By Vernon Robison
We Americans truly live under a strange and interesting system of government. Today we celebrate an event that, at least, started it all off on the right foot. It is truly hard for us, with our modern hindsight, to imagine what the world was actually like back in that summer of 1776; and what a huge step the patriots of that day were taking in declaring their independence from what was then the most powerful nation on earth. But, not knowing what was coming next, the brave men of that time took a step into the unknown and concluded that independence was the last and best option open to them.
According to Thomas Jefferson’s bold Declaration, the colonists had long suffered under a multitude of abuses from their government. The document lists them all out exhaustively, one by one, in a series of no less than thirty different grievances. These thirty points might today all be boiled down into two main concerns. The first one was that various laws; integral to the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of each citizen; were being enacted by a distant legislative body which did not feel bound in the least to listen to the wishes, desires and interests of the majority of the colonists. Secondly, the colonists were being subjected to the absolute control of a ruler whom they had not elected, could not lawfully depose and who was assured of retaining his power for the rest of his natural life. These were grave concerns indeed. Thus, these honored patriots brought about that great Declaration which was approved by the Continental Congress this day in Philadelphia in the year 1776.
The system of government that finally shook down from the tree of liberty as a result of that initial cry of independence was, and still is, the greatest model of free government ever devised by man. Despite its messiness; its faults and its foibles; it has served the American people well and been a model for the world for more than two centuries. May it always be so!
Still, it was curious, in the past week leading up to today’s great celebration, that all Americans were placed in a somewhat parallel set of circumstances as those patriots of old. It is strange that today’s American citizens are raising a similar set of basic grievances; despite the high ideals upheld and proclaimed in our founding documents.
In recent years, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was rammed through Congress despite the fact that the majority of the American people were aligned against it. The President and the then-majority party in the U.S. Congress, perhaps momentarily forgetting that they were elected officials, did not feel in the least bit bound to listen to the wishes, desires and interest of the majority voice of the people. Likewise, they didn’t even bother to try to discuss or negotiate with the elected representatives on the other side of the aisle in order to find a compromise to which the people could subscribe. Instead they used tricks and procedural hocus-pocus to push this Act into law.
Now if this was any less momentous of a matter, these actions might not be such an issue. But the Affordable Care Act constituted an unprecedented increase in the size and power of the federal government and its influence on the lives of America’s citizens. What’s more it bound the current and foreseeable future generations under a vast public expense the extent of which, to this day, no one really comprehends the magnitude. In short, this Act was nothing less than an absolute mandate dictating how people will manage, and pay for, their own personal health.
Much debate has taken place regarding the necessity, and the wisdom, of requiring such a mandate under the current circumstances. Good arguments can be made either way. But we will save those arguments for another day. For now, it should be sufficient to recognize that this overwhelming, and all-inclusive mandate was forced through the sausage grinder of Congress, under the guise of the commerce clause of the Constitution, without regard to the true consent of the governed. Sounds like a despotic act to me.
Of course, all of this is very old news and I’ve written my views exhaustively about it before.
More recently however, the matter has again come under consideration as it came before the United States Supreme Court. And just last week the constitutionality of this unfortunate Act was ruled upon by the nine justices of the highest court in the land by a vote of five to four.
All pundits and experts had assumed the decision would be five to four. The experts also assumed the decision would be based on the commerce clause since that was the basis for all arguments before the court. There was much speculation as to which Justice would cast the deciding vote. That justice ended up being Chief Justice John Roberts who, with the majority, allowed the law to stand; not based on its constitutionality under the commerce clause, but on the basis of Congress’ taxing power, an argument which had not even been raised by either side during oral arguments.
After all the aforementioned shady and sordid dealings obvious in the legislative record of the Act, the whole matter which so deeply and intimately affects the personal well-being and economic future of every person in this country, as well as future generations, was decided by one man: the Chief Justice of the United States. It was decided on a basis not argued before the court but manufactured in the mind of the Chief Justice and willingly agreed to by the four liberal members of the court. And, interestingly enough, that monumental and wide-sweeping decision was made by an unelected magistrate who enjoys the comfort and security of being appointed to his high position for the rest of his natural life.
Doesn’t all of this sound somehow vaguely familiar? Maybe things haven’t changed so much since 1776 after all.
I say again: we live under a strange and interesting system of government; full of quirks, foils and contradictions. Indeed it is difficult for us, after all that has happened in between, to peer through the looking glass of the past and imagine what the world was like for those patriots of old; our country’s founding fathers.
But while so much has happened in our country since the summer of 1776 to mould and shape its governmental landscape, there are some things that should not, indeed must not, be changed. Those things are the principles for which the Founders, with full understanding of potential consequences, willingly pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. Those principles must remain inviolate if our republic is to remain.
The values that those men of history so clearly expressed in the Declaration of Independence are the same values that we, their posterity, proclaim to treasure in our celebrations today. May today’s generation of patriots be as vigilant and bold in proclaiming and upholding our unalienable rights as was their generation!