Monday, July 16, 2012

We the People?

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

No doubt, you all recognize the preamble to the U.S. Constitution.  It sets out what the Framers intended to accomplish by establishing this constitution for the fledgling United States.  The first three words, however, can be a little troubling, at least in trying to figure out what they really mean.

To borrow from the National Constitution Center's program, "Freedom Rising", I ask, "Who are we, and what makes us 'a people'?"  Are we "a people" because we're all the same?  Or at least from the same background or heritage or religion?  Well, we all know the answer to that.  We know that "We the People" initially, at least, didn't include all the people, but it was a start and it was something nobody on Earth had really tried before.  No hereditary nobility; no class distinctions based on history, but only on merit; no royalty or ruling class, but only representatives of the people to govern in a limited, constrained way, based on the will of the people and the rule of law, not by the whims of a monarch.  

Years ago, during my military career, there was (and indeed there still is) a big push for diversity in recruiting.  The catchphrase that was used in the campaign was "Our Diversity is Our Strength", or something to that effect (it's been a while).  At the time, I argued against using wording like that.  I maintained that it sounded too much like a quota system and that it was illogical to conclude that simply because we are "diverse", therefore, we are strong.  There is nothing magical about diversity, in and of itself, that makes us better or worse.  The difference is in how we use and cope with that diversity.  My thought is that we should recruit the best available people, period.  And since not all great ideas come from, and not all great workers are, middle-aged males of European descent (like me), diversity would be a happy byproduct of recruiting the best and brightest.

So, how do we, as Americans, diverse lot that we are, become "a people"?  Like members of the military, we come together for a common purpose and hold similar values.  We follow the rule of law, as spelled out in the Constitution.  We, simply put, all become Americans.  We put aside our differences, but try to learn from them.  We take the best ideas from all over and make them American.  America "recruits" people from all over the world, but it's a passive recruitment.  We offer a way of life, an ideal, a system of self-governance that is all too rare in the world, and our "recruits" are self-selecting.  We don't send missionaries or ambassadors around the globe, trying to collect converts.  They choose to come here.  The diversity of our country is not by design or by program, but by acts of free will.

Yes, we are diverse, and yes, we are strong.  But we are not strong, and we are not "a people", simply because of our diversity.  We are a strong people because we have learned to, in effect, overcome our diversity and work together toward a common goal and a common good.  Our common bond is our country and our Constitution, not our color or our creed.  That's our strength.  No quotas required.

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