Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Not In Our Stars

Many Catholic homeschooling mommy bloggers have indicated that they were planning to spend today doing a study of the presidential inauguration. Some, of course, support Barack Obama and are thrilled by today's events; others are not at all happy, but still see today as an important civic event that only happens once every four or eight (usually eight) years.

I respect the latter, and don't understand the former at all. But at our house, we didn't even have the TV on this morning; it's a school day, after all.

Besides, while I understand that some see presidential inaugurations as a bit of history, a civic ritual worth watching and discussing, I no longer see them that way myself (if I ever really did). This is because whatever importance inaugurations once had, they have been, since January 22, 1973, nothing more than a polite lie told to the dying Republic (often while the person engaging in this behavior is grasping a Bible, no less).

Consider the words of the oath of office: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." There was a time when those words meant something more or less concrete: the President-elect was declaring that he would perform those tasks delegated by the Constitution to the President, and that he would otherwise support the Constitution's vision of limited federal government and abide by the notion that the unfettered liberty of the people of the United States was the most important value, the thing most worthy of protection, the thing that the central, federal government should most hesitate to violate, and most strive to preserve.

I'm sure it's possible to point at history and see other Presidents, before this modern era, who were being less than perfectly truthful when they pronounced the words of that oath. FDR, for instance, wanted to pack the Supreme Court with three extra judges to help him push through some of his agenda items, some of which the Court was inclined to look askance upon, and refer to the Constitutional limits of the federal government's powers in their negative decisions. But after January 22, 1973, the whole meaning of the notion expressed in the words "...preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution..." changed so dramatically that our government has never been the same since that day.

Prior to that day, in order to change the Constitution in any significant way, the constitutional amendment process had to be followed. While Constitutional amendments have, of course, been added to the Constitution, they are relatively rare, and their adoption has been a slow and laborious thing. And this is good: we have been spared the lunacy of an Equal Rights Amendment because of this process, and earlier our nation was able to undo the lunacy of Prohibition without incurring any Constitutional damage.

But on January 22, 1973, liberal activist judges realized that they could deform the Constitution merely by claiming that new rights nobody had ever seen before were emanating from penumbras, an argument that, so closely following the drug-crazed late Sixties, probably made more sense than it does now. With one stroke of a judicial pen the Supreme Court rewrote the Constitution to declare war on unborn Americans, and the death toll today stands at around fifty million so far--and counting. (Four thousand American children will die today; 1400 of them will be African-American children, who will never share in the dream of equality proposed by Martin Luther King, Jr., which we celebrated only yesterday.)

And so, since that historic date, no President has really sworn to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution; they have only sworn to maintain the status quo, to continue to let activist judges emasculate the Constitution any time they feel like reshaping societal values, and to conspire with these same judges in order to advance their own agendas and increase their own power. Taking a cue from these judicial masters, recent Presidents have also discovered that by using such things as executive orders and signing statements, they, too, can move beyond merely enforcing the laws and actually create law, just as the judges moved beyond the interpretation of law into the making of law.

The Constitution, which each President swears to defend, forbids anybody but Congress from making the laws that govern our nation. There's this idea of checks and balances, this notion that while a President may certainly propose legislation (as can any citizen), it's not his job to make laws; there's a corresponding notion that the courts can't make laws either, or amend the Constitution by judicial fiat. But for the last several administrations these notions have been ignored as being inconvenient to modern governance; all three branches have found a way to create laws with which to burden the liberty of the people, and all three are in cahoots with each other to keep it that way.

You might think that Congress would oppose this usurpation of its power, but you would be wrong. This is easy to understand--making laws requires taking actual postions on issues that one's constituents might care about, and this creates political risk. Today's members of Congress see their top priority as the avoidance of political risk and their continued election to office; some are content to stay in Congress and get moved up to positions of greater prestige and more committee power, while others, like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, are only using Congress as a stepping-stone to the executive branch, which has more opportunity to satisfy pride and ambition, greater power, and much greater visibility (though not transparency; we can't ask that of our leaders, naturally).

So the inauguration ceremony ends up meaning very little, when all is said and done. A man elected by a majority of the people makes a mendacious promise to protect and defend something that no one in government respects, protects, defends, or even follows anymore; then there's a big party which includes a ball, a traffic nightmare, not nearly enough public toilets, and far too many Hollywood celebrities.

Our freedom-loving ancestors who sacrificed a great deal fighting for this nation's independence would find us puzzling, in that we've allowed these modern dictators to redefine the Constitution at will; the anti-Federalists among them would be especially appalled that the safeguards they insisted upon to keep the central, federal government from becoming a Leviathan bent on swallowing whole the liberty and independence of the lives of all Americans have been so lightly brushed aside, traded for immoral sexual activity, the hideous crime and sin of abortion, and a new American philosophy that sees restraint as a vice and immoderate spending as a virtue. They might wonder under what evil constellation such an unholy alliance of power was birthed, that tore down the system of checks and balance, and set our nation on the same road once followed by ancient Rome, who traded her liberty for the ease and prestige of having a king.

Shakespeare would have the answer: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,/ But in ourselves, that we are underlings." This power grab couldn't have happened without generations of silent acquiescence, without people willing to send the same greedy glad-handers back to Congress again and again, without the notion that it's perfectly fine to "Bork" any judicial candidate who doesn't swear more allegiance to abortion than he does to the Constitution, without a mouth-frothing media bent on reinforcing the notion that a messianic dictatorship would be good for America (so long as the messiah shares their immoral and hedonistic values), and without slowly-softening spines accustomed to luxury and ease, and ready to trade freedom for either one.

And looking at the throngs of worshipers waving laurel-branches at our newest Caesar, I can't help but think that Americans have started to enjoy being underlings--and may eventually surrender all liberty in exchange for the comfortable servitude which is all that underlings may ever aspire to have.

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