We have a great Constitution, and next Sunday, Sept. 17, we celebrate its 230th anniversary on “Constitution Day.” But which Constitution will we celebrate?
Among the ingenious features of our national government’s operating manual are its separation and limitation of powers and its built-in checks and balances. But one often-overlooked virtue of our Constitution is its relative simplicity. Think about it: The blueprint for the most powerful nation on the planet can be easily published in a pocket-sized pamphlet that is lighter than a deck of cards and can be read and understood by the average citizen in the space of a half-hour.
Today, however, upon spending the requisite half-hour to read our Constitution, the average American would conclude that he or she had missed something, judging by the vast discrepancy between the limited national government described in the Constitution and the actual operation of our government today.
The pocket Constitution says that all the legislative powers it grants are vested in Congress. Yet, we live beneath the weight of 95,894 pages of rules and regulations enacted not by Congress, but by bureaucrats.
The pocket Constitution delegates no power over education to the national government. Yet, today we have a powerful, national Department of Education, which employs over 4,000 people.
According to the pocket Constitution, Congress’ power to regulate commerce within the U.S. is no greater than its power to regulate commerce with foreign nations. Yet, today Congress dictates what kind of cars citizens can drive, what kind of light bulbs we can buy and what kind of health insurance we must have.
As a student observing the disconnect between the government outlined in the Constitution and the government that is, I assumed that I just needed to learn more in order to understand – perhaps some nuances of constitutional language. But the more I have learned, the better I understand that when it seems like the government is operating outside the scope of the Constitution, that’s because it is.
The American people are a busy bunch. And as we have been going about our industrious lives – learning, working, and raising our families – the federal government outlined in the Constitution has morphed into one the framers would not recognize. Through a lack of proper vigilance or proper concern, we have repeatedly opened our constitutional gates to Trojan Horses: actions and decisions disguised as mere “interpretations” of constitutional language, which ushered in illicit changes to the finest government system ever designed by men.
Of course, sometimes constitutional change is necessary, and there is a well-defined constitutional process for achieving it – a process that requires the consent of the governed via ratification by three-fourths of the states. Constitutional change was meant to be difficult, but it was meant to be accomplished openly and decisively – an official, explicit “edit” by the people who are governed by it. It was never meant to be achieved through an overzealous congressional budget, one man’s “pen and phone,” or one judge’s tie-breaking vote.
Nevertheless, every extra-constitutional act, whether the result of congressional exuberance, executive hubris, or judicial fiat, becomes an act of vandalism to our Constitution when it receives passive or explicit approval, because it is an illegitimate change. And precisely because these changes are illegitimate, and thus remain extraneous to the actual document, our precious pocket Constitution has been relegated to the status of a quaint historical relic – interesting, but ultimately unhelpful to understanding today’s federal government.
What Americans must realize today is that every illicit change ever made will remain in effect until it is corrected by some authoritative means. Moreover, each one makes the constitutional disconnect more pronounced – especially for future generations. Once, understanding government required understanding our pocket Constitution; today it requires tackling the “Constitution Annotated,” which, at last publication, comprised 2,862 pages. And it continues to grow.
Which Constitution do you want to celebrate this Constitution Day?
We were never meant to be a nation in which only a small group of elite professionals can understand the operation of our government. As we celebrate Constitution Day, let’s commit to actually doing something to honor our Constitution. By using Article V to authoritatively overturn the illegitimate changes that have vandalized it, we can restore that audacious system of self-governance born of a Constitution that we can all know and understand, because it fits inside our pockets.
We, the people, have the power to do this, if we can muster the will. Visit Convention of States to learn more.
Media wishing to interview Rita Dunaway, please contact [email protected].