Are You a Conservative? Do you consider yourself a liberal?
If you find yourself using either of these terms when discussing your political worldview, you may have fallen into a trap.
Let me explain.
When the President or any elected or appointed official takes his oath of office, he invokes the wrath of God against him if he acts unfaithfully to that oath. This is a serious thing and so a specific standard is pronounced and declared. The oath taken declares an allegiance to … the Constitution of the United States – and where I live – to the Constitution of the State of Maryland.
The oath does not say “I hereby solemnly promise to be conservative.” It does not say “I hereby swear that I will follow what are presently considered to be conservative principles.”
As you know, these things called “conservative principles” can vary not only from person to person but from time to time. That’s the trap.
The acceptability of the use of torture is a good example.
While just a few years ago, most folks considering themselves to be conservative recoiled in horror from the idea that Americans would even consider using such a terror tactic on a human being.
But now, conservative commentators like Charles Krauthammer and Sean Hannity and many others have defended this vile practice that only a generation ago the entire world rightly denounced at the Nuremburg trials.
What happened? Well… the definition of conservative changed, didn’t it? The standard has changed, hasn’t it? That’s what happens with a wishy-washy word like “conservative.” It really has come to mean nothing. In fact, it almost goes without saying that political positions thought to be ultra liberal 30 years ago – or maybe 30 minutes ago — are now seen as the accepted conservative position. (At least for the moment.)
So what’s the alternative?
Well, we seem to need a fixed standard, don’t we? One that isn’t slick or squishy – one we can depend on.
Happily, it does exist and it’s called the Constitution. It was intended to be a fixed standard and ought to be seen and taught that way.
The provisions and principles in the United States Constitution and the Maryland Constitution are not so complicated that they have to be left to “experts.” If they were studied and understood by us all, we could do a much better job of holding our elected representatives accountable to their oaths of office.
Incredibly, the Maryland Constitution is not taught to young attorneys in either of the two Maryland law schools, and many of our legislators have never read it.
I think that’s a problem.
As an older attorney who has seen the slide away from American and Constitutional principles, I am hoping and praying for a return to constitutional understanding and fidelity.
This is Michael Anthony Peroutka for Institute on the Constitution bringing you The American View.