I was minding my own business this morning and reading the City and State page when I happened upon the letters of the day. Certainly, I am used to bad opinions based on shoddy facts. That’s what we get from the general public. What got my blood boiling on this day were the two yahoo’s questioning Lisa Falkenberg’s recent piece on Ted Cruz because “she did not understand the constitution.”
My feelings on the issue are irrelevant for the moment, but if you are going to crack down on a journalist for misunderstanding the constitution it would actually be helpful if you understood the constitution. In the midst of reading a few paragraphs, I saw a number of common conservative knee jerk arguments. Since we will hear these more and more from our conservative friends, let’s take a look at what we might see from them.
“That (stuff) isn’t in the constitution.”
Surely you jest? In this case one of two things is going on and I’ll leave you to guess which is more likely. Either the letter writer read the constitution and is purposely being misleading or he/she heard about this while listening to talk radio or read someone else’s opinion on the subject and wanted to pass along the pearls of wisdom. My guess is the latter, so you want to know what I did? That’s right, I actually went back and went to article two of the constitution.
Of course, article two doesn’t mention the department of education, energy, and interior. The primary reason is that it doesn’t mention any departments. It simply grants the president the power to appoint of cabinet. You see the slight of hand there by your conservative friends? A ha, it doesn’t mention education so therefore we must abolish the education department. I can’t think of a single case which highlights the need for education more.
At the time of the constitution, we were not using energy beyond the normal wind and solar power. We did not have a pollution problem because we did not have any known pollutants beyond our propensity to pass gas ourselves. Public education did not exist below the college level and no one had a right to a public education back then. The forefathers knew that issues would come up that they had not thought of. Allowing the president to assemble his or her own cabinet was a way to help with unforeseen issues. I’m sure, that there will be other departments that crop up that we have not heard of.
If I don’t understand it, it must be useless
Imagine if you will that I were opening up the hood of my car. Imagine if I pulled out everything that looked like it had no pertinent function. I would only keep in what I knew was pertinent to the running of the car. How long would that car run? Would it run at all? The knee jerk reaction to abolish departments comes largely from a lack of understanding what the department does. How many people think the Department of the Interior is in charge of decorating the White House?
Now, I’m not being judgmental here. There are many things I don’t know. So, not understanding the function of a cabinet department is not a terrible thing. It becomes terrible when I assume it has no function because I cannot decipher one. This is the lack of intellectual curiosity that is killing our nation. If something bothers you because of your lack of knowledge of it then take the time to educate yourself on the issue.
In particular, the idea of abolishing the Department of Education is a humorous one to me. The reasoning is just perfect. Has our education improved? Well, there in of itself is a huge question. Based on certain statistics the answer is obviously no, but why the immediate blame placed on Washington? What other factors outside of our control might have an effect on that? What does the Department of Education actually do (remember that whole ignorance thing).
Let’s go back to the constitution itself and remember the whole purpose of a cabinet. The idea was to surround the president with a group of experts in their field. The president himself (gender specificity aside) cannot be an expert in every possible area. So, he surrounds himself with people who are experts in a particular area. To abolish a department you are suggesting that either that area is not worthy of having an expert or the president could be advised in a more efficient way. Of course, these letter writers rarely ever offer any explanation on the last point.
The either/or defense
Compromise is a dirty word to conservatives. Either a department is running efficiently or is has to be abolished. My personal favorite was the idea that IRS should be abolished. Get past the initial visceral reaction to that statement and consider the ramifications. Let’s forget Mitt Romney and whether he’s paid any taxes recently. Just watch daytime television for one day and count the number of commercials where people are able to get out of paying the back taxes that they owe.
They wail and holler and gnash their teeth over the huge tax bill they owe. Superstar lawyer flies in and saves them by making them only responsible for pennies on the dollar. I have a better idea, pay your frickin taxes. Now, imagine if there were no agency that had any enforcement power to collect those taxes. Suddenly, that huge defense budget you supported (because apparently, fiscal conservatism doesn’t extend to the Department of Defense) can’t be supported because every Tom, Dick, and Harry decided not to pay their taxes.
The Bottom Line
I heard a Rush Limbaugh promo that said that conservatism is a daily intellectual pursuit. I’m calling bullshit on that one folks. Conservatism is the pursuit of support of the masses by exploiting their intellectual laziness. A small group of people know exactly what they are doing and are counting on people’s unwillingness to research issues for themselves. They always taught us to consult primary sources when doing research papers because beyond that you are subject to someone’s analysis. That analysis is subject to bias. When you get your analysis from like-minded people you only reinforce that bias.
In terms of all of our departments (and the IRS) everyone would acknowledge that change and restructuring could be beneficial. However, in order to argue any of that you must provide specifics. Specifics take time to gather. It means you must research the department itself, find out what it actually does, and then suggest specific alternatives. Boy, that’s hard work, but it probably would be worthwhile in the end. Meanwhile, if you are going to listen to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, or any other conservative voice on matters of the constitution you might as well consider yourself among those that don’t know a whole heck of a lot about that founding document.