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Autopsy of a Great Nation

by Herb Van Fleet

June 18, 2010

Consider the many ominous problems facing the United States today – a critically ill economic
system, an out-of-control public debt, an inordinately expensive health care system, a laughable
immigration policy, a virtually non-existent energy policy, a ridiculously complex tax code, two
wars, global warming, the unrelenting destruction of ecosystems, and too many others to name.

There is this annoying cacophony going on today about how to run a country. Lots of vitriol,
fear-mongering, disinformation, irrationality, and outright silliness here – the Tea Partiers, the
rise of Fascism and Socialism. Some say this behavior is due to racism aimed at President
Obama, others that it’s the frustration bubbling up from a failed economy. But whatever the
reasons, the feelings are intense and pervasive and, frankly, a bit scary.

At the risk of being labeled a Chicken Little here, I’m beginning to get concerned about whether
these issues are symptomatic of something worse; something that could present a serious
threat to our government, our democracy, even our quality of life. As these thoughts bounced
around my head, I happened to remember British historian Arnold Toynbee’s famous caution,
“History shows that great nations rise and great nations fall but the autopsy of history is that all
great nations commit suicide.”

So, let’s see where we stand in the fall of 2009. First up has to be the voters. According to a
2006 survey conducted by Zogby International, 73% of those polled were able to name all three
of The Three Stooges, while only 42% could name the three branches of government. The
same survey found that 87% knew the names of at least one of the Seven Dwarfs, but only
39% could name one of the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. The ignorance by the
electorate of matters governmental is astounding. Then again, do the voters really need to
know that much? Isn’t the whole idea here that government is the enabler and protector of
people’s freedoms and liberties provided to them under the Constitution? Except for voting,
aren’t the voters pretty much off the hook?

Then there’s Congress. Everybody knows the overriding concern of any elected official is
always the next election. And, that means money. Elections after all are usually won by
whoever spends the most money. Then there are the lobbyists, the PAC’s, the corporate
campaign contributors and the special interest groups which manage to get all their earmarks
(a.k.a. “pork”) added to legislation. They are also responsible for the adamant and sometimes
intractable positions our Senators and Representatives take on certain bills, often in clear
opposition to and in direct conflict with the public interest.

It would be an interesting exercise to see how many members of the House and Senate would
be willing to sign an affidavit under oath prior to their vote on the final draft of a bill stating that
(1) they had read the final version in its entirety, and (2) that they had not entered into any
arrangement or made any promise to any third parties in connection with the legislation that
could be reasonably construed as a conflict of interest or a quid pro quo.

Of course, the political parties don’t help either. It is now the practice to disparage the other
party to the point where “political will” becomes “political won’t.” Endless rants about bigger

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government, deficits and taxes are diversionary and unhelpful. Discussions about what’s best
for the country are rare. To call this democratic republic is an insult to democratic republics

The duties of those in Congress are therefore mostly diverted from the people’s business to
their own self-interests. And, if avoiding the tough decisions is what is needed to pander to the
electorate, or to sustain the cash flow from the special interest groups, or to keep from being
perceived as crossing the party line, then that is the game they will play.

Beginning in earnest with President Franklin Roosevelt in his efforts to help mitigate the despair
wrought by the Great Depression, Congress become a co-conspirator with Roosevelt in
expanding the powers of the federal government way beyond those enumerated in the
Constitution in what many think is a clear violation of the tenth amendment: “The powers not
delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are
reserved to the States respectively, or to the people;” a.k.a., State’s Rights.

Then there is the executive branch. It is now so vast and complex that it is prohibitively
unmanageable and seems at times to be on auto-pilot; cranking out thousands of pages of
regulations each year and still running programs that should have ended decades ago.

Of the fifteen cabinet-level departments reporting to the President, only the Departments of
Defense, State, Treasury, Veterans Affairs, and certain functions of the Departments of Interior
and Commerce are within the authority of the Constitution. All the rest, including the
Departments of Agriculture, Education, Labor, Transportation, Energy, Health and Human
Services and Homeland Security, arguably lack Constitutional authority for their existence.
Indeed, all those functions, I believe, are reserved to the states and the people.

In recent years, the President has assumed powers that go way beyond those granted to him
by the Constitution. And, even though he is obliged to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully
executed,” Congress rarely checks to see if he does And, apparently, the voters don’t care..
That said, I feel sure that if the framers wanted a King, they would have given us one.

Meanwhile, our federal jurists are busily issuing opinions that, many think, not only make law,
but that effectively amend the Constitution as well; all the while ignoring the pesky little details
that nobody elected them and they do not represent the people. At a minium, and to be
consistent with the amendment process for the Constitution, decisions of the Supreme Court
should require concurrence of at least a three-forth’s of the justices; currently, that’s seven out
of the nine.

From this brief reflection on the current state of affairs in Washington, I’ve come to realize that
the vision of our founding fathers as set out in the Constitution and the Declaration of
Independence has been badly corrupted. Take, for example, James Madison’s admonition in
Federalist 57: "

The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who
possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the
society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them
virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust."

Wisdom? Virtue? The common good? Public trust? Instead of starting the day with a prayer,
maybe the House and Senate would be better served by reciting a selection or two from the
Federalist Papers.

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In short, I believe we have lost our democratic republic, and replaced it with an elitist plutocracy;
Adam Smith has trumped Thomas Jefferson. Today, American values are not based on life,
liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but rather on property, profit, and the Dow Jones Industrial

If our system of government has devolved to the point where following the rule of law is
considered optional, where squandering limited resources is called patriotic, and where creating
and passing a massive financial burden on to future generations is deemed acceptable, then
perhaps we really are on the verge of suicide.

Anybody know how to get in touch with Dr. Kevorkian?

Herb Van Fleet

Tulsa, Oklahoma
June 18, 2010

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