Inauguration Day

Today is the second inauguration of Barack Obama, who will be sworn into his second term at 11:30 a.m. ET.  (Actually, he took his oath of office on Sunday, in accordance with the date specified in the Constitution, in the White House, but the public ceremony will be on Monday, in commendable respect for the Lord’s Day.)

The Bible tells us to pray for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:2).  That would include President Obama.  As would the command to “honor the emperor,” (1 Peter 2:17).  Many of us, especially those of us who aren’t big fans of the president politically, are probably guilty of violating those particular passages.  How should we honor him, even if we don’t like his policies (as Peter surely didn’t like the policies of the Roman Emperor)?  What should we pray for on behalf of the President?

(Meanwhile, see after the jump how the President is being hailed on the cover of Newsweek.) [Read more…]

Should we abolish the Constitution?

Louis Michael Seidman, a Georgetown professor of Constitutional Law, no less, argues in the New York Times that we should do away with the Constitution.

Our obsession with the Constitution has saddled us with a dysfunctional political system, kept us from debating the merits of divisive issues and inflamed our public discourse. Instead of arguing about what is to be done, we argue about what James Madison might have wanted done 225 years ago.

As someone who has taught constitutional law for almost 40 years, I am ashamed it took me so long to see how bizarre all this is. Imagine that after careful study a government official — say, the president or one of the party leaders in Congress — reaches a considered judgment that a particular course of action is best for the country. Suddenly, someone bursts into the room with new information: a group of white propertied men who have been dead for two centuries, knew nothing of our present situation, acted illegally under existing law and thought it was fine to own slaves might have disagreed with this course of action. Is it even remotely rational that the official should change his or her mind because of this divination? . . .

This is not to say that we should disobey all constitutional commands. Freedom of speech and religion, equal protection of the laws and protections against governmental deprivation of life, liberty or property are important, whether or not they are in the Constitution. We should continue to follow those requirements out of respect, not obligation.

Nor should we have a debate about, for instance, how long the president’s term should last or whether Congress should consist of two houses. Some matters are better left settled, even if not in exactly the way we favor. Nor, finally, should we have an all-powerful president free to do whatever he wants. Even without constitutional fealty, the president would still be checked by Congress and by the states. There is even something to be said for an elite body like the Supreme Court with the power to impose its views of political morality on the country.

What would change is not the existence of these institutions, but the basis on which they claim legitimacy. The president would have to justify military action against Iran solely on the merits, without shutting down the debate with a claim of unchallengeable constitutional power as commander in chief. Congress might well retain the power of the purse, but this power would have to be defended on contemporary policy grounds, not abstruse constitutional doctrine. The Supreme Court could stop pretending that its decisions protecting same-sex intimacy or limiting affirmative action were rooted in constitutional text.

The deep-seated fear that such disobedience would unravel our social fabric is mere superstition. As we have seen, the country has successfully survived numerous examples of constitutional infidelity. And as we see now, the failure of the Congress and the White House to agree has already destabilized the country. Countries like Britain and New Zealand have systems of parliamentary supremacy and no written constitution, but are held together by longstanding traditions, accepted modes of procedure and engaged citizens. We, too, could draw on these resources.

What has preserved our political stability is not a poetic piece of parchment, but entrenched institutions and habits of thought and, most important, the sense that we are one nation and must work out our differences.

via Let’s Give Up on the Constitution – NYTimes.com.

But why would we even have a Congress, a Senate, a President, and a Supreme Court and how would we know how long their terms are without a foundational, authoritative plan of government?  How would we protect free speech without some kind of supreme law?  Which would be a constitution?  Yes, Great Britain and members of the Commonwealth do without a written constitution, instead following an unwritten collection of traditional principles.  But for that to work, you would need to have a respect for tradition, which Prof. Steidman, with its dismissal of the “white propertied men” of the 18th century, is hardly encouraging.

