If anyone doubts that the republic created by the U.S. Constitution is dead, he or she only has to watch the Republican presidential debates. Save for Dr. Ron Paul, all of the candidates believe a president can take the country to war on his own, though most concede it might be a good idea to “consult” attorneys and even Congress.
The Constitution, written by men more intelligent and better educated than today’s crop of political duds, is quite clear. The president has no authority to take the country to war. The sole authority for declaring war rests 100 percent with Congress.
Naturally, if a shipload of pirates sailed up the Potomac and began shooting at the tourists, you wouldn’t need a declaration to authorize returning fire. American troops defending themselves while under attack is not the issue. The issue is that if a president wants to take the country to war against another country, he must, as Franklin Roosevelt did after Pearl Harbor, ask Congress to make that decision.
The Founding Fathers, having suffered under a monarch, deliberately created a weak president. His powers, as specified by the Constitution, are limited mainly to administering the laws passed by Congress, making appointments, negotiating treaties and being the official greeter when dealing with foreign powers. His role as commander in chief is limited to just what it says – the military. The president is not our commander in chief, as the current president seems to think.
Lest anyone be beguiled by the current politicians’ determination to create an emperor and an empire, know that even the president’s appointments and treaties have to be confirmed by the Senate. Congress has sole authority over taxation and spending. Appropriations for the military are limited by the Constitution to two years. Furthermore, Congress is elected independently of the president and is a separate branch of government. It is under no obligation whatsoever to do anything the president asks it to do, and the president has no authority whatsoever to do anything not authorized by Congress and the Constitution.
The Constitution, which apparently not many Americans have ever bothered to read, is the supreme law of the land. It does not make suggestions. It commands. It was written in clear English. It has provisions to amend it, but it should never be amended by interpretation. That is always a usurpation of power and should be grounds for impeachment.
There is only one way for the U.S. to be a real nation of laws. That way is for the people to demand that every single public official obey the laws as they are written and obey them to the letter. The current president seems to think he can alter laws with “signing statements” and legislate with executive orders. He should have been impeached a long time ago.
The kernel of the nut is this: In our constitutional republic, sovereignty rests in the people. If the people are too stupid or ignorant, too lazy or indifferent, to hold their public officials accountable for violating the laws and the Constitution, then of course they will deserve the tyranny they will surely get.
Self-government is tremendously more difficult and demanding than living under a dictatorship. In a dictatorship, all you have to do is obey. I fear that concept appeals to some Americans today. It’s understandable. Responsibility can be a heavy load to carry. It’s much easier to relegate all of that to the Great Leader and just do what we are told.
Anybody who’s ever been in the military or a jail knows what I’m talking about. When you are deprived of the ability to make choices, you are simultaneously relieved of the responsibility for making them. Responsibility is the other side of the coin of freedom.
Charley Reese has been a journalist for 49 years.