Saturday, October 28, 2006

Keeping the Republic

While I was in Indiana October 26-27, six more U.S. service personnel and one UK soldier became the latest fatalities reported by the coalition military headquarters in Iraq.

The Indiana visit was my first trip beyond a 60 mile radius from Washington, DC for the purpose of meeting and talking with people and trying to gauge what FCNL can do to reinforce and help crystallize the growing opposition to policies that, during the last five years, have undermined the body politic of the United States. There were four gatherings in just one state and in only two cities in that state, but the locales seem representative of the “heartland.”

In Terre Haute, the ordinary men and women with whom I met were deeply concerned about the war I Iraq – the destruction and death suffered by the Iraqi people; the deaths of U.S. military personnel; the injure; all those whose lives had been irrevocably and adversely affected by this war in ways that the vast majority of the U.S. public never experience. There is, interestingly, anger about what many believe were the deliberate deceptions that the administration perpetrated to gain the support of a large part of the public who, in turn, acquiesced in the congressional resolution granting President Bush the opportunity to claim authority to initiate preventive war against Saddam Hussein.

But there is even more anger at the Congress. Only this anger centers on those who were content, even eager, to totally abrogate their constitutional duties and responsibilities as a co-equal branch of government to check and to balance the claims of the executive branch to more and more power – claims which, as has happened before – that finally overreaches so far that Lord Acton’s dictum again is fulfilled: “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

On the other hand, hardly any of the working adults, the college students, and the retirees are still taken in by the administration’s constant fear mongering that was so prominent right through the Iraq invasion. Most realize that, despite the White House proclamations, terror as a fact of life did not begin with Osama bin Laden or with September 11, 2001. Terror is a condition engendered by fear – fear of the unknown, of the future, of the unexpected. It is the accomplishment of humanity that we have developed ways to evaluate and to control our sense of fear, but it is also the bane of our life that some among us will play on fear to try to further their agendas, their purposes, even to the point of artificially inflating the proximity of danger.

Most heartening of all, however, is the concern expressed about the need to radically reinvigorate the processes of constitutional governance as provided for in the U.S. Constitution. People from different work backgrounds, experiences, and ages seem to understand that until the public reasserts its role as the source of power in our representative (republic) form of governance, the country will remain fundamentally at risk – not from acts of terror – but from the usurpation of the rights and privileges of citizens by the executive branch with the abject acquiescence of legislators more interested in re-election than in securing the general welfare.

In true emergencies, ones that pose such a fundamental challenge that the very existence of the state is imminently threatened, the people will give the “commander in chief” sufficient latitude to act to preserve the Union. But such grants have always been understood as temporary and ultimately subject to judicial review. For in the end, despite George Bush’s declaration, it is not the president but the people that can rightly claim the title of “Decider-in-Chief.”

More than once, I was reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s observation (as documented by the Congressional Research Service) at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 when it became known that the delegates had drafted not a revised Articles of Confederation but a new Constitution. In full context:

On leaving Independence Hall at the end of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Franklin was asked “Well, Doctor, what have we got – a Republic or a Monarchy?” According to Dr. James McHenry, a Maryland delegate, he replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

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