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Posted on Mon, Oct 31, 2011 : 8:23 a.m.

Running a country is no simple task, but we have the Constitution to guide us

By Robert Faber

Editor's note: Robert Faber writes occasional columns for about aging, politics and other issues.

Nobody said it was easy. Running a household efficiently and effectively, keeping within budget and pleasing all its residents, is an intimidating challenge for even the most efficient and dedicated of managers.

And running a business that satisfies the needs of the market it serves, while remaining profitable for its investors, is a task that makes household responsibilities seem like a walk in the park.

But running a country that is attentive to the many needs of its diverse population and to all the varied interests that are necessary and responsible for reaching those goals -- accounting for the dreams and traditions that have guided us and sustained us since our founding more than two centuries ago -- makes all the rest little more than child’s play.

All of which means that our nation’s representatives in both houses of Congress, making decisions about how to plan our future and run our country, must rely on much more than the technical skills of their advisors -- or their own political dreams -- or the deep desires of supporters with private interests to pursue. They must have a set of core principles by which to set their standards of performance and by which to measure the results.

Running an organization the size and complexity of the United States is truly mind-boggling. Even aside from organizing the programs and personnel necessary to keep us afloat and preparing for such unforeseeable disasters as wars and hurricanes and plagues, just the task of keeping incomes and expenses in some sort of balance is enough to traumatize the most insensitive soul.

So it may be a bit unfair to come down too hard on those who run the show from Washington, but they are the ones, after all, who insist on the credit when things go well and who point disapproving fingers at their critics when it falls apart, so they are also the ones who must ultimately be held accountable. And the essence of that responsibility is the welfare of the people by whom this nation was built and for whom these legislators serve. Now their most difficult and delicate problem is in defining the needs of our nation -- honestly and honorably -- and determining how those needs can best be met.

Aye, and therein lies the quandary. There are those who feel that Big Business provides the jobs that fuel the economy that feeds the people that builds the future that keeps us happy, so it is the needs of Big Business that must be attended and nurtured and protected. Others narrow the list to just those most consequential players like the biggest banks and global investment firms and major defense contractors and others who are charged with keeping us free in a hostile world ... and fuels the economy that feeds the people that builds the ... etc. And still others concentrate their support on the many temples of worship designed to sustain us when all else fails to satisfactorily fuel the economy that feeds the people that builds ... etc. Or maybe, and more likely, none of the above -- or at least, none of the above should be granted the honored spot on center stage. The original focus of our founding was on the people to be served. Instituting the most efficient means for the provision of that service, of course, is an essential part of the process, but that remains secondary to the basic goal of providing for the people. In the Constitution’s pledge to “promote the general Welfare” it is the People who are the focus of those must be served - at least on a par with the providers of that service.

Efficiency in the provision and distribution of those services is essential, of course, but there must be a core set of principles by which those needs are identified and on which their programs of support are designed and built. Helping secure the health and satisfy the needs of profit-oriented suppliers in order to protect their firms and employees and customers is a reasonable responsibility of government, but extending those benefits to the rest of our nation’s citizens -- even without ties to business -- is no less a national obligation.

It may not be fair to concentrate too rigorously on the occasional misdeed or mismanagement or mistake that marks so much of our nation’s performance when so many options are in play, but ultimately our actions must be guided by concern for the well-being of our larger population.

And I suggest that the basic principles most compatible with our people and our traditions are those articulated in our Constitution. That sacred document -- in its pledge to “form a more perfect Union” and to “promote the general Welfare ... ” -- provides the most efficient, reliable, honorable standard on which to build and protect our future -- and overrides all other competing interests.

Bob Faber has been a resident of Ann Arbor since 1954. He 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



Sun, Jan 1, 2012 : 6:08 p.m.

