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Jonathan Kraut: Amendment needed for legislators

Democratic Voices

Posted: July 17, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 17, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Many feel our freedoms and liberty are protected by a near-sacred document, the Constitution of the United States of America. Some of our local tea partiers and Republicans scream that the federal government’s role is to defend the borders and not to interfere with the daily lives of individuals.

As I read the original version, penned in 1787, I found this “conservative” perspective to be wholly untrue.

The guarantees of freedom and liberty made in the original document clearly relate to foreign rule and a monarchy. The Constitution, while offering some basic personal protections, is an outline of taxing, spending, and checks and balances based on self-rule.

For example, our Constitution pledges to support “the general welfare” and provide an umbrella of protections and rights for Americans. To provide this support, the federal government is mandated to levy taxes and tariffs, curb rights in the name the common good and to protect from treason, and to spend funds.

Some cry that we have strayed from the original intent of our founding fathers. Remember, times have changed. American society has evolved.

Our Founding Fathers, in fact, scripted some pretty strange stipulations. One includes the acceptance of slavery as an American institution.

Article I, Section 2 reads, “Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other persons.”

The Bill of Rights plus 17 additional amendments tells us that the Constitution is imperfect and needs adjustments as our society and humankind evolve.

There is one glaring flaw unaddressed that continues to ensure our form of self-government is imperfect.

This issue is highlighted in Article I, Section 5. “Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behaviour, and, with the concurrence of two thirds, expel a member.”

Despite the intent of the authors of the Constitution to create a sound balance between the three branches of government, no impartial structure was enacted to ensure that members of the elected bodies, i.e. the House of Representatives and the Senate, are ethical and act above personal interest.

I believe any body that regulates itself ultimately encourages corrupt, insulated and detached behavior from members who devote their energies to self-serving interests and the preservation of their power.

This glaring omission I feel is the single leading cause for misconduct and impasse among our elected officials. Our second president, John Adams, once said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon and others in Congress accepted favorable home loans from Countrywide mortgage a few years back. The Huffington Post reported a few days ago: “Last week, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, following a three-year investigation, released a report that confirmed existing allegations that McKeon received preferential treatment from Countrywide when obtaining a $315,000 mortgage loan in October 1998.”

Maybe Congressman McKeon was not aware that he signed for a loan designed to sway his thinking and obligate him. Maybe he and others accepted a tainted deal knowingly but planned to ignore the impact it might have on their decisions.

Either way, the problem is that our elected bodies enable corruption through self-regulation: They set their own pay, monitor their own ethics and manage their own behavior. We know Congress will do nothing to chastise its own members.

The solution is a constitutional amendment.

This amendment would place the setting of pay, benefits, conduct and punishment in the hands of the judiciary. The management of all the assets and holdings of those elected and their immediate family members would be transferred to an impartial executor appointed by the legislature to handle all these accounts as a single legislative pool.

Finally, no elected official, his or her family, and close associates may hold any consulting or lobbying position five years before, during, and for seven years after office to insure no undue influence interferes with the people’s business.

Such an amendment would be a fair exchange for the privilege of serving the people. Tea partiers, conservatives and fellow Dems: If you want fairness and liberty, the next step is not worrying about changing about the laws and taxes we do not like.

It is our move to make sure that the integrity and perspective of those who make and pass such laws are selfless and untainted.

Jonathan Kraut serves in the Democratic Party of the SCV, on the SCV Human Relations Forum, and SCV Interfaith Council. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal or other organizations.



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