Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Accountability and Responsibility

One morning in 1984, as a young E-5, in the United States Air Force, I found myself face to face with my commanding officer. I had been called in to his office to account for my misconduct. I was young and stupid and had made some mistakes, and now it was time to pay the piper, so to speak.

I remember what he said to me, as if it happened only yesterday. He asked me, "Why should the United States Air Force continue to employ Staff Sergeant Neal Ross?" I could have made excuses and tried to weasel my way out of my predicament, but instead I told him, "Sir, I made some mistakes and I have no one but myself to blame. I think standing here in front of you has put the fear of God in me, and if you will give me another chance I promise to be a better airman."

He told me to come back the next morning and he would let me know what he decided. So, the next morning I showed up, mentally prepared for the worst, but praying for another chance. My commander gave me another chance, however it cost me. I lost one pay grade and would not be eligible for promotion until I had proven that I had indeed learned my lesson.

Some may have been mad at the severity of the punishment but I was not. I was glad that I had been given another chance. I had made some mistakes and I took sole responsibility for them.

This wasn't the first time that I was held accountable for my actions, and I am sure, knowing my wife as I do, that it won't be the last. However, that is how I was raised, to accept responsibility for my actions, not to try and place the blame upon others.

There are two important points to this story, the first is that I was held accountable for my actions, and the second is that I took responsibility for them.
Each and every individual in this country, no matter their status and position, is responsible for something, and that is even more so for those whom we elect to serve us in our government. Each elected representative takes an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America.

What exactly is an oath? An oath, according to Merriam Webster's Dictionary, is (1): a solemn usually formal calling upon God or a god to witness to the truth of what one says or to witness that one sincerely intends to do what one says (2): a solemn attestation of the truth or inviolability of one's words b: something (as a promise) corroborated by an oath.

Therefore, when our elected representatives swear an oath to uphold the Constitution, they are making a sacred vow, both to us, and to God, that they will in fact uphold the Constitution.

However, we as citizens also have a very important role, and that is to keep a watchful eye upon those elected representatives to ensure that they are in fact upholding that oath.

Thomas Jefferson once said, "We, I hope, shall adhere to our republican government and keep it to its original principles by narrowly watching it." That is our responsibility, to watch over our elected representatives and to make sure they are upholding their oaths to uphold the Constitution.

However, how can we do our job when the majority of the people are ignorant when it comes to what the Constitution actually says? James Madison stated that, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

Patrick Henry, who gave that inspiring speech in which he said, “...give me liberty or give me death” had this to say about our Constitution, “The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government--lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.”

Andrew Johnson, who became President after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, once said, “Outside of the Constitution we have no legal authority more than private citizens, and within it we have only so much as that instrument gives us. This broad principle limits all our functions and applies to all subjects.”

Therefore, if we are to uphold our responsibility to restrain our government within the confines of the power granted them by the Constitutional, we must become intimately familiar with what it says.

Sir Josiah Stamp, a British industrialist, economist, and banker once said, "It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities."

As a people, we have been negligent, we have dodged our responsibilities, and we are now paying the price for it with a government that no longer governs according to the dictates of the Constitution.

Judge Andrew Napolitano, in his book, The Constitution in Exile, says, “The Constitution, as Justice Felix Frankfurter reminded his colleagues from time to time, was not written in order to right every wrong. It was not written to allow every federal do-gooder and busybody to impose his notion of clean living, safe working, or pure thinking on individuals. It was written to keep governmental power diffused, to restrain the government from interfering with the Natural Law, toward one solitary goal: The freedom of the individual to pursue happiness.”

Our government has grown far beyond what the founders envisioned when they drafted the Constitution. Our government legislates upon matters they have no authority to do so, and it tramples upon the Bill of Rights.

The Preamble to the Bill of Rights plainly states, “The conventions of a number of the States having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best insure the beneficent ends of its institution.”

The Bill of Rights were restrictive clauses which superseded the Constitution. No legislation enacted by our government could infringe upon the rights defined within the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

Pearl Buck, the Nobel Prize winning author, once said something we all need to be mindful of, “We need to restore the full meaning of that old word, duty. It is the other side of rights.” We as Americans, not only have the responsibility, but we have the duty to educate ourselves so that we can keep that watchful eye upon our government.

If we chose not to do so then, as John Baptiste MoliĆ©re, the 17th century French playwright, once said, “It is not only for what we do that we are held responsible, but also for what we do not do.”


tchoden said...

So basically the promise is made to god and the people, but what if the elected person doesn't have faith in god or the people for that matter.

neal said...

Interesting question. If they don't have faith in God, then that is their choice, as long as they uphold their oath of office.

If they don't have faith in people I would have to ask why are they in public office when the job is to represent the people.

Also, why did we elect them, or re-elect them when they have proven that they care nothing for the wishes of their constituents or the Constitution?

tchoden said...

You know its amusing to see masses make the same mistake. The whole point of having democracy is so that the people will have governments that will serve us best. But in most cases people does not necessary make the best choice. Either we are very stupid or ignorant. Personally I despise people moving in cult or groupism.
Just few months back, we had our election. The ruling part won by 42 seats in the National Assembly against the 45 seats. So basically the people voted for the party instead of voting for a competent leader in their constituency.
Anyways Obama winning against Clinton, what do you think of that?