Sunday, November 1, 2009

Horse sense or neigh-saying

I keep hearing complaints about what President Obama is doing to our Constitution —that he is a threat to that sacred document and all it stands for, all "we, the people" hold dear. This theme has become standard fare for t-shirt slogans, bumperstickers and banners —a core theme for the Obama-bashing brand. And with the Tea Bag Movement out hanging 'Don't Tread On Me' banners and reading what they would into "Common Sense" —we see this infraction, the President's supposed contempt for the Constitution, extrapolated into a more general charge that what Obama represents is a threat to the broader founding principles of this country.

When one ventures to ask just what particular action of our democratically elected president, in the exercise of his Constitutionally defined responsibilities, constitutes this criminal constitutional contempt —well, the answers are often somewhat sketchy. You might hear the word 'Communism' —or be reminded that our Founding Fathers hated paying taxes, too. The rare scholar will point to the Tenth Amendment.

Somehow, with all this torch and pitchfork rhetoric of founding principles and sacred documents, with that reverent posture towards an unread text, I am put in mind of one particular posting from the past —a posting on a barnyard wall. I am reminded of George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ —the Seven Laws, the pledges the animals all made to each other as they started on their idealistic adventure, how they posted them proudly at first, and how the actual words and their meanings came to be perversely changed, then forgotten —how the language itself ultimately faded, along with any memory of what once had been defined as common code and purpose.

Orwell's parable has long been understood as an allegorical comment on Communism and its sad descent from laudable ideal to tragic farce —a farce confounding the selfsame ideal. But I'm not sure the moral of that fable is entirely about the practical flaws in centralized planning or collectivized farming. I'd offer it is more an object lesson about cultural amnesia in any body politic, one we might take to heart.

Our Constitution is indeed a document about limiting government, but it also establishes that "we, the people" are that government, that we come together to form "that more perfect union." Our constitutional design is such that we might differ in debating the policies of that ongoing perfection. It is meant to enable, in civil civic terms, that difference among equals —with none of us more equal than any other.

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