"It's a Great Country, Sam..."
Winding down ABC-TV's Sam and Cokie show this past Sunday, Sam Donaldson recalled a long-ago interview with secretary of state-designate Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Born in Harlem, growing up in the South Bronx, getting C's and D's in school, " Mr. Donaldson quoted himself asking, "how did you end up Chairman of the Joint Chiefs?"
"It's a great country, Sam, it's a great country" responded General Powell. "It's a great country" echoed both Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts, as they faced the camera to close the program.
Earlier in the show, George Will recalled crises that defined successive decades, and lamented there was nothing today to qualify as a great unifying task.
Perhaps, there is.
What makes our country great? The people who inhabit it. Why are Americans so much more successful than the rest of the world? Since biologically we are no different from of all the static, struggling, self-destructive, frequently failing peoples of the world, we must look for reasons in the way American society is constituted.
Everything is in that last word.
Without the Constitution, all the inspiration, the heroism, the sacrifice embodied in the Declaration of Independence might have gone down in history as another great idea that was not to be. The Constitution, with its unique blend of ultra-sophisticated processes and utter simplicity of language, of grand design and necessary detail, of abundance in ideas and economy in words, has molded all who live here.
Under its mantle, the have-not's become have's, and the cannot's become can's. Ancient hatreds have been replaced with the ability and willingness to live and work together. People's talents, after laying dormant in their homelands for centuries, blossom in America.
But while the Constitution has stood by every one of us, we have not done an equally good job of standing by the Constitution.
The chronicle of the twentieth century may be recounted in terms of upheavals: World War I, the great depression, World War II, restructuring of the globe, the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War protest, loss of the gold standard - and the Cold War as a backdrop to all other occurrences over four decades. Perhaps it was unavoidable to take liberties with the "supreme law of the land" in the name of expediency.
But we are on the threshold of a new era. Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, we are now truly about to enter a new century and millennium, even though our impatience caused us to celebrate it a year too soon.
A great time, many will agree, to take stock and make a New Century's Resolution.
The incessant din about butterfly ballots, varietal chads, and "make every vote count" has been replaced by equally disingenuous demagoguery about a split country and the urgent need for "bipartisan" government.
At the same time, voices have been heard wishing for a speech that would go beyond prescription drugs.
Let us see if we can throw all this in the basket: it's a great country; we need a grand new task; the country is split; we need bipartisan government.
So here is the New Century's Resolution: let us restore the three branches of American government to their constitutional function: legislative, executive, judiciary. Let us repair the damage of the last century during the coming one. Let us be honest - no medicare reform, no patient bill of rights could do as much for the guaranteed continuing existence of this nation of successful people.
The overwhelming majority of our woes arises from our increasing disregard for the separation of powers. Some like to blame events way back in the past, but most would agree that sooner or later both the executive and judiciary branches began to legislate, and that legislatures progressively abandoned their obligation of oversight.
No one seems happy with the outcome. And no one is willing to face the fact that the true division in our country is between those who wish to preserve the Constitution, and those who wish to replace it. (Alas, our schools and immigration policies ensure that a growing mass remains altogether ignorant of that document.) Because those who wish to replace the Constitution are not willing to say so, our political debates have become untruthful and misleading.
Adopting the proposed Resolution would render everybody honest for a start. And what could be more bipartisan than the restoration of constitutional roles?! But on the off chance the other side doesn't mean it, Republican control of the White House, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives offers a brief, historic opportunity for those wishing to preserve the Constitution to forge an American coalition.
The task is as simple as it is monumental: to take note and move to reverse every act that is blatantly at odds with the Articles that created the three branches of government.
We have the benefit of exceptional attention paid by Americans to the events of the last six weeks. Discussions about what is and isn't constitutional abounded, and righteous indignation erupted across the land.
Floridians from Miami to Pensacola, Americans from East to West sent petitions to the Florida House of Representatives. Thanks to them, we will have the benefit of a tailor-made start in Tallahassee. There, owing to their constitutional violations, justices of Florida's Supreme Court await examination of their fitness to serve.