Do Vows Matter Anymore?

I’m confused. You see, I grew up in a household where a person’s word was their bond. But apparently, I’m mistaken.

I said that very phrase just the other day, and my daughter asked me “what’s a bond?” I explained it as something of value that you put up as collateral, essentially something that you forfeit if you don’t keep your word. I told her about collateral on loans, and explained that the phrase essentially meant that “my word should be good enough for you, because I’m a man of my word.” I’ve always tried to be VERY careful about that with my daughter. I think as parents, it’s way too easy to promise your child something and then not make good on it, for a variety of reasons. I’ve tried to be up-front with my child, and if I can’t honor my promise when I promised to do so, I’ve always let her know, and then made it up to her as soon as I could. Because of that, she trusts me. She believes I will keep my word, because I always do.

You’d be surprised at how many people I talk to who don’t think that’s really that important. Parents who rationalize or excuse things, then turn around and are genuinely surprised when their kids do to them, what they did to their kids.

Promises are important. In the final analysis, they are all we’ve got. We may be a nation of laws, but it’s because we’ve all (or at least most of us have) agreed to obey them. The division between a lawful society and an unlawful, anarchistic one is not the police or the military. It’s our willingess to obey the laws that we’ve set forth for our common good.

It’s kind of like marriage. We take our vows to love, honor and cherish our spouse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, ’til death do us part. You have but to look at the divorce statistics to see how many people take THAT vow seriously. Which is odd, because the vow’s the thing, you see. If you cheat on your spouse, don’t you wonder if turnabout isn’t fair play? Can you really sleep at night, for wondering if the person you traded your spouse for won’t treat you the way you treated your ex?

Yep. Vows are important. Most don’t carry any kind penalty in this world. I’m a believer in Karma and Kismet, so I have a feeling the next world may not be quite so forgiving. But there are some kinds of vows that carry with them penalties in this world. Legal penalties. Criminal and civil penalties.

For instance, when you sign a contract for a home, you’re vowing that you’ll make the payments. Fail to do so, and you’ll lose your home. (Eventually.) Swear in court to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God, and if you don’t, you can be found in contempt of court, and imprisoned for the crime of perjury. But there’s one kind of vow that is supposed to take precedence over all others. And that’s the vow public servants make when they are sworn into office.

We call these vows an “oath of office.” It means that you swear (usually with your right hand on the Bible) that you will uphold the laws of our Nation, and execute your office to the best of your ability. Here’s an example from our U.S. Constitution:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Every President since George Washington has taken that same oath of office. Frankly, some have lived up to it better than others. We’ve had some great Presidents, and some that were not so great. But to my knowledge, we’ve never had one that has simply refused to uphold a law of the land. Until now.

Barack Obama recently let it be known that the Executive Branch will no longer defend theDefense of Marriage Act, a law passed by Congress and signed into law during the Clinton Administration. Now you may not be aware of this, but our Constitution set forth three branches of government, with three distinctly different roles for each to play.

  • The Executive Branch executes the laws of the land.
  • The Legislative Branch creates the laws of the land.
  • The Judicial Branch rules on the validity of the laws of the land and if people are obeying them.

You’ll notice that these powers are seperate. That’s by design. Congress (the Legislative Branch) doesn’t get to rule on the laws they pass as to their Constitutional validity. The courts (the Judicial Branch) is not supposed to write laws. And the Executive Branch doesn’t get to decide what laws they want to enforce and which ones they want to ignore.

We have a process here, in America. If you don’t like the law, get your elected officials to change it. If the elected officials won’t do it, then vote them out, and get some others in who will obey the will of We the People.

This system has withstood the test of time for over 200 years. That may not sound like a long time, but as governments go, that’s huge. Our Constitution is likea beautifully designed, precision timepiece. You start jacking with the gears and it’s not going to continue to work.

That’s why President Obama’s declaration has just kind of knocked me for a loop. No President has EVER simply said “I don’t like the law, so instead of getting Congress to repeal it, I’m going to direct my Attorney General and the Justice Department to simply refuse to defend it in court.”

So we come back to vows. The President made one, when he took his oath of office. He promised to defend our Constitution. In a larger sense, that means he promised  – he vowed – to uphold the Laws of the United States. That would be ALL the laws. Not just the ones he likes. Remember, the difference between society and chaos is our willingness to obey the laws of the land. When the President decides he doesn’t want to do that, it’s a Really Big Deal.

I’m not an attorney, but I think you could make a pretty good case for Obama being in breach of his contract with the American People. I understand he doesn’t like the law. Great. Change it. Go to Congress, and have some Senators or Representatives write a bill that they can vote on. If it passes, sign it into law. If it’s challenged, defend it in court. Those are your options. You do NOT have the option to simply ignore a law you find unpalatable. By doing so you are violating your oath of office.

When a man swears to tell the truth in court, if he choses to break that vow, it’s called perjury. It’s a criminal offense.

