We the People

Copyright 2004 Bob Persons
December 25, 2004

Over 200 years ago We the People wished to "form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." So we established a constitution which outlined the role of government and the relationships between that government and the people.

There was no expectation that this government would be perfect. Given the nature of people to look out for themselves and take advantage of opportunities even when they might be hurtful to others, the best we could expect was "more perfect" than existing governments.

The government was to have clearly specified functions and responsibilities, as outlined in that constitution. Anything not specified there was to be left to states, local governments, and the people to decide.

The people who developed the constitution had a healthy fear of governmental power and sought to control it and steer it to working for the will of the people. Principals of election by the people, limited terms, checks and balances among the three houses, the Bill of Rights, and a number other measures sought to ensure this. The ideal government was to be small, incorporating the minimum set of functions to ensure the goals specified in the preamble, and allowing the people the liberty to live their lives as they wish, within the borders of the constitution and clearly defined laws.

The government, being composed of humans, will misbehave. This was a truth that the founders believed must be controlled. It is up to the people and the press to make sure it is kept in line and does not work to the detriment of the people. As Jefferson said, the people must demand that the government provide a rationale for its decisions that people can understand. To that end, for example, Congress (the people's direct representatives) and no other body was given the authority to declare war. The people (with the press helping) must demand that its government provide a clear reason for going to war. If the people don't do this, the greed and lust for power inherent in the human heart will lead the government to act in other than the interest of the people.

The declaration of the constitution as the supreme law of the land means that we are a nation of laws and rational deliberations in deciding on the course of our history. Religion may provide individual people with standards of action that will influence how they decide on matters, but religion is prohibited in the First Amendment from being the decisive factor in national matters. Nothing in the constitution prohibits people from expressing their religious principles in public. But the First Amendment clearly prohibits the government from using religion as the determiner of its business.

In the end, the framers of the constitution envisioned people's lives being oriented around their "pursuit of happiness," not around government or corporate control. The police official who arrests you is doing the people's business. He is not allowed to make judgments regarding your guilt or innocence; that is clearly outlined in the duties of a person in the judicial system, who is also working for the people. Every government official, up to the highest seats of power, are doing the work of the people. The people should never stand for these officials doing anything contrary to their charge regarding the people's interests.

We are a long way from the stating of those ideals. Over 220 years or so America has shown the world that its type of republic can surmount the trials of flaws and misuse that have occurred over the decades and provide the environment for a decent life for most of its population. And America has shown itself to be respectful of other people, to the point of sacrificing its own resources to come to the aid of other nations in trouble. America, indeed, appeared to have the desired "more perfect union."

What has happened? I fear that in our hustle to cash in on America's prosperity the American people have allowed that ideal to become increasingly corrupt. Money appears to be the prime mover in this corruption. Electoral campaigns cost such vast amounts of money now, that many qualified candidates are unable to raise enough cash to compete. Special interests have poured so much money into campaigns and lobbying that legislators and the executive branch are beholden to them to the extent that the money vote has become more powerful than citizens' ballots. Issues that affect the welfare of all people - protecting the environment, for example - always fight for prominence in the field controlled by money interests (disguised as "protecting the economy"). Special interest groups reward politicians (for favorable legislation) with campaign money, expensive bashes, and appointed positions in the government. Politicians reward the special interests (for the money contributions) with favorable legislation and appointed positions in the public trust. Money and politicians scratch each others' backs, and the citizenry is secondary.

How has this happened? Certainly, this type of crisis in American government (and state and local governments are just as corrupt) has happened before in our history. The cycle of corruption ebbs and flows, but the people do not have to stand for it. Yet in their elaborately comfortable environment Americans have gone soft and blithely ignorant of the dangers of allowing our government the use of powers accumulated over the decades without full accountability. Being informed on the issues and analyzing political platforms and promises with hard evidence and measures of success has become secondary to backing a candidate based on unverifiable "value" concerns. Too many Americans just don't want to think about the issues. They want someone else to do that for them and they will make decisions based on whatever grand plan sounds good.

Instead of providing the environment for improving individual lives (the Declaration of Independence's "pursuit of happiness"), America's government now seems to be primarily oriented toward the nebulous goals of economic growth, paranoid security, growth of corporate power, and control of personal lives, among many others goals not outlined in the constitution. They run for office by raising trivial concerns to the level of major issues. They relegate major issues, which they can't clearly define to Americans who want their issues kept simple, to the background, to be dealt with after the election, when they can work with those with the money power.

The constitution exists to keep America focussed on what is important and not get distracted with issues that are best left to state and local governments and to the people. We are now on the downside of America's golden age, descending into a nation increasingly controlled by money and individual and corporate power, to the detriment of the "pursuit of happiness" by ordinary people. This could not happen without acquiescence of the people.

The negligence of the press doesn't help any. The virtual "fourth estate" in the system of checks and balances has failed us royally in the pursuit of profit at the expense of its job as revealer of misbehavior of our government. As media corporations expand and consolidate more power in corporate board rooms, the otherwise natural and just concern for corporate profit supercedes the "fourth estate" responsibilities. Media corporations, just as other corporations, demand close, mutual back-scratching ties with the government. Money has made the media just another special interest group, when it should remain completely separated from the government.

What can be done? The obvious and most direct answer is that the American people must take back their government from the special interest groups and other moneyed powers. The government must restore its function of serving all the citizens.

How can this be done? Again, the obvious and most direct answer is for the people to remove from government those who serve special interests at the expense of all the people. Americans must hold elected officials accountable for doing the right thing.

Can this be done? Yes. But the people must wake up to the dangers that exist with our current governments. Campaign contributions from groups of any sort must be outlawed with no exceptions. Lobbying that includes the exchange of money or any other form of power must be outlawed without exception. These principles have existed for generations, but they are flouted so egregiously today that many Americans figure this is the way the system works. The truth is, it is the way the system works. But it must not work that way and the people can change it.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign has proposed a "5-step program to restore democracy in Wisconsin". The principles outlined there can be applied to all governments in America.

- Lone Coyote Calls


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