THE BLOG
09/19/2012 01:00 pm ET | Updated Nov 19, 2012

A 225th Birthday Wish

I recently met my class of undergraduates for the first time and we, together, are going to explore the United States Constitution in a course entitled, "Jurisprudence and the Judicial Process." I have taught this course periodically since 1991 and, it seems, our Congress, together with the Executive Branch, is determined to provide those who teach in this area with rich new content to enlighten and enliven the verities of traditional constitutional law.

In a sea of partisan nonsense, the Federal judiciary provides our nation with a means to hold to truth -- tested over the 225 years since September 17, 1787 -- all the while responding to the most difficult challenges of the day. Our Constitution, together with its 27 amendments, is an elegant -- although not perfect -- document standing tall in the midst of tumult and frequent challenge.

As I will tell my students, the Constitution is not self-executing; we rely upon capable advocates and an independent judiciary to chart an honest and dependable path forward, through even the most difficult and nettlesome issues. I still marvel at the genius in the words and themes chosen and then presented for approval by the state delegates in 1787. They acted out of principle, fueled by passion and conviction.

As much as I bemoan the state of the federal budget and the level and pitch of discourse among members of Congress, it is not the Constitution that is at fault. In a moment of frustration recently, I mused with a colleague about the value of a modern-day constitutional convention to resolve our budget quagmire and legislative gridlock. In fact, the problem is not with the Constitution, it is with those who hold office under it. Perhaps it is time to rethink the multi-term ruling class we seem to have created whose members return term after term not necessarily due to talent or passion, but more as a consequence of the power of incumbency.

I have a personal, almost inviolable rule for voting: I will not vote for anyone who has never had to meet a payroll, deal with worker compensation laws, respond to frivolous lawsuits emerging from our growing "nation of victims" or actually take risks with their own money in order to prosper. I just won't do it.

Further, I don't think Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton or Washington expected elected officials to make a twenty-, thirty- or forty-year career of ruling our nation and the several states. I yearn for the day when humble, yet passionate people choose to leave their fields or mercantile stores; their surveying or law practices; their patients, students or parishioners, in order to seek the opportunity to serve this republic for a season and then return home to live under the laws they have created.

With every "continuing resolution" put forward to forestall actually creating a sustainable federal budget, with every decision to increase borrowing to fund the costs of this nation and with the embarrassing blockade preventing compromise, especially in this election year, we have no one to blame but those we have sent to Washington to represent us. As Pogo, once observed, "We have met the enemy and he is us." Those who framed our Constitution would smile at the sagacity of the words they chose and their currency today. I fear they would not feel as kindly toward our collective stewardship of their good work.

Toward the end of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, it is reported that Benjamin Franklin was asked, "Well, Doctor, what have we got -- a Republic or a Monarchy?" He replied, "A Republic, if you can keep it." That task -- that deep abiding responsibility reposed in each of us -- will never end. I hope to teach my students that, too.

Andrew K. Benton is president, Pepperdine University and former chair, American Council on Education

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