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Thursday, 04 March 2010 04:37

Dr. J.’s BF Commentary No. 135: The Preamblers

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BUZZFLASH GUEST COMMENTARY
By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH    

First came the "Birthers."  President Obama is not a citizen.  He's a Kenyan, he's a Muslim, he's an Indonesian, he's a Kenyan-Indonesian-Muslim (dunno which is worse so might as well throw them all in), a Hawaiian (oops, didn't know that Hawaii is a US possession, OH, you mean it's a state!?!), a Martian (shhh!  He's blaaack).  Show them birth certificates, published birth announcements, nah, es macht kein unterschiedung (that's German for it makes no difference).  They know what they know when they know it.  And after all, they are egged on by a mass media that treat the "controversy" as a legitimate one, so why not?

Then came the "Deathers."  These folks include a former Lieutenant Governor from one of the largest states and a former Governor from one of the smallest (how's that for coverage and veracity?).  They were convinced that a provision for paying physicians for what many already do --- counseling for rational end-of-life care WHEN REQUESTED BY THE PATIENT OR THE PATIENT'S FAMILY --- was really a provision for government-imposed euthanasia.  Again, as Josef Goebbels was so fond of saying, facts make no difference when you've got a hot political message to exploit.  And again, the mass media gave them some traction by treating the matter as a legitimate controversy.

Now the "-ers" are preceded by the "tenth," as in "Tenthers."  In this context, "tenth" refers to the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, which states: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor pro­hibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."  Generally ignoring Articles I, II, and III, which give a host of powers to the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches of the Federal government, they conclude from the wording of the Tenth that the Federal government has no powers whatsoever, except perhaps to wage war on the President's say-so and to criminalize any belief as to when life begins other than that it does so at the time of conception.

It should be noted that in the Constitution itself not too much power is given to the Judicial branch.  But we all know how much power it has acquired since John Marshall's if-then-if-then-if-then very big stretch in the Marbury v. Madison case of 1803.  Those powers include some that folks of the Tenthers' ilk hate, like declaring school segregation unconstitutional, but many that quite a number of Tenthers just love, like placing non-elected Presidents in office and considering corporations to be people.  Of course these folks, all madly anti-Obama, also didn't seem too bothered when Bush-Cheney-Addington-Yoo were reading dictatorial powers into the Commander-in-Chief clause, but that's another story.

But you know, when trying to figure out what the Federal government is all about, what powers it really has and, even more importantly, what types of problems the Founders invented it to deal with, it is a really good idea to take a hard look at the very first words of the Constitution.  Those are found in the Preamble.  Generally ignored, it just happens to be the Statement of Purpose of the Constitution and indeed for our nation itself. 

The Preamble states: "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more per­fect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the com­mon defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Consti­tution for the United States of America."  Fascinating stuff.

Note first that the Constitution for the United States is established by "we the people of the United States."  That's not "we the people of the 13 states [to come]" or "the 13 former colonies of the United Kingdom," or "the 13 independently sovereign entities regardless of what the rest of the document says, that can split off or reject Federal legislation they don't happen to like any time they want to."  It's the United States.  That's a unity and it is the people of that unity, not of its separate parts, that are laying out the powers for its national government in the document that follows. 

That's the first point.  The Constitution makes it clear that we are one nation, not a group of them.  Then the Preamble goes on to say that those powers are bestowed on that national government for a rather broad set of purposes.

1.  To perfect the Union, that is not to split it up, hither and yon, to suit given purposes at given times.

2.  To establish justice, that is for the "people of the United States."  Why that might even include the application of the equal protection clause to, gulp, homosexuals who want to take advantage of the civil laws that govern marriage in every state.

3.  Insuring domestic tranquility might cover such matters as civil rights legislation, rational regulation of private weapons ownership that is already provided for under any plain reading of the Second Amendment (which either applies just to militias or provides for regulation of weapons ownership broadly), and environmental protection.

4.  The common defence, but yes, not the uncommon defence, such as having 700-plus military bases around the world and engaging in "preventive war" which happens to be proscribed by Article 51 of the UN Charter, which is a treaty of the United States and thus under Article VI of the Constitution itself is part of the highest law of the land.

5.  Promote the general welfare might even include something like, dare I say it, a national health care financing system that covers all citizens, that is actually run by the federal government.

6.  Securing the blessings of liberty might actually include such things as preventing a President from abrogating the Fourth Amendment on whim and actually punishing folks who come up with a rationale to justify the use of torture, also prohibited by treaty under the terms of Article VI.

Oh dear, what a range of power and responsibility, before one ever gets to the Tenth Amendment.  So how about not trying to debate the "Tenthers" using facts and logic about what that amendment really means, which don't seem to work very well with such folk and even less so with their corporate and political backers?  How about simply starting a movement of our own, calling it, for starters, The Preamblers?

Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor of 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for BuzzFlash, Dr. Jonas is also Managing Editor and a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine; a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad; a Senior Columnist for The Greanville POST; a Contributor to TheHarderStuff newsletter; a Contributor to The Planetary Movement; and a Contributing Columnist for the Project for the Old American Century, POAC.