Why Do I Have to Chuse?
The US national elections in November 2010, which chused the 112th Congress, resulted in a historic change in the power structure in Congress. The Democrats lost their 236 to 198 seat advantage in the House of Representatives to the Republicans, who claimed 239. Likewise, the Democrats' “veto-proof” majority in the Senate was weakened to a simple majority. But regardless of your political affiliation, I'm sure you found it as gratifying as I did, when new Speaker John Boehner (pronounced BAY-ner), upon receiving the gavel from the gracious former Speaker Nanci Pelosi, summarily pummeled her with it. Don't believe me? I have video evidence:
As a gesture symbolic of the new leaders' intent to govern "by the book," representatives kicked off this year's legislative session by reading the entire US Constitution into the record. Predictably, this was met with cheers of approval and howls of derision, depending on the political persuasion of the commentator.
Your faithful editor had another reaction altogether: guilt. I realized that despite my implicit assertion of the primacy of said document as an anchor and guide for national legislation, I had not actually read it since high school, and even then, I don't exactly think I was paying attention.
So I got a copy and read it, cover to cover. Having read, or been otherwise exposed to parts of it over the years like the movie It's a Wonderful Life, I must say that there were few surprises - I pretty much already knew what was in there and what wasn't, but one thing that stuck me for the endearing genuineness: misspellings.
The Constitution was written by hand in 1787 without benefit of even a backspace key, much less cut-and-paste, spellcheck, or the smiling Microsoft paper clip. During that time, English usage was not exactly what you would call consistent either, so misspellings, alternate spellings, and outright innovations were the order of the day. Although the English language, particularly the American version thereof, is constantly evolving, a snapshot of it at any particular time will show a pretty good level of consistency in spelling, grammar, and convention. So the Constitution's malaprops look a little silly today. My favorite example is the word "chuse," which appears in Article I, Section 2, Clause 3, and other places in various forms.
To me, even more striking than the writing style, however, was the underlying theme. The Framers were in the process of wrestling themselves out of the tyrannical rule of England, at the same time drawing up the rules for a brand new country, one in which they could impose their loftiest ideals and vision. They could have gone in many directions, but they chused a path of individual freedom under a constrained government. It certainly wasn't perfect (27 amendments passed, out of many thousands proposed), but applying the Costanza rule (do the exact opposite) to that of King George III seemed to be a good start.
But even freedom wasn't exactly spread evenly. Slavery was still legal, or at least not illegal, and of course slaves had no constitutional protections or privileges. Women couldn't vote either, and endured various restrictions to legal and property rights. Fortunately, through amendments and other legal processes and instruments, we've pretty much cleaned up those inequities, at least from the constitutional standpoint.
But are we really free? Comedian Chris Rock avers, with confident assurance reinforced by his audience's hearty agreement, that a man in a relationship "is only as faithful as his options." Of course there are men to whom this axiom does not apply, but none can escape the cruel hand of the Bruck Corollary: a man is only as free as his resources permit.
I don't have $400,000US in liquid assets, and I certainly would have some difficulty convincing a financial institution of my ability to satisfy the terms of a personal loan for anywhere near that amount. Therefore despite its complete and utter legality, I am not free to buy a Lamborghini. There are plenty of things that it is illegal for me to buy at any price, such as Wyoming or Diane Keaton, but for practical purposes, we may as well just add Lamborghinis and the Aaron Speling mansion to that list.
But Bruck, you seem to have no shortage of BBQ meat or radio equipment, and you take lavish whitefish-sodden vacations on the shores of the greatest of the Great Lakes, so what are you complaining about? Not complaining, just making the observation, repeating it actually as it's been made many times before, that even those things that you are free to chuse almost always require you to forgo something else. Those of you who have visited the house of Bruck may have noticed the dearth of large screen TV, or vehicles over $5K in Blue Book value, or furniture that we've actually bought retail. So even though we have a great deal of freedom in the legal sense, resource limitations dictate that we must make decisions.
Speaking of the Constitution, here's something that's not in it: the two-party system. Although it's legal, and for the most part works, it's not actually prescribed in the document. In fact, in the unamended version, the selection of President resulted from the candidate having the largest number of electoral votes, with the runner-up given the office of Vice President. Picture that happening nowadays!
Although I'm not proposing any kind of political overhaul at this juncture, the two-party system does have its drawbacks. What if you don't like either candidate or platform? You can vote for whomever you want, but at least in the national or state contests, if your candidate isn't R or D, you've pretty much wasted a trip to the local schoolhouse. I'm independent myself, so everyone argues with me, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I usually end up voting R due to my opposition to recreational abortion (this unfortunately being a largely symbolic gesture), and the general lack candidates with actual human DNA running on the D ticket. And I'm usually holding my nose while doing so. Some years ago, on the local amateur radio freq. in the Detroit, MI area, a fellow ham asked how I was going to vote in the upcoming elections (we usually stay away from politics and other religions on the air, but this was an exception). I replied that I was planning to vote for the party that's trying to destroy our country more slowly. "Me too," he replied, "straight Democrat!" Not exactly what I was thinking, but I get it.
What's the point, Bruck? No point, really, just exploring the nature of freedom and what we do with it. So please join Willie Nelson and me in the following chorus which pretty much sums it up:
Why do I have to chuse?
And see everybody luse?
Walk around and sing the bluse?
Well darlin', I refuse