Monday was a federal holiday. I bet you didn’t know about it. It’s not one of the major holidays where people head out of town for a three-day weekend or fire up the barbecue and indulge.
Yesterday was a little holiday for a very important piece of American history. It was Constitution Day. Frankly, I think Arbor Day gets more press. But then Arbor Day has more “Likes” on Facebook at 16,966 than the official U.S. government’s Constitution page, which has only 4,795.
The law establishing the holiday was created in 2004 with an amendment by U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd to the omnibus spending bill. Before then, the holiday was known as Citizenship Day. In addition to renaming the holiday Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, the act mandates that all publicly-funded educational institutions provide educational programming on the history of the American Constitution on that day.
I think it is rather sad that so little attention is paid to the Constitution and so few people are familiar with what it really says. This founding document is the basis for our entire government. From the hallowed halls of power at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. to the back-room deals at 1685 Main St., our government stems from what a gathering of 55 white men drafted 225 years ago. That’s a long time for a document to stand up and be honored. I’m a divorce lawyer and I see marriage vows that don’t last the weekend, let alone years.
The language still rings with lyric grace; “we the people” and “a more perfect union” are phrases that say so much in so few words. Which is very much the reason why the Constitution has withstood the test of time so well. The lack of wiggle room and the great difficulty in trying to twist the meaning of the words is why it is so very effective. Contrast that with the tax code, which has all manner of loopholes and escape hatches for those rich enough to hire wily accountants and tax attorneys.
But the U.S. Constitution is a road map of simplicity that outlines both a federal and state structure while expressing individual freedoms and responsibilities. As a city we like to push the boundaries of what constitutes individual freedom. From rent control laws that protect tenants and infringe on landlords, to smoking laws that protect waiters and waitresses at the expense of our smoking European tourists. We strive for balance and fairness.
Balance and fairness are two words often used, but the concepts they stand for are usually ignored in politics. This political season is no different. It’s a mixed bag, like they all are, of fact and fiction, smoke and mirrors. From Republican contender Willard Romney’s “I was for it, before I was against it” posturing, which sounds remarkably like Democrat John Kerry’s position in 2004, to President Obama’s gaffe that “you didn’t build that.”
In the heat of this political season, and with the many claims by each side of truth as to what the Constitution stands for, I’d like to see the candidates actually tested on it. I have to take a test to drive a car, why not a test for what is arguably the most powerful job in the world, running the equivalent of the largest corporation with the most diverse interests? I don’t think that being able to give the same stump speech for 12 months is truly a test, and I don’t believe that being able to sound good in 20-second sound bites and confuse the issues with smoke and mirrors is really a qualification.
That’s why a man like President Obama, who is a constitutional scholar and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago, is a better choice for president. When I had to take constitutional law it was an eye-opening experience into how our government works, and the real meaning of those phrases that are bandied about by the talking heads and surrogates who make speeches for the candidates.
It is only by education — real, in-depth education — about our government and our history that we can create “a more perfect union.” So while you may have missed Constitution Day, hopefully this will be a reminder of the foundation of our country and perhaps spark you to go re-read the Constitution, because you have read it before, haven’t you?
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles divorce and child custody lawyer specializing in father’s and men’s rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra.