Sunday, December 13, 2015

Shout-Out to Congressman Rigell

“Read the Preamble!”

          In his last newsletter to constituents, my Congressional Representative, “moderate” Republican Scott Rigell, a wealthy Virginia Beach car dealer, discussed his reasons for supporting a debate and vote in Congress on whether the President should step up the war in Iraq and Syria against the renegade forces of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIL. (I refuse to dignify that group with the name “Isis,” mythic Goddess of the ancient Mideast.)
            His reasoning is that the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which gave the President the authority to wage certain acts of war without consulting Congress, has resulted in “executive over-reach,” meaning that the President is waging wars beyond the parameters set by the War Powers Resolution and therefore without the Congressional approval demanded by the Constitution.
            Leaving aside the politics of obstruction against President Obama, which has been Republican strategy for the past eight years, Rep. Rigell expressed a couple of common-sense points in his newsletter, given the sober reality of war and the disputable claim that it is necessary, if only as a “last resort”—whatever that means.
            He is certainly correct when he states that the Constitution requires Congressional authorization before the President can send Americans into war, though the War Powers Resolution relieves the President of that requirement under certain circumstances which Presidents have invoked since Vietnam and under which President Obama still operates in Iraq and Syria.
            He puts the burden on Congress for its inaction ten months after the President asked for an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in Iraq and Syria.
            He notes that military commanders support an AUMF, which is an arguable point for authorization.
            But then, in his concluding point number 5, he says this: “The federal government’s number one responsibility is the protection of the American people.”

            This comment sent me back to the U.S. Constitution itself. Yes, I read the whole damn thing, and it’s not light reading. But in many instances it’s clear. And, indeed, Article I, Section 8 gives a lot of war-power authority to Congress, under the general principle in Section 1: “The Congress shall have pay the debts and provide for the defense and general welfare of the United States....”
            But Congress is only one branch of the federal government. There’s an Executive and there’s a Judicial. They each have their own sections under Article I, and I encourage the more studious to read them.
            My point, which I conveyed in an email to Rep. Rigell, is that his statement is inaccurate. The federal government is a combined Constitutional entity of three branches. And I argue that the purpose of the federal government is best expressed in the Preamble, one of our greatest founding documents, which, if you will, stands as the federal government’s mission statement:

            “We, the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, secure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, 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.”

            To me this clearly says that defense is only one of the federal government’s concerns. There are five others. And, indeed, they may all overlap to some extent, and they all need clarification, which the Constitution attempts to provide in 27 subsequent amendments. It’s an evolving document. We, hopefully, are an evolving society.
            But too many in Congress seem to think, as Rep. Rigell does, that defense is the primary responsibility of the federal government, and I’m saying that’s just not so. The Constitution is broader than that.
            In my opinion, ISIL, the most recent cause of our current war fever, is a criminal organization like al-Qaeda before it and in many ways not unlike the Mafia. Why we always have them in society is a topic for philosophers to sort out. But these are no armies at our shores, and I think our representatives should calm down and reaffirm ALL our national priorities, not just our great military might. They are elected to do more than declare and oversee wars, and perhaps if they paid more attention to their other primary responsibilities there would be fewer reasons to go to war and less bickering over who gets to declare it.


At 7:26 PM , Blogger kate loving shenk said...

Thanks for the mini- lesson on the Constitution. If we actually restored our democracy, and people were participating in it, and felt like they were making a difference, then Daesh would recede into memory, like a bad dream.

If Single Payer, making Corporate Corruption illegal, overturning Citizens United, making it impossible to buy elections, and making education accessible to all of us, legalizing pot and keeping folks out of the Prison Industrial Complex,we'd be in a position to cooperate with the rest of the world. As it now stands, we are in a precarious place.

Thank the stars for #FeelTheBern. He is leading us to a participatory Democracy.


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