The raging debate over gun control – and therewith about the second amendment to the constitution – is compelling me to ask the question:
"Could it be possible that the constitution - which was designed by its authors (James Madison more than anyone else) to provide us with a prudent, balanced republican form of government consisting of three separate branches and with a citizens’ bill of rights – has gradually been turned against us in some of its provisions? Turned against as a result of changing times and conditions that could not have been imagined more than 200 years ago and as a result of interpretations of provisions of the constitution by the judiciary branch, particularly the Supreme Court."
What raises that suspicion in my mind?
1. For starters the gun-control debate. The opponents of gun-control all throw the second amendment, “the right to bear arms” at the policy makers who want to protect the public at large from the unbridled proliferation of the most sophisticated weaponry and the courts have been very reluctant to allow reasonable limitations on the second amendment right. This reality, combined with a fiercely combative attitude from a large part of the US population, frustrates just about any attempt to keep guns out of the hands of those who cannot be trusted with them and keep military or gangster type weapons out of the hands of everyone except trained professionals who are sworn to protect us.
2. The stranglehold money has on politics. Corporations’ right to lobby members of Congress and fund their election campaigns is being protected by the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the freedom of speech afforded us under the first amendment to the constitution. The framers of the constitution wrote their document to institutionalize the best form of government they could come up with. The veracity and effectiveness of our government would be greatly enhanced if we managed to keep money out of the governance process. We would be much better off if elections would be exclusively funded with public funds and if public office holders would be highly compensated, but forbidden to accept any money from other sources.
3. The corrupting content of media. The Supreme Court’s deference to the first amendment keeps us from shielding ourselves from all kinds of propaganda, misinformation, brainwashing and dumbing down. The framers of the constitution and their contemporaries were only exposed to the verbal and written word. They had no inkling of the intrusiveness of large screen TV images, retina tablet displays or smart phone instant imaging. Even radio broadcasts were still a century away. What public good is being served –other than excessive deference to a law that was established more than two centuries ago in a completely different world – with advertisements of pharmaceuticals that nobody but medical doctors should decide if we need them or not? Or with advertisements for ambulance chasers? Or with the dissemination of video games with violent content? What public good is being served with seemingly interminable political ads that are under no test or obligation of veracity?
4. The undue influence of pressure groups. Again under protection of the first amendment, pressure groups like AARP, the NRA, Labor Unions and the US Chamber of Commerce have excessive influence on the election process and the behavior of our elected officials once they are in office. These pressure groups frequently take political positions without ever checking back with their constituents to see if and to what extent these positions are fully supported. Much less are they concerned with the greater public good. Maybe the real problem is that too many of our Congressional representatives lack the courage of their own convictions and just bend to the pressure of the interest groups that helped them into office; but we better recognize that our elected officials are not immune from human frailty and greed. The constitution should not stand in the way of eliminating undue influence.
5. The curse of too many elections. The President of the United States should be elected for one term – I suggest six years – and not be eligible for re-election. The frequency of elections, particularly for the Presidency and the House of Representatives, exacerbates the polarization of the voting public; it keeps those who should govern in a near permanent election mode; it is very costly in financial terms, making it harder to keep the money influence out of politics; it does not allow an office holder to complete an agenda. The process would also be greatly enhanced if – by law – election campaigns were limited to running for no more than three months. It would save large amounts of money and keep politicians focused on their job with much less interruption.
If the constitution stands in the way of addressing these five hurdles to a better functioning of our government – a government for and by the people – then it is time to amend the constitution. It is not so sacred that it cannot be changed. The framers of the constitution realized the need for adaptation over time, which is why they provided in Article V for the way in which the constitution may be amended. After, in 1791, the Bill of Rights was incorporated in the first ten amendments to the constitution, it was further ratified to be amended seventeen more times, the last time in 1992.
We are a nation of laws and should by all means keep it that way. But that does not mean that we should not amend or scratch laws – parts of the constitution included - that no longer serve a public good that has been democratically expressed in our time. The task of keeping our laws “up to date” falls on the legislative branch. It is too sacred to be left to the judiciary.
(Frans Jager is Principal of Castnet Corp. (www.castnetcorp.net) a Business Consultant for the Green Industry and an Executive Coach. He frequently writes about the Green Industry and other matters of general importance. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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