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Old 07-01-2013, 08:05 PM   #1
MDydinanM
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Elected leaders and Constitutional (il)literacy

This topic came up and thought it would be worth posting in the political section for discussion.

In short, should we be concerned of what appears to be a lack of Constitutional literacy in our elected leaders? Should we expect our leaders to know the very document they are sworn to uphold upon taking office?

As members on this forum have stated (such as JonJon) public officials, military, law enforcement, etc, are to solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution. Yet many seem to recite the words not knowing the meaning behind it.

Here are a few examples:

John Boehner, for all intensive purposes, is a career politician and has held public office for a long time (19 years). On Nov. 5, 2009, he took the podium at a Republican rally against Obamacare, waved a document and declared:

Quote:
This is my copy of the Constitution and I'm going to stand here with the Founding Fathers who wrote in the Preamble, We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness...(C-Span 2009)
http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/289825-1

Boehner, in a sense, was encouraging participants to demand their constitutional right to make their own medical decisions. There are potentially three problems

1) Boehner quoted the Declaration of Independence. Not the Constitution.
2) The Declaration's beginning begins with "When in the course of human events..." The passage Boehner quoted came later in the declaration.
3) A potentially third problem is there is no explicit constitutional right to make one's own medical decisions.

Another example is when Sarah Palin declared "Our Constitution, of course, essentially acknowledge[es] that our unalienable rights don't come from man; they come from God."

Is it not concerning that officials can't discern the Constitution from the Declaration of Independence? This begs the question that of all the public servants who have sworn an oath to the Constitution, how many in fact know the Constitution well enough to uphold and protect it?

Should we be concerned?

**While I realize the above are Republican examples, I'm sure there are Democrat ones too. I'm not trying to be biased, just trying to provoke thought and discussion regardless of political sides.

**Discussion idea taken from a university professor.

Last edited by MDydinanM; 07-02-2013 at 08:05 AM.
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Old 07-01-2013, 08:24 PM   #2
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I see it as the Constitution is a supporting document of the Declaration of Independence. Natural rights were our reasoning to declare independence. The Constitution sets forth the structure of government that will ensure our natural rights are preserved.
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We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
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Old 07-01-2013, 08:27 PM   #3
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I see it as the Constitution is a supporting document of the Declaration of Independence. Natural rights were our reasoning to declare independence. The Constitution sets forth the structure of government that will ensure our natural rights are preserved.
Sure, I would agree the documents support each other.

but the question is...as I alluded to earlier, what's the level of knowledge our elected officials have of said document?

Furthermore, should they be our leaders in the first place without even a baseline level of knowledge of the Constitution?

Last edited by MDydinanM; 07-01-2013 at 08:29 PM.
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Old 07-01-2013, 08:37 PM   #4
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I would take a stab that most citizens know the constitution about as well as most politicians. (aka...not that well)
The politicians are elected by the people. So from a "knowing the constitution" standpoint, garbage..garbage out applies.

Not to mention, that this is nothing new. Did Joesph McCarthy and his cohorts know the constitution any better? I think not.
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Old 07-01-2013, 08:39 PM   #5
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I would take a stab that most citizens know the constitution about as well as most politicians. (aka...not that well)
touche

I'm in no way an expert either, but it does provoke an interesting thought.
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Old 07-01-2013, 09:21 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by MDydinanM View Post
Sure, I would agree the documents support each other.

but the question is...as I alluded to earlier, what's the level of knowledge our elected officials have of said document?

Furthermore, should they be our leaders in the first place without even a baseline level of knowledge of the Constitution?
It certainly would be ideal for politicians to know the Constitution. But as RDSESQ pointed out not many citizens know much about the Constitution. I am sure there is an argument that setting requirements of knowledge is equivalent to the creation of an aristocracy. But how do you define baseline knowledge? JJ would eliminate those that question the 2nd Amendment, while others would support a candidate who has a different interpretation of the 2nd amendment.

