Thursday, January 20, 2011

John Lewis and Other Elected Officials and Their Woeful Ignorance of the Constitution

I wrote a post back on January 8th of this month advocating the need to test those people seeking elected office regarding their knowledge of the United States Constitution, since it is this very document and the ideals it represents that they will be swearing an oath to support and defend.

Now Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) was asked the other day by CNS News where in the Constitution is the legal justification for congress and the president having made the "Affordable Health Care Act" into law, particularly the mandate that all citizens MUST purchase health insurance.  As his justification for it, Congressman Lewis stated, “Well, when you start off with the Preamble of the Constitution, you talk about the pursuit of happiness.”

What?!?!  Never mind the fact that his logic in using this argument is incomprehensible, but as any junior high history student would tell you, one cannot find the words "the pursuit of happiness" in the Constitution, but rather they are a part of the God-given inalienable writes that Thomas Jefferson penned in our Declaration of Independence.

Unfortunately Representative Lewis and his lack of Constitutional knowledge is apparently the norm and not an aberration amongst our elected officials.  Indeed a recent quiz was conducted amongst typical American citizens including 165 people who identified themselves as having been "successfully elected to government office at least once in their life." This included members of federal, state, or local offices.

This quiz asked 33 basic civics questions, many of which were taken from sources such as the U.S. Citizenship Exam. Of those 33 questions asked, 10 questions were directly related to the U.S. Constitution.  The sad truth of the matter is that our typical American citizen did pretty poorly.  The truly frightening thing is that our typical elected official participating in the quiz scored an average 5 percentage points lower still than the typical citizen on the Constitutional questions.  Citizens typically scored 54% correct versus 49% for elected officials. (For the record, I got all ten questions correct.)

Of the ten questions asked only 49 percent of elected officials could name all three branches of government, compared with 50 percent of the general public.  Let me re-state this: less than half of our elected officials could even name all three branches of the federal government for which some had held office!

Only 46 percent of our elected officials knew that Congress, and not the president, has the power to declare war compared to 54 percent of the general public getting this one correct.

Just 15 percent knew that the phrase "wall of separation" appears in Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists and is NOT in the U.S. Constitution.  19 percent of citizens knew this.

And finally only 57 percent of our elected officials knew what the purpose of the Electoral College is.  66 percent of the public knew this one.  Indeed, amongst elected officials 20 percent thought the Electoral College was a school for "training those aspiring for higher political office."

Yes, we absolutely need to pass a law that mandates those seeking at least state and federal offices to have a passing score on basic Constitutional knowledge.  I certainly don't expect this to go anywhere, as this would be akin to teacher's unions actually requiring their members to pass competency tests for the subjects they teach.  I don't think our congress is going to set up another obstacle to their attaining office.  ...Even if that oath of office taken requires their supporting and defending a Constitution of which most of them are more ignorant than their own constituents.


Dave Dubya said...

Somebody better lecture John Adams on the Constitution. Apparently he was one of those socilaists for government mandated health care.

T. Paine said...

Wow! You must have been giggling to yourself when you saw that article. :)

First, the fact that Ezra Klein, the man who stated recently something very close to the effect of "Who cares about the Constitution? It is out of date and written over a hundred years ago," is a very poor advocate for anything constitutional.

Next, and more importantly, that act did NOT mandate that ALL US Citizens had to purchase a PRIVATE service/product. If anything, it gives you a better argument for Medicare, but not Obamacare.

Lastly, it was for a specifically targeted group that suffered much casualties and illness. It was not, unlike Obamacare, something that was mandated on all US citizens. If you did not wish to pay the tax for your health care, you could choose to no longer be a seaman.

I cannot very easily choose to no longer be a living American and thereby remove myself from the legal, albeit immoral, dictates of the law that states that I must purchase private insurance.

These are not the same thing at all, Dubya, but I give you credit for the effort, sir.

Dave Dubya said...

Nobody said this was the same thing as what we have now. And I have never praised the new law as a whole. Even you admit there are good parts in it, such as no denial of benefits to children and due to "pre-existing condition". If there's something better, the GOP has not presented it. They do not care. We saw their indifference when they ruled.

Yes, as I have advocated all along, dump Romney-Obama-care and establish Medicare for all. This shoots down the argument that government has no business mandating health care. The Founders were very open to the idea of government managed health care after all. Real socialism has been validated from the beginning. I bet if this was Obama's idea, it would have been called evil socialism. Admit it.

And also admit we are dictated by law to purchase private insurance if we drive a car. We cannot easily choose to live without transportaion. In fact it would be just as easy to choose to not be an American than go to without essential transportation.

John Myste said...

John Lewis must feel like such a moron. He probably went to former president Bush for clarification about the Constitution, to which Bush probably replied, "I don't know what that document is, go ask Sarah Palin." Of course, she didn’t know either.

As I think you realize, Mr. Paine, the intelligence quotient is heavily weighted on the democratic side lately. The fact that the least intelligent republicans are the ones winning more of the republican victories is not a good testament for the state of recent republican philosophy in general. It implies something I am much too gentlemanly to suggest myself about conservative thought in American, yourself excepted, of course.

I think surely you will agree that Mc. Cain one the primary only after getting reworked (I hope this does not lead to a long debate. If you are sincere, you will not dispute it).
I cannot figure out why the backwardest hillbillies among you are becoming the most successful. Don't they win primaries by majority vote?

John Myste said...

Won, damn it, won!

Dave Dubya said...

I share your outrage and disgust at pontificating fools who get the basics wrong.

We believe that the preamble to the Constitution contains an inarguable truth that we are all endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life. [Applause] Liberty, Freedom. [Applause] And the pursuit of happiness. [Applause]

- Rush Limbaugh, CPAC 2009

S.W. Anderson said...

