Monday, October 31, 2005

Restoring a national treasure

In 1998 the Smithsonian Institute embarked on a massive restoration project. The “Star Spangled Banner” – the actual flag that flew over Baltimore’s Fort McHenry during a British naval bombardment and inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the poem that would become our national anthem – was painstakingly restored after years of deterioration from dust and light. There were holes, and tears and parts completely missing. An effort to retain that which remained was considered critical. The project took $18 million and almost five years to complete. The effort demonstrated a deep national concern for the preservation of historical, national treasures.

If only we took as seriously our real national treasures.

On October 31, 2005 President George W. Bush nominated Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court of the United States. Pay close attention to the dog-fight that ensues, because it will illustrate for us the loss of one of our greatest national treasures as left to us by our founders – the loss of our limited, constitutional government.

If you listen to the rhetoric on both sides of the debate over Alito you will hear phrases like, “…this confirmation vote is critical,” and “…the future of our country rides on this Supreme Court seat,” and “…the survival of our republic is at stake.” The fact that so much rides on the nomination of one, single Supreme Court justice shows us just how far America has fallen from the intended federal system of government our founders envisioned. The Supreme Court is now in the business of making law when the constitution gives it no such authority. Congress passes laws annually that far exceed the bounds of the constitution while the president exercises power the office was never authorized to wield. If the appointment of a single judge or the election of a single official is so critical to the future of the country then too much power has consolidated in one spot. But this is not how it was supposed to be.

Our federal government was intended to be small. It was supposed to be limited. The really important decisions were designed to be closer to home. Our state and local governments were supposed to be the seat of greater power because their proximity to their constituents brought greater accountability. Our founders understood all too well the dangers of highly centralized government and the nature of true liberty to entrust too much power to the hands of only a few people.

But, over the years, our limited government has consolidated. As it has grown it has gobbled up many of the liberties guaranteed us by our constitution. Typically this is done “for our own good” because the big, centralized, federal government knows better than we what is best for us. Thomas Jefferson (pictured at left) warned America to put no trust in man but rather to "bind him down with the chains of the constitution." Yet our current federal government completely disregards the constitution to the point one has to wonder why we even have it at all any more.

The sad truth of the matter is this: Of the beautiful tapestry of limited government that derives its powers from the consent of the governed we have precious few threads remaining. A couple of hundred years of exposure to unprincipled leaders who sought to increase their own power at the expense of liberty has left us with a government so tattered that it less resembles the original version established by the constitution than the current “Star Spangled Banner” resembles the freshly sewn flag first hoisted above Fort McHenry.

When will the day come when Americans place a priority on a restoration project designed to reestablish and preserve our constitutional government? Will it ever come?


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