Thursday, October 5, 2006

The United States Constitution

The United States Constitution
George Washington et al.

The U. S. Constitution hardly qualifies as a novel - or even a short story - but I am reviewing it here because I read it in full, and because I have a couple of things to say about it. Nothing here is profound - or even particularly important - but I get credit for the effort none-the-less.

First, though, I should address why I decided to read it. There are two reasons:
  1. I heard or read somewhere in the last several months that there is a way for a sitting President to avoid elections in a time of war, thus remaining in power. This was clearly promulgated by some conspiracy theorist as part of some paranoid tract about Bush and the ongoing "war against terror". I wanted to try to find out if (or how) a President could stay in office (bypassing elections) during wartime.
  2. Since becoming a fire fighter I have twice had to sign documents stating that I would uphold and defend the constitution of the United States. That was a surprise (I figured that sort of oath would fall on the military and police, but not on fire fighter) so I thought I should refresh myself on exactly what that document says as a result.
So now I've reread it. It's not that long - about 9 pages of tiny print in my almanac, including annotations. What it lacks in length, though, it makes up for in content.

I found it fascinating that the document is so short. That the major principles governing this country can be set down so simply is quite impressive, but it also leaves the infamous gaps & gray areas that have been the realm of law and court decision for well over 200 years now. Never-the-less, the document is very tightly written, and so long as a few terms are understood - some of which I did have to look up because they are no longer in common use - it does a great job of defining the high points of how the national government should function.

As to the answer to whether or not the President can avoid elections in a time of war, I didn't see that in the document. There are multiple places that deal with the election of the President and how power is handed down in the event he cannot discharge his duties, but I see nothing about avoiding an election in time of war. I did a few Google searches to try and track that down as well, but my queries ran up against the huge volume of political content on the 'net and I couldn't find anything relevant in a few minutes of trying.

In any event, I have now read the U. S. Constitution - something I haven't done since social studies class in high school, a long time ago. It was interesting and enlightening in some ways. I wish I could have definitively answered my question, but perhaps someone with more political knowledge than I have can point me in the proper direction.

As to why I rated this document only "Good" (as opposed to "Great"), it has only to do with the language. As the years go by the language gets more and more removed from current usage, making it harder to understand the original text in context. In another few hundred years it will be much harder for school kids to "get it". The concepts are amazing - particularly as the amendments come in to correct the obvious nasty issues in the original document dealing with slavery and limiting certain major rights, like voting - but the language can obscure that wonder a bit.