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Etc.: Constitution Day
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Today is Constitution Day, a day that should be a bigger holiday in the U.S. than it is.

It should be as big as Independence Day. As far as I know, no one is having fireworks today, and all the people involved in Platteville’s 4th of July need not panic that they missed every deadline for the Constitution Day celebration.

Back in 1987, the publisher of the first newspaper I worked for called, on the 200th anniversary of Constitution Day, to “celebrate … cerebrate … the Constitution.” (He was … fond … of … ellipses.)

“Cerebrate” apparently is a word, given that it shows up in a web search. So, consider this some cerebration on this Constitution Day.

I would use a photo of the Constitution here, except that the handwriting would be close to illegible in our non-cursive-writing days. So go to and read the Constitution — the whole thing; even with 27 amendments it’s not that long — today.

The U.S. Archives says of the Constitution: “The work of many minds, the U.S. Constitution stands as a model of cooperative statesmanship and the art of compromise.”

One main reason politics is what it is today is because of the lack of “cooperative statesmanship and the art of compromise.” That is because whichever party is in power seeks to grow its own power over the government. Everything detestable about politics today — lack of civility, excessive campaign spending, the commercials, etc. — is because the stakes in elections are too high; the power of government is too great. (And, of course, each party’s partisans blame the other, generally not looking in the mirror.)

That’s not just at the state or federal level. Consider the Platteville Common Council and its portioning out who gets to buy the 12 Kallembach houses (as reported on page 1). Whether or not you agree with the results, you have to admit that the process, admittedly unprecedented in the city’s history, was also completely subjective. It will strike some as strange that only three of the high bids on the 12 properties were chosen. On the other hand, in a republic we choose the people who make decisions great and small, so if you don’t like the decision, one-third of the council is up for election every year.

That brings up something that makes one despair a bit for the future of our country — for lack of a better term, public laziness in civic engagement. Whether Ernie Wittwer won the 17th Senate District Democratic primary by two votes (primary election night) or seven votes (official canvass) or lost by 33 votes (recount), it should appall the civic-minded that so few people bothered to vote in that election. (Of course, you know how I feel about having to choose between parties when there’s more than one race of interest.) People complain about what government does, and may even think they can represent people better, then decline to run for office or even vote.

It’s fashionable to say that there is less respect than ever before now for the First Amendment, which does not make that an inaccurate statement. The fact that politics has in fact been nastier in centuries past than now (two words: Civil War) is somewhat irrelevant given that history isn’t that important to most people, and that most people’s frame of reference is their own lifetime.

That lack of interest in history means most people probably don’t know how publicly nasty some of the Founding Fathers were to each other, and how many campaigns have taken place that would seem outrageous even by today’s low standards. (The 1800 presidential campaign featured incumbent John Adams’ supporters calling Thomas Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father,” countered by Jefferson’s fans accusing Adams of having a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” And Adams and Jefferson were friends.

I doubt you could find one in 10 adults who understand which body of government is responsible for which governmental responsibilities in the Constitution. Or the concept of small-R republican government, as opposed to small-D democracies. (In the latter case, 51 percent of the population could vote to imprison 49 percent of the population.) Or that the purpose of the Bill of Rights is to protect the rights of political minorities. Or that the First Amendment protects freedom of expression, including expression you don’t agree with, but does not protect you from the consequences of your free expression.

The most recent poll asked, 13 years after 9/11, about the state of security and freedom in the U.S. today:
•    Less free and less safe: 10.
•    Less free but more safe: 1.
•    About the same as before 9/11: 3.
•    Better off than before 9/11: 1.

That’s certainly a tiny sample size, but it says something that two-thirds of the respondents think we made a tradeoff that proves Benjamin Franklin’s line, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Franklin also said when asked, “Well, doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy,” replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”