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CORBIN & PARKS: State of the Union? Out of touch with the Founders
Couched in the moderate rhetoric, same old Obama agenda
Question of the Day
The Constitution requires that the president “from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” President Obama will endeavor to fulfill this obligation Tuesday. But will the “measures” he proposes aim at the great purposes for which the Constitution was established? We doubt it.
Consider again the goals announced in its memorable preamble: “We the People of the United States , in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity. …” Every goal presupposes a government that treats American citizens as a single assembly of equals rather than a fractured mass of competitors.
How long can a union last - how tranquil will our public and privates lives be - when some are the predators and others are the prey? What is left of justice when the strong do as they may and the weak suffer what they must? Within the common good, the general welfare, liberty and its blessings for each American generation, where is there room for special pleading and backroom politics?
The Founders’ union was not perfect, but though the work of these men may, in part, have been crooked, the rod they left us to measure it was straight. The republican principle, they asserted (in the words of John Adams) demanded “an impartial and exact execution of the laws.”
We do not expect, of course, to hear President Obama make the case for arbitrary and biased government. In fact, in the company of a divided Congress and in the context of the recent Tucson shootings, we may rather anticipate an uncommon emphasis on unity, bipartisanship and civility.
But, as you watch the speech (if you have the stomach) or read it the next day, get beneath the surface and examine the actual “measures” the president proposes. How many tax breaks will favor one class of Americans over another? How many special programs will give benefits to some paid for by all? Will this generation buy with the credit of the next? Will we subsidize some and, therefore, quietly bankrupt others? Will the government promote its favorite jobs - or light bulbs? Will the lives of some be discounted or defined away for the greater comfort and ease of others? In other words, how much of the president’s speech will promote the private good and the particular welfare?
American politics has always been about assembling coalitions - first to win elections and then to implement policy. But there are honest coalitions and then there are factions. Is our group the champion of the middle class, hyphenated Americans or “working families”? If so, regardless of how many may belong, the group is defined by the fact that some are inherently excluded. This is not “we the people,” but “we the partisans.” Such is the politics of our contemporary ruling class, led by Mr. Obama himself. Such is the politics of a democracy as defined by Aristotle: a regime where the many unjustly use their power for their own advantage.
The republican alternative begins with no artificial political divisions. No one is out except by his own free choice - and even those who exclude themselves have nothing to fear from the “impartial and exact execution of the laws.”
The president is to report and to recommend measures he judges “necessary” and “expedient.” Necessary and expedient toward what end? If Mr. Obama would be true to his oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution,” the answer must be: necessary and expedient for maintaining our republic - necessary and expedient for encouraging the free and the brave, not capturing the votes of the servile and the helpless. The distance between this charge and the president’s performance will tell Americans the real state of our union.
C. David Corbin is the dean of the School of Politics, Philosophy and Economics, and Matthew T. Parks is the assistant provost at the King’s College in New York City. They are the authors of “Keeping Our Republic: Principles for a Political Reformation” (Resource Publications, 2011).
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