When a President breaks his oath of office, it calls for impeachment, and a trial by the U.S. Senate to remove him from office for failing to fulfill that oath.

So as I see it, we have two choices. We can do allow the President to make up his own rules, or we can hold him to his oath.

Now I know that my Liberal/Progressive friends are all foaming at the mouth by now. I can hear them – Bush Lied…Kids Died! Remember Halliburton! How can you acuse Obama? Bush lied about WMDs! Fine. The time to whine about that was when Bush was in office. He’s not. You missed your chance. And any good debate student will tell you that it does nothing to bolster your position by using the “oh yeah?…well the other guy did bad stuff too!” argument. It just doesn’t fly.

And save your breath if you’re trying to argue that this is a bad law. I don’t happen to believe it is, but the proper way to deal with this would be to light a fire under Congress to change the law if you don’t like it. Turn this around…let’s say in the next election, someone you despise (Sarah Palin comes to mind) gets into office (okay…deep breaths…it’s just a hypothetical…) and she suddenly decides that Roe v. Wade isn’t worth defending. Would you be screaming about her upholding her oath of office then? Sure you would. And you’d be right. Regardless of your beliefs and stance on abortion, Roe v. Wade is the law of the land. If President Palin (love the sound of that) wanted to change the law, she would have to get Congress to pass a law that would override that decision. Then the courts would have to rule on that new law’s Constitutionailty. If she tried to do what Obama’s done, you’d demand her head on a pike. (Okay, you’d do that anyway, but you get my point.) What’s sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander, people. We don’t have one set of rules for Democrats and another for Republicans.

Here’s the deal. If we are a nation of laws, it’s time for us to expect our elected officials to actually uphold those laws. Period. End of story. If you’re gonna believe in our government, then let it be the government of our founders, the men who created the greatest form of government in human history. Believe in that Constitution. And believe that men should be held accountable for their actions. It’s time to hold our elected officials accountable for the oaths they swore when they entered into public service. To do anything else is to acknowledge that we are NOT a nation of laws, but simply a mob of men.


3 thoughts on “Do Vows Matter Anymore?”

  1. Rock on, O sage Captain Digital ! A fine missive to start my day. So good to see you last eve out among the hopeful and idle in the land that Shreve forgot. You look well. Keep up the musings.


  2. Late to read this, but it looks to me that too many people like to pick and chose what they like in the Constitution.

    In this particular case, you are upset because a President refuses to execute a law that violates the spirit of the Constitution (“classifications based on sexual orientation” are a no-no), under the argument that such law was adopted by bodies that are supposed to operate under the rule of the Constitution.

    So, who is at fault, people who adopted a law that violates the Constitution or a President who refuses to execute that law?

    1. Nathan – under what portion of the constitution are you claiming that this act is unconstitutional? The ERA failed to win ratification by 2/3rds of the states, so there is no language in the document guaranteeing rights based on non-discrimination according to gender. And the ERA said nothing about “sexual orientation” – a convoluted, tortuous turn of phrase if ever there was one. A law is either Constitutional or it’s not. The problem is that, in the last 50 years or so, the Progressives on the Supreme Court have taken an activist role, making law (which is NOT their job) where no law exists. I think it was Justice Hugo Black that talked about the big can o’ worms the Supremes opened up when they declared abortion a ‘right.’ And see, that’s the problem. The minute you start manufacturing ‘rights’ in the judicial branch, you have no oversight (laws come from the Legislative branch – not the judicial) and you have no way to stop the slide down that slippery slope. Is access to broadband internet a right? Free health care? What about a car? A college education? You see, once you get away from rights that were given to us by the Almighty (those “inalienable” rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness), and start insisting that other things are “rights” the whole argument collapses. There is no “right” to get married. It is perfectly legal to have a majority of citizens decide that marriage can and should be limited to opposite sex couples. I see nothing wrong with that. I see nothing wrong with the state allowing civil unions, either, which puts me at odds with some Conservatives on the issue. 

      But this is not about if a law is right or wrong. This is about the way government works. Or how it used to work, before Obama got into office. The founders wisely divided the process of law between the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches for a reason. That way, nobody could bully their way through and allow the government to become unresponsive to the will of the people. For better or worse, the majority in this country believes that marriage should be between a man and woman. To thwart that will is against the very heart and soul of the Constitution – a document conceived and designed to insure that the government works for us, not the other way around. 

      To have Obama simply and arbitrarily decide that it’s okay not to enforce or defend a given law is an affront to the Constitution and to the oath he swore to defend and protect it. What if he decided a law protecting illegal search and seizures was worthy of being ignored? What if he suddenly decided that it was legal to throw people in jail for disagreeing with the government? There are laws against that. It’s in the Constitution. But by your logic, if the law doesn’t pass muster with some segment of the populace, it must be okay for the Chief Executive of the country to simply ignore it. 

      We are a nation of LAWS, not of MEN. No man, not even the President, is above the law. To allow the President to decide which laws to enforce puts one man – the President – above the law. And that just can’t work. 

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