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Old 07-01-2013, 09:25 PM   #7
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Elected leaders and Constitutional (il)literacy

We need to remove the power and easy future earnings associated with politics. Get people in there who want to make a difference out of their own good will.. Not their desire for power and money


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Old 07-01-2013, 09:36 PM   #8
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Re: Elected leaders and Constitutional (il)literacy

In my job I don't expect our customers to know the load capacity of I beams or motor control circuits or how to program a frequency drive for overhead cranes. Even the people that use the cranes or structures our company erects are not required to know how it works. BUT as a representative of our company it is my duty to have a complete understanding, experience, and knowledge of all these things. As well as a proven track record of safety and accuracy. I think holding a career politician to the same standards is imperative. Any less than excellent service or performance should result in paycuts or firing. Work ethics should always be held to a certain standard. Unfortunately it seems when you make yourself exempt from responsibility of your own actions,and most politicians seem to be,its a damn free for all.
So yes. I think polititions should attend continuing education classes, be tested regularly and have a complete understanding of all things they are allowed to vote on.

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Old 07-02-2013, 07:35 AM   #9
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First, I think this is an excellent topic, and I appreciate your attempt to keep this discussion nonpartisan. I am a conservative and readily admit many elected conservatives are facepalm-worthy. Most of our elected representatives of all stripes are woefully ignorant about our founding documents. But the voting population are even more so, unfortunately.

But I do find that a lot of the conservative faux pas - like the one you attribute to Sarah Palin below - are technical errors rather than errors of understanding.

Quote:
Originally Posted by MDydinanM View Post
Another example is when Sarah Palin declared "Our Constitution, of course, essentially acknowledge[es] that our unalienable rights don't come from man; they come from God."
In the Palin example, I suggest that the Constitution does in fact "acknowledge" the derivation of our natural rights ("secure the blessings of liberty") although no doubt a better phrase would have been "the Constitution is consistent with natural rights" or similar.

If a politician fundamentally understands that (i) each individual person is inherently and irrevocably sovereign and that (ii) the creation of our federal government is subordinate to that sovereignty, then I don't take away too many points if they occasionally confuse the Declaration with the Constitution.

Rather, I give a big fat "F" to those politicians who hold the view that the government is superior and can avail itself of any power it sees fit to use, so long as it can either employ a distorted interpretation of the founding documents or cite a public opinion poll as an authority.
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Old 07-02-2013, 07:49 AM   #10
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The constitution doesn't need to explicitly list medical decision making as your right, all powers not listed to the federal government are expressly reserved to the people or the states.
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Old 07-02-2013, 07:54 AM   #11
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We need to remove the power and easy future earnings associated with politics. Get people in there who want to make a difference out of their own good will.. Not their desire for power and money


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More regulation on the high earners of America?
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Old 07-02-2013, 07:57 AM   #12
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Elected leaders and Constitutional (il)literacy

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More regulation on the high earners of America?
For public office... Yes. I should be a service not w corporate machine. We're getting egomaniacs in Washington who don't give a damn about we the people.


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Old 07-02-2013, 08:00 AM   #13
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For public office... Yes. I should be a service not w corporate machine. We're getting egomaniacs in Washington who don't give a damn about we the people.


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You said we need to remove the future earnings from politics. Why should a private company not be allowed to hire a politician after they leave office? In any event, what litmus test would you apply to people to make sure that they aren't ego-maniacal control freaks who are hell bent on getting rich?
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Old 07-02-2013, 08:01 AM   #14
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For public office... Yes. I should be a service not w corporate machine. We're getting egomaniacs in Washington who don't give a damn about we the people.
You don't give a damn about the people.
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Old 07-02-2013, 08:39 AM   #15
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We need to remove the power and easy future earnings associated with politics. Get people in there who want to make a difference out of their own good will.. Not their desire for power and money


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Whoa.

What did I just read?
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Old 07-02-2013, 08:49 AM   #16
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We need to remove the power and easy future earnings associated with politics. Get people in there who want to make a difference out of their own good will.. Not their desire for power and money ..
That goes against the free market and capitalism. Why do you hate America?
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