A document out of step with the times
News & Record
Here's one to get your blood boiling: a document written by self-styled "revolutionaries" that presumes to tell Americans how to run our country. This is Blue State stuff all the way -- plenty of Politically Correct jargon about our supposed obligations to some collective ideal but not one word about God. And it's already in wide distribution at schools supported with taxpayer dollars and throughout the halls of power.
I found a copy on the Internet, at a site easily accessible to children. The authors call it the "Preamble" -- a fancy word with French roots that means "introduction" -- and expect it to be read as an explanatory foreword to the Constitution itself.
Check out this liberal mush: We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Clearly the Constitution is more than a mere gay-marriage amendment away from conforming to the way we live now. Maybe a warning sticker, like the ones about evolution they put on textbooks in Georgia, would help. Certainly it's time to rethink the part that journalists call the "lede," that all-important, tone-setting preface to the entire document.
Let's take it from the top. "We the people ... do ordain and establish." Like the rest of the Constitution, the preamble is secular in tone and substance. It invokes no deity, asks for no permission in making and announcing the supreme law of the land. This irreligious Constitution -- a forest in which the First Amendment is just the highest tree -- proves most inconvenient to people who want to argue that the Founders didn't intend for there to be separation of church and state and should probably be changed for that reason.
The other problem with "the people" is that it sounds like something uttered by Chairman Mao. We know that Americans are rugged individualists, mavericks who need no help from "the people" and their nanny state. "Promote the general welfare" is kind of upsetting, too, because "welfare" is a dirty word, and promoting general welfare is the kind of thing best left to the Swedes. Such language seems out of place at a moment when the Bush administration is attempting to end Social Security's 70-year run as a defined benefit program, an effort described approvingly by Wall Street Journal columnist Mary Anastasia O'Grady as "a lunge for the jugular of the welfare state."
(Sanguinary body-part metaphors for Social Security "reform" abound, despite a preference by the politicians peddling it for keeping things warm and fuzzy. "Social Security is the soft underbelly of the welfare state," said Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute and the Club for Growth to The New York Times. "If you can jab your spear through that, you can undermine the whole welfare state.")
Also problematic is that part of the Preamble about forming "a more perfect union." But perfect unions are out of style. No less an authority than Thomas Woods, author of the best-selling book "A Politically Incorrect Guide to American History" (as seen on Fox News!), turns out to be a co-founder of a neo-secessionist group called the League of the South. That bit of background biography was neglected by the cable "news" folks lauding the book but reported in detail by Chapel Hill law professor and blogging ace Eric Muller. Seriously, who are you going to trust more about the nature of the union, the guys who created it or the guy getting props from Sean Hannity?
There's nothing especially wrong with the phrases "establish justice" and "insure domestic tranquility"... at least in theory. But the first one sounds like a Jesse Jackson campaign slogan and the second could be some sort of covert gay-rights thing or maybe an ad for herbal tea. Both: out. Providing for the common defense? As long as it doesn't mean raising taxes in order to put more police on the streets or soldiers in Iraq, that one can stay.
Then there's that word "blessings." Blessings are not really part of our consumer culture. Blessings are things for which you are thankful. Not us, baby. We are owed. We deserve to drive enormous cars and park them in front of our enormous houses, no matter what the price and provenance of oil. Our blessings are measured in purchasing power, not abstract concepts like "liberty." And what we leave for posterity is debt, which is in a sense the opposite of liberty. Unless we have enormous estates, in which case we should be able to leave those, too.
The rest of the Constitution is really not much better than that shocking opening paragraph. It's maddeningly secular, crammed with quaint notions about responsibility, voting and other things we just don't have time for any more, along with enumerated freedoms that may not conform with the Patriot Act. But we can't fix everything at once. Let's amble through the Preamble, then move on from there.
Edward Cone (www.edcone.com, firstname.lastname@example.org) writes a column for the News & Record most Sundays.