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Our Flawed Constitution

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Message Harold Novikoff
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Signing of the Constitution
Signing of the Constitution
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Our democratic government is not working the way it should. There is much discussion and shouting on vital issues, but that is about as far as it gets. The discourse just seems to intensify into a total partisan stalemate while the problems escalate.

Beyond the debates on democratic principles are the more fundamental matters of the stratification of our society and our declining social values, as influenced primarily by our amoral economic system. This article will be limited to constitutional matters that could, potentially, play an important role in preserving democratic principles.

The constitution, supposedly, both protects our basic freedoms and deprives us of protections from changing circumstances not covered or conceived when it was first written or amended. Some laissez faire factions of our society would like to keep it that way so they could profit from the ensuing permissiveness. The cumbersome process of amending the Constitution that takes many years to accomplish works in their favor. As with everything, there is good and bad in this. People who would like to institutionalize reactionary policies not popular in contemporary political culture are impeded from doing this. However, opposition to progressive amendments essentially accomplishes the same thing.

In political, legal, and patriotic matters, we, ostensibly, accord our Constitution almost the same reverence as many people do the Bible in ethical and moral concerns. In court, we swear on the Bible to speak the truth. We take an oath on the Bible to uphold the Constitution while performing duties of political office. The Constitution is considered to be the embodiment of the fundamental tenets of our democracy, thus assuring its perpetuation, and therefore is commonly regarded as a fixed, infallible icon -- the last resort of legal controversy.

But, just as the Bible is subject to new interpretations over the centuries as scientific learning and social developments displace revelationary doctrine, so too, the Constitution, in a greatly transformed and rapidly changing society, must be subject to constant review for relevancy. When either icon is taken too literally, there can be damaging consequences from cultural lag.

Not being a student of the Bible, I can only name some of its most common references for illustration. "Be fruitful and multiply" the Bible tells us. Whereas this may have been good advice in biblical times when the Earth was sparsely populated, it is very bad advice in today's world where burgeoning populations are rapidly consuming the resources needed to support life in a humane fashion. New policies are required to manage the problems of over-population.

My favorite example from the Constitution is the right of the people to bear arms. When this right was given, citizens' "arms" consisted essentially of muzzle-loaded muskets, and there was no standing army to protect the state, which was the reason given for bearing arms. The evolution of arms to AK-47 automatic rifles and other deadly weapons was not taken into account, nor was the use of weapons contemplated for multifarious violent and criminal acts in a totally transformed society. These transformations call for a new set of rules governing the type and use of guns.

Some fundamental constitutional issues that divide us demand our full attention and would benefit from an expedited amendment procedure, such as occurred with the 21st amendment (repeal of prohibition, which almost everybody but the gangster mobs realized was a mistake).

There are fundamental shortcomings in our election system, which is at the heart of the mechanics of democracy: the disproportionate influence of money and the unjust, unreliable and non-uniform voting process. Our principal guardians of democracy - our Supreme Court justices - are not above the partisanship that disunites our nation.

Our government does not function as conceived for the balance of powers between executive, justice and congressional branches. Party policy conspires to dominate all branches of government, thus negating the balance of powers, and to perpetuate itself by any means - whether ethical, legal, or not.

The result is long term historical periods of stagnating politics marked by cycles of depression and reform as the dominant opposing parties alternate their control of government. Behind the political parties are the big corporate interests that support and influence them, to which they are beholden.

There can be no significant change in the American political scene until we make some fundamental corrections, beginning with a rigorously monitored, uniform federal election process - starting with unscrambling of electoral districts - with severe criminal penalties for interference and non-compliance.

It should be noted that there is no mention in the Constitution of party participation in the structure or functioning of government. To the best of my knowledge, political parties have existed from time immemorial, and they are an inevitable social phenomenon as political thinking tends to diverge into opposing channels. But to implement the democratic ideals of government to serve all the people with optimum equality of justice and opportunity, and to create a more unified nation, the role of political parties has to be held in check - at least until they can all agree to support a truly progressive and effective democratic ideology of cooperation - government of, by, and for the people - that benefits everyone; a highly unlikely expectation.

Political ideologies are equivalent - or even more significant - to religious ideologies in their influence on society. Our democracy is founded on the concept of separation of church and state. Likewise, to progress towards the ideals of democracy, we need to minimize the divisive influence of political parties on the functioning of government.

Party leadership should not control individuals in government by financial influence or oath of allegiance. All issues should be settled by civil debate only. That is the purpose of Congress. The separation of church and state should apply equally to political parties. It is my firm belief that expanding educational and cultural opportunities for all citizens, and improving the quality and integrity of our all-pervasive media, will go a long way towards unifying our political goals.

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Veteran, retired from several occupations (school teacher, technical writer, energy conservation business, etc.) long-time Sierra Club member

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