Sunday, February 28, 2016

Of Presidents and Porters

Of Presidents and Porters
The Constitutional Man
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

            In an open letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the 11 Republicans senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee said Tuesday they plan to “to exercise (their) constitutional authority to withhold consent on the nominee to the Supreme Court submitted by this president.”
            How about that?
            Should we actually believe there will be a continued display with economy of words and no gnashing of teeth, no suggestion of compromise, and no bickering among deacons of the upper chamber? Along with his role in the destruction of the Democratic Party, perhaps we are also witnessing a hint of unraveling of the unopposed annihilation of the Constitution by this fellow in the White House. Maybe … just maybe the senatorial underachievers representing the rights of the sovereign states of the United States of America are posturing to uphold their oaths of office.
            Wouldn’t that be something?
            The Law of our Land
            Interestingly, there is evidence of massive confusion among the Senate elect prior to their first gathering and the inauguration of George Washington. The matter was how to address our first president when he was met and greeted by John Adams at the door to the Senate Chamber.
            “How should he be addressed!” was Adams’ frantic question to those gathered.
            Should it be ‘Mr. Washington’, Mr. President’, ‘Sir’, ‘May it please your Excellency’, or what? Adams admitted his own preference was ‘Mr. President’ but someone in the room noted that would only put the General on the level with the Governor of Bermuda. Someone else noted that Adams, as Vice President, was also ‘President of the Senate’ and there couldn’t be two men in the Chamber being addressed as President.
            A suggestion was made to appoint a committee, but that created not a “single problem but a battalion” of problems. The silver tongues started rising giving their learned opinion of the matter. Lee of Virginia arose to explain the ways of the Lords and the Commons. Izard of South Carolina, educated abroad and wishing to make that a point of record talked at length of his visits to the Houses of Parliament but failed to offer any definitive answer to the dilemma. Old Carroll of Carrollton grumblingly suggested it didn’t matter a tinkers damn what the English did.
            After all, wasn’t it the profound dislike of King George that the war was fought?
            On and on the debate raged. Ellsworth began to find virtue in kings. Izard was growing to also respect the antiquity of kingly government. “Excellency!” he demanded.
            “Highness,” responded Lee.
            At length the combined genius of the committee settled on ‘His Highness the President of the United States and Protector of the Rights of the Same.”
After a long and uncomfortable pause, Robert Morris mumbled that Congress was also ‘Protector of the Right of the People’. Adams sat disgusted with his chin in his hands reminding himself that even cricket clubs had presidents. The more rabid Republicans began to laugh. Speaker Muhlenberg dubbed Maclay, ‘Your Highness of the Senate’. Maclay himself grew facetious in debate and thought his title good enough and if was “gloriously greased with a great horn of oil” it would make him conspicuous enough.
            Finally, the great debate spilled out into the hallway and reached the House and James Madison quietly arose to speak. In his clear voice, he reminded the body that the Constitution had given the head of the State a title … ‘President of the United States’. After checking for authenticity, that is exactly what it set forth. George Washington, President of the United States, was introduced and it has been that title without argument since.
            What else in the Constitution is so clearly revealed if only leaders would read the document? Who among us has studied it with enough robust intensity to protect ourselves much less been taught what the Supreme Law of our Land actually sets forth?
            The greater issue is not the questions that can be asked that have never been given good answers. The greater issue is the antics and actions of leadership and citizenry alike if left to their own corrupted biases to interpret or implement a matter that is set forth in the document. If Madison hadn’t been there, we might well have been regurgitating a sixteen word title for a leader that was intended to be completely different from the royalty that had ruled the world.
            The Constitution, just like the modern interpretation of Wilderness, the Commerce Clause, or the unlawful expansion of government, has become whatever the agent of debate wants it to be.
            The pending decision
             With Justice Scalia’s death, another political calamity is upon us.
             That fellow in the White House has been at work reading from his teleprompter making it clear he intends to exercise his authority to pick the ideologue he deems appropriate for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of the conservative protector of rights. It is his Constitutional authority to do so and he should proceed. In this case, however, he doesn’t have the power of his pen to create law and single handedly coerce the outcome. There is no executive privilege to bypass this process. He has to rely on his relationship with the leadership, but there is none. He has bludgeoned them like he bludgeoned us.
            In our relationship with him, it is significant that, while he has the distinction of being the first black man to be elected to the highest office, he brought no deep respect for his good fortune. He filled the office firmly convinced of his genius as a wordsmith and the power of his being. On the former, it is worthy to note he is on the verge of delivering more speeches since Christmas than George Washington delivered in his entire tenure as president.
            On the basis of the latter, we have nothing on which to base a judgment. We see him, but we have never been party to any true relationship with him. We have no idea who writes his scripts. In the nightly news, we see him in his speech patterns attracting the attention of the mob of liberal advocates. In the evolution of his political drama, we constantly hear his words. In the tumult of chaos he became an even greater dispenser of unrelated words. His vision for any opportunity of any lasting renown or legacy remains before him. His incessant narration is simply a substitute for glory, but he has forever missed it. He had the stage, but he forgot the one thing that would have raised his character toward mediocrity.
He left us out of his equation.
Back to bovine flatulence
The Porter brothers and I stood talking about feeding some calves, but, more importantly, talking about our friendship that is now entering its 43rd year. We were young men when it all started, but, now, we have gray hair and reach for our reading glasses. Living has impacted us and scars and experience have accumulated in equal measure. Billy looks like his dad and Asa talks of the lessons that patriarch left.
In one conversation, Mr. Porter suggested to Asa that remaining silent sometimes has great benefits not the least of which is the possibility that the gathered body might actually think dignified silence indicated intelligence.
“Think about that,” he intimated to him “Just think about it!”
Some time later, young Asa was sent off to a feeder meeting and he was selected to participate with a group of industry leaders to question the science and methodology of a pharmaceutical manufacturer. The questioning was intense, and, soon, the industry rep was essentially run out of the room. Asa never said a thing and remained intimidated by the whole affair.
Later, he felt compelled to say something to the leader of the group. He caught him alone and attempted to make amends.
“I may not say much, but …but I am actually smart,” he blurted.
“Oh, yea?” the under whelmed cowman blurted squinting at him. “Who told you that?”
Horrified, Asa stumbled away at his blunder. He was crushed both at his awkwardness and the response. Don’t you wish we could engineer the same affect on the majority of Washington leadership?
While we are at it, a remedial constitutional short course should be a prerequisite for every office holder. A little humility of the immense honor and responsibility it is to actually defend the Constitution should be on the mind of every elected official. They are defenders and stewards. They are not independent and sovereign re-interpreters of the document.
We are woefully off course, and … it is time for Men of rare standards to step forward.

Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “One more word about the Porter brothers … nobody would have survived all these years within the business model they made work. I am as proud of their accomplishments as I am of their friendship.”

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