In the Land of Our (Founding) Fathers
By Bernard Weiner
Co-Editor, The Crisis Papers
February 6, 2007
(PHILADELPHIA) Not just because I majored in politics in college, and took
my graduate degrees in government & international relations afterwards,
but I am an unabashed lover of my country's form of governance.
I remember actually choking-up when talking to one of my graduate-school
mentors about the glories of America's unique form of democracy. And I
felt the same way here in Philadelphia when walking around Independence
Square. I was so moved at what had been wrought here, especially in
Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and
Constitution were conceived, debated, and proudly unveiled.
And so saddened at the state of American government today in the hands
of the Bush Administration.
We are so lucky to be the beneficiaries of the genius of our country's
Founding Fathers -- men like Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Adams,
Franklin, Paine and a host of others. Yes, of course, the American
system of government was and is far from perfect, but it has the
built-in political infrastructure for constant improvement.
("Democracy," said Churchill, "is the worst form of government ever
invented. Except for all the others.")
FREEDOM -- "IF YOU CAN KEEP IT"
Franklin in essence challenged us all after the Constitution was
written: We've given you this wonderful democratic-republic form of
government -- "if you can keep it." That is our massive responsibility
Democracy is not just voting, it is also constantly struggling to
protect and defend it against more authoritarian forces anxious to tear
it down, including their willingness to upset the delicate
separation-of-powers system our forefathers set up to keep any one
branch or faction from amassing too much political control. The
power-hungry Bush crew have worked as a wrecking company tearing down so
many of America's legal and political traditions.
If we've learned anything during the past six years, it is that
protecting democracy is a rough-and-tumble contact sport and you can't
win if you cede the court to the other guys. You need to get in there
and mix it up in defense of the greatness and potential greatness of
THE DANGER OF A KING NAMED GEORGE
The colonists had been loyal subjects of the British Crown until the
English king began aggressively mistreating his subjects in the New
World. King George III was a tyrant -- who was, many believe,
somewhat mentally unhinged -- and he exercised his power cruelly and
Eventually, the citizens in the thirteen colonies began to chafe at
being taxed without representation, at the heavy-handed way the British
troops barged into their homes and farms and manhandled (and in some
cases imprisoned, beat and killed) them. Rebellion was in the air, but
breaking free of a despotic ruler is not easy and definitely not for
The founders of our democratic republic knew that issuing their
Declaration of Independence from Great Britain was an act of treason
against the state that guaranteed them death-by-hanging if their
enterprise failed. These were no sissies.
They signed the Declaration on July 4, 1776. It took them eight long
years of warfare (much of it of a guerrilla nature) for the colonists to
gain their independence. Following the American victory, the loose
Articles of Confederation were barely holding the 13 states together.
The United States were -- not yet "was" -- in jeopardy. A Constitution
for an effective national government had to be constructed, from
scratch, with all sorts of compromises between large states and small
states, high-population states and low-population states, Federalists
and Republicans, those states that sanctioned slavery and those that
Finally, in 1787 the new Constitution was completed. It dealt largely
with the relations between the federal government and the various
states, but hardly addressed the rights of the people. In large part,
the colonists had fought their war for independence precisely because
the British Crown would acknowledge no such rights and ran roughshod
over the populace. And so, in order to strengthen the case for
ratification of the Constitution by the various states, the Bill of
Rights, comprising the first ten amendments to the Constitution, was
promised and finally adopted in 1791.
THE BILL OF RIGHTS: PROTECTION FOR ALL
From that time, until six years ago, United States citizens lived under
the glorious umbrella of Constitutional protections of their rights.
That's more than 200 years. Certainly, there were occasional egregious
violations of those rights: slavery being the most notable, along with
the lack of women's suffrage and sanctioned racial discriminations. But,
by and large, the system worked beautifully and effectively.
