Thursday, February 19, 2009


My recent musings about the rise of socialism in America prompted a thoughtful, if somewhat emotional response from the General Counsel of the Bissel Corporation, who just happens to be my son, Bill.

His points are so well expressed and so typical of the views of patriotic citizens, that I thought it well to repeat some of them here:

"It's not just the words that mean something to us all; it's the credibility of their writers, [Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, and Adams]the sacrifice by all those who have fought for the ideals they held, and the respect our people have for that document and its history. New and better words, if that were even possible, could not replace what the Constitution has come to mean to the people of this country.

Bottom line: let's not toss our Constitution; let's just do a better job of living by it."

Most Americans believe as Bill does that the Constitution somehow restrains the actions of elected officials. It doesn't. It's supposed to. It was intended to. It declares itself to be the supreme law of the land. Above the Congress. Beyond the President. Over the Supreme Court.

But is that the fact? At the Harvard Law School and elsewhere in academic circles, they teach that the Constitution is what the Supreme Court says it is.

Does anyone in Ameica really believe that we have a federal government of limited delegated powers, or that the several states are sovereign in all matters not expressly consigned to federal authority?

I learned in law school sixty years ago that the states have "police power" which meant that it was left to the states to make laws defining crimes and providing for their punishment. It was the province of state governemnt to legislate all the do's and don'ts affecting the health, welfare, and morals of their citizens.

Does anyone in America today doubt that the federal government has assumed the authority to dictate every facet of our lives, to control our economy, to decide who gets what?

Nearly two hundred years ago the French historian, Alex de Tocqueville, in his seminal work, "Democracy in America" warned that our federal government might become a vast tutelary authority which would dictate all the minutia of life. It was his view that people who try to vote themselves rich end up voting themselves into slavery.

I do not share the widespread skepticism about constitutional reform. Our experience in Michigan in 1963 convinced me that delegates to a convention are more inclned to think long term than congressmen and senators. Only a convention would propose term limits for the Congress. Only a convention could draft a balanced budget amendment with teeth in it. Only a convention can reign in a supreme court that presumes to treat the constitution as its intra office memorandum.

But most of all, I'm grateful for Bill's email because Article V of the Constitution is still there, it was written by the same patriots he reveres, and it deserves thoughtful, thorough, reasoned debate and discussion.

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