Tuesday, February 9, 2010

To Constitution Cheerleaders

I recently received an e-mail from someone touting Ron Paul's push for Americans to read their constitution. I used to think the US Constitution was sacred and should not be tinkered with. That was my dear father's advice and what we were all taught in school.

But, as my father has grown older and wiser, and more knowledgeable about the history of the Constitution, he no longer thinks of it as sacrosanct. True, one doesn't want to mess with it willy nilly, but... Here's my reply to the person who sent me the e-mail.

Yes, but of course the US Constitution allowed for African people to be property. Even when it became clear that slavery was wrong, the inertia in the political and economic system of the time perpetuated the ownership of humans. So did the US Supreme Court.

Various aspects of the Constitution were designed with the intent of maintaining the power of the small wealthy minority that crafted the Constitution. Call it a compromise... yes, the US Constitution was compromised. For example, the original Constitution had US Senators elected by State legislatures over which the wealthy minority had control. The Senate was, and still is, a check on the chamber of the humans (the House). Maybe with all the crazy Sarah Palin followers around that check is a good thing? That's what the aristocratic minority would want you to believe... oddly, if you follow the money behind some of the teabagger organizing groups, it leads you straight to some people in our modern day aristocracy.

Now it is becoming painfully clear that we need to consider the place of corporations in our less than perfect union. The concept of corporations, that are so integral to our culture and economy today, isn't even mentioned in the Constitution. Corporations were originally chartered to be a vessel of wealth accumulation for taking on challenging tasks. These charters also provide a shield on liability for those humans who take on the challenging tasks... good idea when limited to challenging tasks that were narrowly defined and had a finite time horizon, like building the Erie Canal. Unfortunately, those wealth accumulation creatures of man's legal creation accumulated so much wealth and power, they started changing the underlying rules of our democracy. Now corporate power has gotten out of control to the point that some humans claim we couldn't put the corporate genie back in the bottle even if we wanted to (a functional definition of "out of our control").

I'm sure in the 1820s humans who knew that the legal creation of slavery was wrong felt the same way (owning slaves was legal.. said so, indirectly, right in the US Constitution). They knew of the corrupting nature of slavery, but they understood the integral economic role that human property played in providing labor, which allowed the Country to be competitive in world trade. Slaves allowed wealth accumulation, without which, some of the most grand historic mansions that speckle our countryside would not exist. Many great achievements, including beautiful works of art funded by wealthy slave owners, simply would not have been possible without the means to accumulate wealth that was enabled by the legality of slavery... so it was argued... for decades.

Some day humans might look back at the corporate legal construct in wonder as we look back at slavery today. They will see all of the inequities, the environmental damage, the murders and other evils wrought by this legal creation, like the legal creation of slavery.

So, the US constitution was far from exceptional when written and remains so today. This was recently evidenced by the US Supreme Court decision in Citizens United Vs Federal Election Commission. It might take until 2050 to rid the world of the legality of corporations as we know them today, but the writing is on the wall and re-writing of the Constitution will be the path to that salvation.


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