I had a cordial conversation with some union guys, really big guys carrying "Health Care Can't Wait" signs at an outdoor town hall meeting Saturday morning in Sharon, Pa. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, they could have convinced a Pittsburgh Steelers scout to give them a tryout as linemen to protect Ben Roethlisberger. The only time I saw them get a little riled up was when a foolish chap taunted them about their union membership. But that exchange didn't come close to the most offensive words I heard that day. No, that utterance came from Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, D-Pa.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Dahlkemper invited stragglers to walk along with her to ask further questions. I was the last person to speak to her before she got into her car---again, a cordial conversation. Because she didn't answer a gentleman earlier who asked how her position on healthcare reform reconciles with the U.S. Constitution, I followed up. First, I asked her if she would be in favor of an amendment to the Constitution that would give Congress grounds to legitimately work on healthcare. She sincerely thought that was an interesting idea. I then pointed out that she didn't answer the earlier questioner and asked where in Article 1, Section 8---which reads like a job description for congressmen and -women---she felt the Constitution authorizes her and her colleagues to implement the type of legislation she supports. Politely smiling, she replied, "We do lots of things that aren't in the Constitution."
I was stunned and remain stunned.
I thought she might have at least made an attempt to justify her position by saying that, although healthcare isn't mentioned as matter of congressional oversight in Article 1, Section 8, she felt empowered by the "commerce clause" or the "general welfare clause." These are typical positions of the left and activist judges. Not for Dahlkemper. She seems comfortable flaunting the document she swore to uphold.
What about that oath of office?
Following her election victory last fall, Dahlkemper was required by Article 6 of the Constitution to take an oath. That oath is:
I, (name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
Ask any random sampling of 14-year-olds if they think it's important to uphold this sworn oath. How many do you think would respond affirmatively? Seventy-five percent? More?
What about the Founders? Did they care? In The Federalist No. 27, Alexander Hamilton argued that oath-taking helps to define the relationship between the members of state governments and the federal government.
Chief Justice John Marshall also felt strongly about oaths. He said the following about judges in the 1803 case Marbury v. Madison: "Why does a judge swear to discharge his duties agreeably to the Constitution of the United States, if that Constitution forms no rule for his government? . . . If such be the real state of things, this is worse than solemn mockery. To prescribe, or take this oath, becomes equally a crime."
What does the Bible say about an oath like the one taken by Dahlkemper? Check out Exodus 20:7. Protestants might also be interested in Chapter 22 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, questions 112-114 of the Larger Catechism, and Question 53 of the Shorter Catechism. Roman Catholics like Dahlkemper may want to consider the Catholic Catechism:
"A person commits perjury when he (or she) makes a promise under oath with no intention of keeping it, or when after promising on oath he (or she) does not keep it."
This business of oath-taking is serious stuff, but apparently not for Dahlkemper. She's comfortable in flaunting the Constitution and usurping the power that the people of her district gave her. I'm reminded of the words Abraham Lincoln offered at Gettysburg: "We here highly resolve . . . that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." The people grant Congress a limited amount of power as defined by the Constitution, and the Constitution is to be honored by an oath of office. Article 6 notes that members of Congress are "bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution."
Yes, we need healthcare reform. We also need congressional reform.