Let me begin this by giving you my definition of critical thinking. Critical thinking is an objective analysis of a subject with an open mind, giving equal consideration to all sides of an issue, to form a judgment based upon evidence and fact. If you reject facts simply because you disagree with them, you are NOT thinking critically. If you reject a fact because it makes you feel uncomfortable, or forces you to re-evaluate your own position, you are NOT thinking critically.
Ever since I began researching the history of this country I have begun to wonder what thought process people use when they decide which candidate to vote for, or whether or not they support the actions of their government. All I can say for certain is that it is NOT critical thinking. I often think that Jackson Browne was right when he sang, “They sell us the president the same way they sell us our clothes and our cars.” (Source: Lives in the Balance)
I’m not saying people are stupid – well, sometimes they are – what I am saying is that they often vote based more upon emotion than they do a careful analysis of all the facts. There is a scene in the movie The Adjustment Bureau where David Norris, played by Matt Damon, gives a heartfelt speech after losing a race for a seat in the U.S. Senate. In it he talks about how his team had hired analysis firms to gauge what type tie to wear, or how scuffed his shoes should be…just to attract the most voters.
I think every candidate running for any office of any importance has such a team, whose sole job is to market the candidate to the public. What the voters then do is choose from among the candidates seeking office similar to the way they choose which deodorant to buy off the shelf at the grocery store.
I have noticed that when you try to introduce the lawfulness of what our government does into a political debate the lights go out in most people’s eyes. Most people are of the belief that if their government passes a law, then it is legal. I don’t think most even realize that there is a difference between lawful and legal.
The term lawful applies to the substance of law, while the term legal applies to the form of law. I know that not might make much sense, so let me expand upon that a bit. A lawful act is one which is sanctioned or authorized, while a legal act is one which is permitted by laws written by legislators. The best way to describe the difference is to use a quote from Thomas Jefferson, “Law is often but the tyrants will, especially when it violates the rights of the individual.”
Our government derives its authority by our consent to its existence. Yet our consent is not to a government of unlimited authority, rather it is consent to a government limited in its actions by a written constitution. Many a dictator began as a democratically elected official, and it was only because there were no restraints imposed upon them, or because the people ignored whatever restraints were in place, that they became dictatorial.
You would not believe the frustration I deal with simply because I cannot get people to even think about whether or not the things their government is doing are lawful. If the Constitution outlined the shape our government would take doesn’t it make sense that it would also include any limitations upon the powers that government would be delegated to exercise on our behalf? Yet trying to get people to think about whether or not the Constitution authorizes their candidates to fulfill all those campaign promises and you may as well be asking them to cut off their arm.
Yet if people fail to give the Constitution any consideration when choosing whom to vote for, or what laws to support, can the people truly be said to be thinking critically? Either the Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Land and it governs both the actions of the government and what the voters can expect their government to do for them, or it is only a set of recommendations; meaning it is recommended that the people obey the laws their government passes. Yet we know that is not the case; for if you try disobeying the laws they pass they will come after you and punish you. So that MUST mean that our government is populated by tyrants, for as John Locke said, “Where the law ends tyranny begins.” Therefore, if they disobey the law written to govern their actions, then the law HAS ended and every law they pass becomes tyrannical.
It really is that simple.
If the Constitution truly is the law that dictates what our government can and cannot do, does it not make even the slightest amount of sense to have a thorough understanding of what that document says; and more importantly, the intent of those who wrote it? Is that too much to ask, or are you content to let your emotions be your guide and to toss critical thinking into the waste bin?
The problem is that most people will only take a cursory glance at the Constitution; they refuse to delve into the intricacies of what it says, or what was said about it by those who supported its ratification and those who opposed it. What happens then is the people see the words general welfare and think they include a broad spectrum of powers to do whatever the government, or the people, feel is in the general welfare.
THAT IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE!!!
This is where the willingness to research the thoughts and writings of those who actually lived during the period which saw America go from a group of British Colonies to a country with its own system of government begins to pay off. You see, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote our country’s birth certificate, (The Declaration of Independence), and James Madison, who is known as the Father of the Constitution, both felt that the general welfare clause was not a grant of unlimited power.
