The Constitution needs protection

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Americans should be skeptical of attempts to tamper with the Founders' work.

TODAY IS FLAG DAY. Just around the corner is the Fourth of July - Independence Day.

So it's a good time to think a little bit about patriotism, the American heritage and the duty of each generation to preserve and protect the foundations of this big, beautiful country.

Start here: Given their head and the opportunity to up-end basic constitutional rights and guarantees, is it possible Americans could opt to re-create a very different nation?

ON JULY 4, 1951, the late John Patrick Hunter was a very young journalist for a Madison newspaper. He was told by his editor to come up with an Independence Day story for the paper. Hunter puzzled out a unique exercise.

He went out for the day and talked with Madison residents. He had typed up and showed them the Declaration of Independence and six of the 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights. He spoke with 112 people and asked them if they would be willing to sign in support of the documents. Shockingly, 111 said no. Hunter's story became the 1951 equivalent of viral.

As quoted years later in the Capital Times, Hunter had quite a story about that lone signer.

"Ironically the guy who signed it, his ancestors came over on the Mayflower," Hunter is quoted, identifying the gentleman as Wentworth A. Millar, a Madison insurance man. Hunter said Millar told him, "Sure I'll sign the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights."

In 1951, it was the height of Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy's communist-baiting in Washington, and the country was roiled by stories of plots and conspiracies.

Hunter said 20 people actually accused him of being a communist. The Declaration was called a "radical petition."

MORE MODERN EXAMPLES have been on regular display with the Fox News program called "Watters World." Jesse Watters often hits the streets of America and asks relatively easy questions about American government and policies pertaining to liberty. The responses he gets often are jaw-droppingly ignorant.

Or this one: In 1991, coinciding with the 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights, the American Bar Association commissioned a poll of 507 people. Only 33 percent could identify the Bill of Rights. Less than 10 percent were able to correctly say the Bill of Rights was written to protect the people from government abuses.

We cite these situations in relation to a movement gaining steam, including in Wisconsin, to call what is known as an Article V Constitutional Convention. If 34 states agree, a convention would be called with the authority to change the United States Constitution.

The stated objective is to mandate a balanced federal budget.

But this would be the first convention since the original, in Philadelphia, in 1787. And there would be the potential for it to become a runaway, capable of wreaking havoc and changing other fundamental freedoms created and guaranteed by a pretty smart group of gentlemen, the Founders. Those gentlemen did a job for the ages, in our opinion, and we believe the American people should not feel comfortable with empowering a pack of politicians to meddle in the Founders' work.

LOOK, WE ARE BEHIND the principle of balancing the federal budget. Pay-as-you-go always is the preferred option. Instead, generations of politicians have spent us into a nearly $20 trillion debt hole. Still, think about three things.

First, absolutely nothing is preventing President Trump, along with the House of Representatives and the Senate, from adopting a balanced budget this year. All it takes is a vote and Trump's signature. It's not like a new constitutional authority is required to balance income and expenses. The federal government has that authority today. To us, that suggests the problem is not authority. The problem is the men and women the people elected and sent to Washington.

Second, look at a key phrase in the previous sentence - "the people." Politicians have not balanced the budget because the people really don't want them to do it. People want all the benefits from federal spending. They just don't want to pay for it. So, beyond the politicians, the problem is the people.

Third, if anybody really believes a constitutional amendment absolutely must be passed to balance the budget, the Founders established a procedure well short of calling a dangerous constitutional convention. There are 27 amendments. The first 10, the Bill of Rights, were ratified in 1791. There were 17 more added over the years. Yes, it's cumbersome - as it should be. The venerable U.S. Constitution should not be changed like one is changing socks.

THE ARTICLE V MOVEMENT is a partisan construct trying to create a blunt, easy fix for a complex problem aided and abetted both by career politicians and the people themselves. In the process, more harm than good is alarmingly possible.

America needs to come to grips with balancing its wants and its needs and its ability to pay. No argument.

But messing with America's heritage - by going off on some "stop me before I steal again" crusade - is not the way.

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