" Now their most difficult and delicate problem is in defining the needs of our nation -- honestly and honorably -- and determining how those needs can best be met." – I propose that this is the key concept involved. Without honor and honesty, any constitution or government is meaningless - and they transform into instruments of evil. Yet, dishonor and dishonesty is the hallmark of both political ideologies (which seek to distort the national goals to their own best advantage). The current situation is one where the Constitution is used by conservatives to sell the notion that its purpose is to "free us" of government and promote individualism to the point where we are all on our own and acting only according to our "sacred" self interest. This is clearly not the way to achieve and preserve "e pluribus unum." It's a recipe for elitism and it's working "perfectly" to separate the "lower classes" from the upper class -who now enjoy the insulation provided by wealth and lobbyist inspired laws. How honorable & honest is that? Meanwhile, the out-of-power liberal philosophy holds (in practice) to the idea of "free government services" can be provided with imaginary money. It's the equivalent of the imaginative thinking of 12 year-olds but passes for "noble purpose." How honorable and honest is that? Rather than prattle about the political "founding fathers" who were really just 18th Century politicians, we'd do far better to adhere to the philosophy of Benjamin Franklin, who coined the phrase: Gentlemen, we must all hang together or we will surely all end up hanging alone.

Mush Room

Mon, Oct 31, 2011 : 2:15 p.m.

A "sacred document"? Other than prohibiting a state religion and allowing all religions, I don't recall anything in the constitution that refers to religion or even a deity. It was a flawed document that's been amended 27 times. What is says and what it means is debated every day. It's a lot of things, but it is not sacred.


Mon, Oct 31, 2011 : 2 p.m.

The founding fathers would be rolling over in their graves if they knew how that brilliant document has been trampled on in recent years.


Mon, Oct 31, 2011 : 1:21 p.m.

"And I suggest that the basic principles most compatible with our people and our traditions are those articulated in our Constitution. That sacred document -- in its pledge to "form a more perfect Union" and to "promote the general Welfare ... " -- provides the most efficient, reliable, honorable standard on which to build and protect our future -- and overrides all other competing interests." When you suggest these principles are "most compatible with our PEOPLE," do you limit your definition to the humanity of the United States, or does it include our "New People," corporations, that the Supreme Court recently afforded the rights and protections of the Constitution, to be treated as people? I trust in the Constitution when I'm not sharing it with lifeless organizations that amass great money and power, who always do what is in their best interest whether it is bad for the the American People, the human ones, I mean. Now with equal right to support, or counter, a political candidate as you or I, with the deepest pockets to boot, it is impossible not to feel a "lesser equal" to them. With that reality in mind, it's difficult for me believe those standards are reliable to protect our future and are capable of overriding all other competing interests.


Mon, Oct 31, 2011 : 1:03 p.m.

What the "general welfare" clause in the constitution means has been in debate since the constitution was signed. To put a single meaning on it, while arguing that the government must follow the constitution is part of why the government does not function today: The two primary authors of the The Federalist essays set forth two separate, conflicting interpretations: James Madison advocated for the ratification of the Constitution in The Federalist and at the Virginia ratifying convention upon a narrow construction of the clause, asserting that spending must be at least tangentially tied to one of the other specifically enumerated powers, such as regulating interstate or foreign commerce, or providing for the military, as the General Welfare Clause is not a specific grant of power, but a statement of purpose qualifying the power to tax. Alexander Hamilton, only after the Constitution had been ratified, argued for a broad interpretation which viewed spending as an enumerated power Congress could exercise independently to benefit the general welfare, such as to assist national needs in agriculture or education, provided that the spending is general in nature and does not favor any specific section of the country over any other. As far as I can tell, the majority of the "founding fathers" agreed with Madison when the constitution was signed. I have not read everything that is available, but I have read materials by or attributed to most of the people who ratified it. The very clause you pick on, is the center of many debates between different groups. While I agree we should follow the constitution, what it means even to scholars of the document is still, more than 200 years later, under debate and revision.

Tom Teague

Mon, Oct 31, 2011 : 5:11 p.m.

While the founders sided more with Madison, Hamilton had three significant victories in the First US Congress: The Hamilton Tariff, the First Bank of the United States, and the Whiskey Act (the law that led to the Whiskey Rebellion). I didn't have time on my lunch break to see how Congressman Madison of Virginia voted on those early bills.