In a letter to James Robertson, Madison writes, “With respect to the words general welfare, I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creator.”
Then in 1792, when Madison was arguing against a bill which would have granted subsidies to Cod Fisheries, he stated, “If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may appoint teachers in every State, county and parish and pay them out of their public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union; they may assume the provision of the poor; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post-roads; in short, every thing, from the highest object of state legislation down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress…. Were the power of Congress to be established in the latitude contended for, it would subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature of the limited Government established by the people of America.”
Even before the Constitution was ratified Madison promised those who opposed it that the General Welfare Clause was not a grant of unlimited power, “It has been urged and echoed, that the power “to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States,” amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare. No stronger proof could be given of the distress under which these writers labor for objections, than their stooping to such a misconstruction. Had no other enumeration or definition of the powers of the Congress been found in the Constitution, than the general expressions just cited, the authors of the objection might have had some color for it… For what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power? Nothing is more natural nor common than first to use a general phrase, and then to explain and qualify it by a recital of particulars…” (My emphasis, Source: Federalist 41)
Then in 1791, arguing against the establishment of a national bank, Jefferson explained his view of the general welfare as follows, ” They are not to do anything they please to provide for the general welfare, but only to lay taxes for that purpose. To consider the latter phrase not as describing the purpose of the first, but as giving a distinct and independent power to do any act they please which may be good for the Union, would render all the preceding and subsequent enumerations of power completely useless. It would reduce the whole instrument to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and as they would be the sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please…. Certainly no such universal power was meant to be given them. It was intended to lace them up straightly within the enumerated powers and those without which, as means, these powers could not be carried into effect.”
I think I have made it pretty clear that both Jefferson and Madison felt that the General Welfare clause was not a grant of any hidden or implied powers; that it was merely a statement which was then qualified, or clarified if you prefer, by a list of specific, or particular powers.
Yet when the average voter is deciding whom to vote for, I’m betting that the very short list of specifically enumerated powers found in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution never even crosses their minds. That being true, people still become mightily offended when you tell them they are NOT making informed decisions; that their decisions are based upon emotional responses to the candidates themselves, not the lawfulness of what they propose to do if you vote for them.
I don’t care who you voted for in the last presidential election, Trump or Hillary, I’m betting that if you were to list all the campaign promises they made and then open up a copy of the Constitution to Article 1, Section 8 that you would find less than 5% of their promises conform to the actual powers given your government.
If that is the case, then why are you voting for these people; because you believe one of them is better than the other? Does not the fact that what both promised to do is in violation of the law not bother you in the slightest? It sure bothers me; that’s why I refuse to vote in a national election; because every candidate that the two parties offer is a whore to the special interests who fund their campaigns and the party machinery itself.
I swear, these politicians are so crooked, so corrupt, that if one of them were ever brought to justice for their crimes they would rat out the rest of them and then we’d really see a government shutdown. But the people vote for them time and time again; simply because they believe their party is better than the other one. It truly makes me sick to watch it happen.
The funny thing is that subconsciously I think many people actually believe what I’m saying, but they refuse to admit it at a conscious level for it would mean they would have to alter their behavior and start standing for something other than partisan platforms. That would mean they could no longer blame the other party; they would have to actively work to open the eyes of those who still believed in the illusion that we still have constitutional government in the United States.
If the people of America would just open their eyes they would see that we haven’t had constitutional government for over 150 years, and all they are doing is helping to perpetuate their own servitude to an ungrateful master that rightfully believes them to be ignorant fools.
It’s up to you to prove them wrong; it’s up to you to live up to the gift of liberty bequeathed to you by our Founders. After all, Patrick Henry did not say, “Give me 3 hots, a cot and free wifi” he said “Give me liberty or give me death.” The signers of our Declaration of Independence did not risk their lives, fortunes and sacred honor for the promise of benefits, comfort and security, they risked all that the belief that government is instituted to secure the liberty of the governed.
What the hell went wrong? Look in a mirror for the answer.