good and welfare" clause. Representative Phil Hare cited Americans' right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" as his constitutional justification for voting for the health care bill. The phrase life, liberty and pursuit of happiness comes from the Declaration of Independence not the Constitution.

When our representatives in Washington--our congressman and senators and president--swear to uphold the Constitution and then don't, we have more than a problem on our hands, we have a crisis.

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