I think it more likely that Lewis simply misspoke, but that's just a hunch. I do know that interviewer practices an ambush interview approach intended to catch interviewees off guard, rattle them and result in a gotcha moment. He tried it with Rep. Barney Frank and got his head handed to him, so to speak.

The preamble to the Consitution includes, "promote the general Welfare."

Then there's The Constitution, Article I, Sec. 8 (emphasis mine): "The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States."

Together, those would've made for an accurate answer.

I find it interesting that someone whose political philosophy supposedly keys on individual responsibility finds it so easy to bash teachers and the education system for the failure of so many to learn, or in many cases to remember what they at some point learned, about the government and Constitution.

What about parents? What about the individual? What about the jerks who sat in the back of the class carving their initials into the desktop, looking out the window or passing notes to Peggy Sue when they were supposed to be paying attention to the teacher?


S.W. Anderson said...

I include George W. Bush in that description, BTW. I think a good many of the woefully uninformed or badly informed quiz subjects who had served in government probably got into office much the way Bush did — through big-money, attack-ad-ridden campaigns. By being perceived as someone more fun to have a beer with. By having a prominent-family name. By being of the right party in their locale.

Face it, there are places in Texas and elsewhere across the South where you can run the village idiot against a successful businessman or professional who's a Rhodes scholar, deacon of his church and pillar of his community, and if village idiot is the Republican, village idiot is going to win.


S.W. Anderson said...

Following on those, I found something you might find enlightening, Paine. It's from an excellent document titled Platform for the Common Good. I urge you to read the whole thing; it's not that long. But here's the relevant part to this discussion:

To promote the general welfare . . .

On Health and Nutrition
• Study successful healthcare systems in states and
other countries and incorporate best practices
• Move away from for-profit healthcare
• Institute affordable, universal quality healthcare,
which includes prenatal and infant care, dental
care, mental health care, substance abuse
treatment, vision care, and prescription drug
• Ensure that all pregnant women have access to full
• Fully fund anti-hunger programs like food stamps
and infant nutrition programs
• Shift to preventive care and medical home model
that provides access to primary care doctors
• Provide adequate funding for medical and health
• Improve healthcare access for underserved
communities such as low-income rural areas
• Better regulate pharmaceutical companies and
work for affordable prescription prices.

I don't know the party affiliation of those who put this document together. What I do know is that it is a Catholic group.

T. Paine said...

Dubya, the GOP has put together a very comprehensive health care plan and had it posted on the Republican website. It was touted by the Republicans all during the health care debate and afterwards.

The fact that the myth you repeat of the GOP not having a plan is a testament to the media in making dang sure it didn't get much if any air time. (and of course, many Republicans did a poor job of marketing their plan.)

Next, one can live without a personal car. It is done all the time by those that live in cities. Mass transit and taxis are viable alternatives. One DOES have a choice. Not so with Obamacare.

Myste, I can find many many instances of a lack of intelligence from either party lately. Neither have a monopoly on stupidity. If I cared to take the time, I bet I could find two dumb statements from a Democrat for every one from a Republican.
Frankly, I think we need to clean house universally with both parties though.

Dubya, as for Rush, I know he knows the difference and he simply mis-spoke. I concede to Anderson's point that this is possibly what happened with Lewis as well.

Anderson, I further agree that the responsibility for a child's education ultimately resides with the child and his parents. Part of that responsibility is for the parents to be intimately involved and ensuring that their child's teachers are qualified and competent. Surely you must admit that this is not even close to being the case far too often these days.

Further, good teachers need our support and the authority to teach and maintain discipline so that little Johnny does not disrupt the whole class. When little Johnny is marched down to the principal's office for carving his name into his desk, he cannot get away with correctly stating that his parents are going to sue.

I would also caution you, Mr. Anderson, that your hypothetical situation also holds true for areas in the northeast. You could have a lying criminal Democrat running against a prominent GOP businessman with impeccable credentials and the Democrat will win every time.

Lastly, I could care less if that study is provided by a "Catholic" group or not. A "for profit" health care system is what has gotten the United States to the point where it is a world class system.

Having a universal health care system invariably creates poorer quality medical care for all.

It is undeniable that there are many problems in our current system that must be rectified. It is best to address those issues to fix cost, access, and quality by MORE free market principles, not by moving towards more socialized medicine practices.

I understand that this is a huge difference in philosopy, but by and large our system works far better than that of most European nations, Canada, etc that use a socialized medicine model for their health care.

S.W. Anderson said...

"Having a universal health care system invariably creates poorer quality medical care for all."

A perfect example of opinion stated as fact, with nothing to back it up.

Trust me, Paine, if our system was so superior, so much more satisfactory to so many people, all the other major industrial nations of the world, East and West, would be under public pressure to adopt our system. The fact that's not happening is telling.

Whether in statistics about outcomes or public satisfaction, the facts don't support what you say at all.

What's more, my friend, nowhere in Western Europe, probably Central Europe too, will more than 14,500 people die this year for lack of needed medical care. Nowhere are 35 million people without medical care because they can't afford health insurance.

This isn't just a philosophical difference, it's an unwillingness on your part to face facts. The free market has had decades to deliver the way universal health care systems do. It hasn't because it can't. It can't because the free market imperative is not seeing to it people get the care they need. The free market is about establishing price levels and rationing resources, all to maximize profits for businesses.

The health care system Americans want and need is one whose top priority is providing needed care, period. As polls have consistently shown, people believe health care should be a right, not a privilege.

John Myste said...

LOL. Paine. Bush just wrote an autobiography. You don't stand a chance!