Rediscovering the Constitution as we drift into a nation of intolerance and greed
After eight-plus decades of searching for the right route for serving my family, my community and my conscience, I find there is no single path. In complex, uncertain times the message from the radical right is very appealing: just trust in the Word of the Lord. A few problems with that: Which word? Whose interpretation? And will it be in the original Aramaic or its English translation?
The problems of modern life are far too numerous and confusing to examine and evaluate each issue in detail, hence the temptation to follow the simple path of unquestioned Faith. For some, however, something more concrete is needed to identify and evaluate our nation’s higher and more beneficial standards of performance. We need a solid base on which to fashion goals for society, something more reliable, for example, than seductive political promises and comforting sound bites. We need a standard by which to measure the benefits and pitfalls and obligations of legislative proposals.
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By that pledge our government assumed an obligation to care for the basic needs of all its citizens and while the precise nature of those needs may be vague, they must necessarily include food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, healthcare for the ill and infirm, education for the young, and security for the aged. It is those basic benefits that define the ideals and traditions with which we have gloried and in which we and the generations before us have taken such pride, and it is in the continuing pursuit of those goals that our legislation must focus.
Tax reduction, for example, has universal appeal and legislators dare oppose it at their peril, but measured against the blessings envisioned in our founding document’s solemn pledge of support for the welfare of the people, such opposition becomes responsible rather than expedient. Upholding the lofty goals of our Constitution by providing for the needy, too often dismissed as Liberal giveaways, is fully in keeping with the highest standards of the Constitution and is a proud reflection of our nation’s humanitarian principles.
In 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt suggested an all-inclusive “Second Bill of Rights,” designed to help all the people of the country. Nestling next to remedial programs for the disadvantaged was “the right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad.”
Roosevelt’s intention to aid and protect the needy and the more privileged alike echoes our nation’s original goal of creating a truly democratic and inclusive society in which all the people share in the hopes and benefits of freedom, one in which even the least fortunate can enjoy the benefits of a supportive and caring government.
Lately, we have been drifting into a nation of intolerance and greed, with Liberals and Conservatives pursuing different and contradictory agendas. In hopes of political gain, the Democrats have been soft-peddling their tradition of support for the most needy, while the Republicans, by definition and tradition a party “disposed to preserve existing conditions and institutions,” has been increasingly focused on improving the welfare of its more powerful and vociferous supporters.
By redirecting the country’s philosophic goals and legislative efforts away from “the general Welfare,” the primary losers would, of course, be the nation’s most poor and disadvantaged citizens, but joining them as victims would be our gloried reputation as a haven for “the wretched refuse of our teeming shore” ... and with it our country’s proud and beloved tradition seeking equality and justice for all.
Our need is to reexamine the words and purpose of the Constitution to keep its promise alive, to ensure the continuity of a philosophy and programs of help that only a compassionate and sympathetic government can provide. Those values that had for so long made our nation the envy of the world and the pride of our people are fading. Much political rhetoric is made of “moral values” by which is meant the narrow issues of gay marriage and abortion and public prayer, but little is noted of the larger moral values of satisfying the basic needs of survival for all our people according to the intent and authority of the Constitution. Rather than backing away from these debates we, both liberals and conservatives, should aggressively assume authorship of the true principles of “moral values” and challenge its detractors to define them differently.
The constitutionally mandated compassion of American democracy is perhaps unique in legislative history and has always been a major source of pride among our people, but that pride is turning to shame for some, fear for many, and is being redefined by others. Our obligation now is to reexamine our Constitution and recommit to the humanitarian goals and lofty principles that are its legacy.
Robert Faber is a regularly contributor to AnnArbor.com, writing about aging, politics and other issues. A resident of Ann Arbor since 1954, Faber and his wife, Eunice, owned a fabric store and later a travel agency. He served a couple of terms on the Ann Arbor City Council. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.