Besides, as pointed out by David T. Koyzis (to whom I tip my hat for putting me onto this piece) respect for the Constitution and the consequent rule of law that it makes possible is one of the “enduring traditions and habits of thought” that Seidman wants to replace it with.  (First Thoughts of December 31 has posted three critiques of Seidman’s column.)

Puerto Rico votes for statehood

For the first time, the citizens of Puerto Ric0 voted to become the 51st state in the United States of America.  This can’t happen without Congressional action, but a referendum in the American territory went for statehood after Puerto Ricans voted it down in 1967, 1993, and 1998.

The vote was 61% for statehood, with 46% for maintaining the status quo.  Only 6% voted for out-and-out independence.

via Puerto Ricans favor statehood for first time – CNN.com.

President Obama owes Hispanics big time for his re-election.  Would this be a fitting award/symbolic gesture?  Republicans are seeing the need to attract more Hispanic voters.  Might they be hesitant to oppose statehood, even though this might mean two more Democratic senators?

Would you support Puerto Rico becoming a state?

OK, now it's a depression

The Dust Bowl has returned to my native Oklahoma.  A huge  dust storm hit Blackwell, Oklahoma, causing a 30-car pileup on I-35.  Blackwell is where my daughter, son-in-law, and three grand-daughters live!

Dust storm causes thirty car pile-up with injuries near Blackwell Oklahoma

 

 

 

Dust storm in Oklahoma causes highway to close and thirty car pile up – Oklahoma City Everyday People | Examiner.com.

Happy Columbus Day!

We should have a discussion for Columbus Day as we have for other holidays.

This day is also observed in Latin American countries as Dia de la Raza, a day to mark the meeting and mixing of Native American and Spanish cultures.  Many Native Americans, especially in the U.S.A., see Columbus Day as a time of mourning.  But other activists use it as a time to celebrate the Hispanic presence in the Americas and to protest what they consider to be injustices, such as restrictive  immigration laws.  Columbus, of course, was an Italian who served the monarchs of Spain.   In the United States, this day is also a time to celebrate the Italian presence!

What is the true meaning of Columbus Day?  (Besides the true meaning that  Columbus discovered America on October 12!)   Is there a Christian dimension to this holiday, or had we better just leave that alone?

Why do we even have a president?

Historian Kenneth C. Davis looks at the origin of the office of the President, something our Founders went round and round about at the Constitutional Convention.

In that steamy Philadelphia summer of 1787, as the Constitution was secretly being drafted and the plan for the presidency invented — “improvised” is more apt — the delegates weren’t sure what they wanted this new office to be. To patriots who had fought a war against a king, the thought of one person wielding great power, at the head of a standing army, gave them the willies.

Still, Hamilton asserted in the Federalist Papers that this experimental executive must have “energy” — a quality characterized by “decision, activity, secrecy and dispatch.” Hamilton knew that the times demanded bold action. Operating under the Articles of Confederation, a weak Congress had dithered through crisis and conflict, unable to collect taxes or raise an effective army. And the presidents of Congress — 14 of them from 1774 to 1788 — wielded nothing more threatening than a gavel. They couldn’t even answer a letter without congressional approval.

As the delegates to the Constitutional Convention sweltered behind closed windows, in the same Pennsylvania State House where the Declaration of Independence had been adopted 11 years earlier, they disagreed about many things. But no issue caused greater consternation than establishing an executive office to run the country.

Would this executive department be occupied by one man or a council of three? What powers would the executive have? How long would he hold office? How would the executive be chosen? And how would he be removed, if necessary? (Without an answer to this question, Ben Franklin warned, the only recourse would be assassination.)

On these questions, the record points down a tortuous path filled with uncertainty and sharp division. While some delegates feared creating a presidency that could become a “fetus of monarchy,” others called for an executive who could negotiate treaties and make appointments — or command an army if the nation was threatened. Or at least answer the mail. . . . [Read more…]


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