Monday, February 18, 2013

We the People Are Not a Machine

It didn't go well at Costco today. I was scouting out the free samples while my wife was getting some photos printed. There was a guy selling his book on the Constitution. As I listened in for a minute, he was telling a woman that it was just the basic documents and not any interpretation. I picked it up and thumbed through it. [Rough transcription from memory follows]:

 "You mean it's just the Constitution itself and not your interpretation?"

"No. Just statements from the founders about what the Constitution means."

I put the book back on the table. "Then it has interpretation!"

"Yes, but interpretation from the founders!"

"But they didn't all agree! Even when some of them became President later they came up with new interpretations."

"Yes. But those weren't in the Constitution."

"But I see the Constitution as everything we've experience in the past two hundred years or so. The Civil War, Two World Wars. The things we've done right and the things we've done wrong and learned from. The Founders didn't all agree with each other [or even with themselves individually at times]. That's why they had to learn to COMPROMISE to have a Constitution at all! [The word "COMPROMISE" was in caps at the Costco book table discussion. But no Costco police came.]

"Can I ask you a question?" he parried.

Cautiously I said he could. Then he asked me what the Commerce Clause meant. My response was that it meant a lot of different things even to the founders but it was one of the principle reasons they came together in the first place. He said something about no concept of regulation only to "conform"* commerce or something.

I said, "Now we're just arguing words. Look, you and I have different philosophies and ideals but that's OK. We can talk just like we are now and work things out. That's the Constitution to me."

He started in on an architect with building plans but switched to building a machine and how you had to follow the instructions exactly as they were laid out by the designer or it wouldn't work.

"But We the People are not a machine!" And with that and a huff of exasperation from him, I left. Easier for me as I wasn't sitting at a table signing books about my interpretation of what the founders thought of the Constitution. (Maybe some day, The Collected Works of PMM . . . hmmm. . . .)

Then we went home and I helped the Scouts take down the flags before it got dark.

*[Maybe he said "uniform" instead of "conform" with possible reference to an 1851 case in the US Sup. Ct., Cooley v. Board of Wardens, 53 U.S. 2 How. 299 (1851) ruling that the Commerce Clause did not prohibit the State of PA from regulating pilots in its ports on ships arriving from other states or nations because no "uniform" law was required for local circumstances. I don't think that case would be decided the same way today in conflict with the broader reading of the Commerce Clause granting Congress the authority to regulate interstate commerce--or states not to interfere with it.]

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