My son and I are on ground where one of my heroes - the legendary Joe Foss, U.S. Marine, America’s leading ace in aerial combat, Medal of Honor recipient, mentor and friend - once stood beside me. We’re hunting - and exercising our Second Amendment right “to keep and bear arms.” We will be back home in time to vote in hopes this “right of the people” won’t be “infringed.” But I wonder.
Last week in Ohio, the Obama for President Campaign suggested that Americans need a “second Bill of Rights.” The idea - not a new one for liberals - came this time from Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur as she introduced Sen. Barack Obama at a rally in Toledo. Mrs. Kaptur enthusiastically endorsed the initiative - first proffered by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on Jan. 11, 1944. Mr. Obama said nothing to disabuse his enthusiastic followers of the notion. It was a bad idea when FDR advocated it - and it is now.
President Roosevelt made the proposal in his State of the Union address - delivered over the radio from the White House - instead of in person before Congress. He claimed he had “the flu” and that his doctors would not permit him “to go up to the Capitol.” The nation was then - as we are today - at war. And FDR - the “indispensable leader” - was already preparing for his fourth presidential campaign.
In promoting his new “Bill of Rights,” Mr. Roosevelt observed that we already enjoyed “certain inalienable political rights - among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.” He then said, “They were our rights to life and liberty.” Notably, FDR used the past tense and omitted the Second Amendment in its entirety - no small lapse when nearly 16 million Americans were under arms.
Unfortunately, the idea that our original Bill of Rights is inadequate - or even archaic - has achieved new currency with liberals. In enumerating his abbreviated version of the first 10 Amendments to our Constitution, FDR described our rights as “political” - and insufficient. The Framers saw them as God-given, and a sacred trust to deliver unabridged to future generations.
Therein is the challenge in this week’s elections. The mainstream media and the polls predict a rout to the left. Does that mean Congress would have free rein to resurrect FDR’s “second Bill of Rights”? And, if so, what then happens to the real Bill of Rights - first handed into our care on Dec. 15, 1791?
The practitioners of politics - and those who write and speak about it - claim these matters are secondary to “pocketbook issues.” I was told this week that, “nobody in America cares about that ‘constitutional stuff’ right now with all that’s gone wrong with our economy.” If that’s true - we’re in more serious trouble than my 401(k).
Perhaps I have spent too much of my life with young Americans who sacrificed the comforts of home and the company of loved ones to take on the responsibility of protecting the rest of us. They didn’t sign up to fight for gold or colonial conquest or “the economy.” The soldiers, sailors, airmen, Guardsmen and Marines I have been covering for the Fox News Channel in Mesopotamia, Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf and the Philippine Archipelago volunteered to defend us and protect our liberty from those who had done us grievous harm.
They raised their right hands and took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” They understand what it means to “bear true faith and allegiance.” Most of them have seen parts of the world where there is no freedom - and they know freedom is an idea worth fighting for - preferably at great distance from home.
Thanks to the courage and sacrifice of young Americans in uniform - and those who preceded them - foreign adversaries do not immediately threaten our liberty. But freedom certainly is at risk here at home if our elected leaders and appointed judges believe our essential freedoms are “political rights.” If that is true, then politicians - and the judges they appoint - can abridge, alter or eliminate them.
The extraordinary dedication, commitment and tenacity of American men and women in uniform serving the cause of freedom inspires me. Their bravery and perseverance on battlefields around the world should remind us all that freedom is fragile and must be defended to flourish. The Bill of Rights - including the Second Amendment - did not come to us gratis or without obligation.
We are blessed in America that we can fend for freedom with ballots instead of bullets. Our charge is to elect those who will deliver those freedoms, intact and undiminished, to those who follow us - as my son and I now follow in the footsteps of Joe Foss.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of “War Stories” on the Fox News Channel and the author of “American Heroes.”