The rights protected by those first ten amendments include: the freedom
of speech, the freedom of the press, the freedom of assembly, the free
exercise of religion, the freedom to petition, the peoples' right to
keep and bear arms, and the right to be free of unreasonable searches
and seizures, cruel and unusual punishment, and compelled
self-incrimination. Also included are restrictions on Congress' power to
establish an official religion, and prohibiting the federal government
from depriving any person of life, liberty or property without due
process of law. In criminal cases, the Bill of Rights requires
indictment by a grand jury, guarantees a speedy trial with an impartial
and local jury, and prohibits double jeopardy.
The Bush Administration, citing the mass-tragedy of 9/11 as their cover,
has systematically dismantled the Bill of Rights and re-interpreted the
Constitution to the end of amassing virtually all power in the Executive
Branch, with few rights left to the people.
Under the twisted legal philosophy developed by Alberto Gonzales and
other Bush toadies, a virtual executive dictatorship was established,
giving the President the authority to do anything and everything he
chooses to do as long as he uses the magic words: acting as
"commander-in-chief" of the armed forces during "wartime." (One must
note that this war is a "war on terrorism" that has no end, since there
always will be terrorists of one sort or another.)
Under these warped legal interpretations, the Bush Administration has
ensured that citizens no longer possess most of those freedoms
guaranteed by the Constitution and Bill of Rights. After six years, we
have seen one after another of those first ten amendments abandoned or
distorted. Under the guise of searching for "terrorists," Bush
Administration policies have established that American citizens no
longer enjoy the 800-year-old concept of habeas corpus, which says we
can't be arrested and put on trial without a court hearing validating
the charges; we no longer are guaranteed attorney-client privacy rights;
we can be thrown into military stockades and kept isolated from society
forever without access to a lawyer; we can have our home and computer
and email searched without a warrant and without our even knowing of the
violation of our privacy; we can be subjected to physical abuse and sent
under "extraordinary rendition" to countries that specialize in extreme
torture, and on and on.
REMOVING WOULD-BE DICTATORS
I think the tears that welled in my eyes while standing in the
Philadelphia assembly chamber where the Declaration of Independence was
debated and ratified was not just for the ghosts of the American legal
giants who had shaped our future more than two centuries ago, but also
for what our society and government have come to under the current
leadership in the White House.
Bush, who once "joked" that it sure would be easier to rule if he were a
dictator, has been in that position now for years. True, in 2007 Bush's
moral authority is slipping as the public has figured out the true
dimensions of the man -- the midterm election results and recent polls
are good demonstrations of that. But he continues to maintain his
control of the military, the judicial system (having appointed
ideologically-friendly judges and loyalist U.S. attorneys), the
Department of Justice.
He starts disastrous wars on his own and says he'll carry them out even
if Congress and the American people try to stop him. Likewise, when the
Supreme Court slaps down his most egregious policies, he either ignores
them or figures out a way to go around the ruling; Gonzales has warned
the courts to stay out of matters involving "national security."
In short, we have our own "King" George to deal with, and the American
public has taken the first moves by slapping down Bush's party in the
midterm elections. The next step involves hard, tough investigatory
hearings -- on Iraq policy, the misuse of intelligence, lies and
deceptions, corruption, domestic spying, torture as state policy, etc.
etc. -- and then likely impeachment and removal from office, especially
if Bush and Cheney continue in their irrational escalation of the Iraq
War and the inauguration of a new one against Iran.
The damage the Bush Bunker crew have wrought in the past six years, and
the further damage and destruction they can do in the next two years,
almost makes one sick to contemplate. Even if the Democrats in 2008 were
to maintain control of the Congress and take the White House as well, it
would take years, perhaps a decade or more, to start to undo the worst
aspects of that destruction.
But one starts where and when one can. The process of Constitutional
restoration begins now, with each of us. If we are united in our
resolve, we can best tyranny of all sorts. We will not be moved. We shall overcome.
Copyright 2007 by Bernard Weiner
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught
government & international relations at universities in California and
Washington, worked as a writer/editor at the San Francisco Chronicle for two
decades, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org).
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