There is no contradiction between Shakespeare and popular culture. What could be more popular than William Shakespeare? How many playwrights being produced today will still have their plays running 400 years from now? You can’t get much more popular than that. Other things just seem to pop up and people mistakenly believe they’ve been around forever. Just look at the hot issues in today’s political battleground.
While the current political questions may be: are Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Father Michael Pfleger, or for that matter, Pastor John Hagge – are they troublesome priests, and can Barack Obama or John McCain be compared to Henry II? – a more relevant and certainly more American question is: whatever happened to the strict constructionists?
The US Constitution has been around since 1787. Have you read it lately? Have you read it – ever? Its not a long or ponderous document. It consists of only 7 Articles with 84 separate clauses. Most of its sentences are not too wordy and say, fairly concisely, what they mean. It helps in understanding if one has a decent comprehension of the language. But a complicated, highly educated sense of the English language is not required. If, for example, you understand the difference between may and shall, you’re off to a good start. With the Constitution, as with many things in life, the failure to distinguish between what is obligatory and what is purely optional is often disastrous. And sometimes fatal.
Richard Nixon was the first American in public life to use the phrase strict constructionist. How did that happen? How did we survive 180 years of constitutional existence without knowing the difference between a strict constructionist and the obvious opposite – a constitutional activist? Somehow we managed. Since Nixon, the Right has become enthralled, some might say obsessed, with strict constructionism and its shorter, more catchy contemporaneous nickname, originalism.
What I want to know is – here, in the midst of the 2008 Presidential campaign – whatever happened to the strict constructionists? – or – How did the candidate’s religion get to be an issue of any concern, to anyone? Hasn’t anybody read the Constitution?
Article VI is what I’m referring to, Clause 3 to be more specific. It needs some strict construction, and it needs it in a damn hurry. Here it is, short and simple.
"The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
Let’s get strict with this. Its time for some construction, damnit! First, the Oath of Office that every President shall be bound to affirm, does not contain the words: So help me God. Let me repeat that – DOES NOT CONTAIN – that phrase. Each and every President who has said that line, ADDED IT HIMSELF and thus – with that phrase - took his first unconstitutional action.
Second, if “no religious Test shall ever be required,” why are we wasting our time with all these Reverends, Priests, Bishops and whatever they call themselves? Why do we even pay attention to the Archbishop or Cardinal who refuses John Kerry communion – or the evangelical mega church minister who claims this country was founded to “destroy Islam” and then goes ahead and announces his support for John McCain for President – or the Catholic priest who ridicules and humiliates Hillary Clinton because she so openly and badly wants to be President while supporting Barack Obama who also wants to be President, as openly and as badly as Mrs. Clinton?
Polls say that almost a-third of the nation is unaware that Obama is a Christian. Believe it or not, 11% say he’s a Muslim. Where do they get that from? More importantly, who cares? Certainly not the strict constructionists. I’ve been told that Ronald Reagan never ended a Presidential speech by saying, “God bless America.” That popular ending to Presidential addresses is not Shakespearian; its recent. Well, who cares? Certainly not the strict constructionists.
A real strict constructionist cares about fidelity to the Constitution. The next time you hear someone talking about Obama and his “Rev. Wright problems” or commenting pro or con about the religious zealots who support McCain, ask yourself, as a law abiding American citizen, a historical supporter of the US Constitution – a strict constructionist in the proper sense of the term – ask yourself, who cares?