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Virginia Bola operated a rehabilitation company for 20 years, developing innovative job search techniques for disabled workers, while serving as a Vocational Expert in Administrative, Civil and Workers' Compensation Courts. She is a licensed clinical psychologist with deep interests in Social Psychology and politics and an admitted diet fanatic. She has performed therapeutic services for more than 20 years and has studied the effects of cultural forces and employment on the individual. The author of two interactive workbooks, The Wolf at the Door: An Unemployment Survival Manual and Diet With An Attitude: A Weight Loss Workbook, she also publishes a monthly ezine, The Worker's Edge and various weight loss mini-courses. She can be reached at,, or

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Blessings, and Curse, of Interpreting the Constitution

The Senate is in an uproar about the issue of approving the nomination of certain judges. There are vocal supporters for and against traditional techniques of the filibuster. There are others working hard to identify options and compromises to avoid a head-to-head battle that will leave one side staggering.

The rest of the country looks on: in confusion, in awe, in indifference, in disgust. We never really trust politicians anyway so why should their internal disagreements mean a hill of beans to the working stiff on the street?

The critical importance to every citizen, no matter the social level or way of life, is that the system has to work or we have no rules, no structure, no boundaries to mark our place. We all have differing opinions about how to rule the world. Senators and Judges have varying ideas also. The truth is that when Senators and Judges, individually and then collectively, make decisions about issues, we all have to live with the results.

One of the great strengths of the Constitution is that it provides a framework for our society but is also extremely flexible. That flexibility is constantly pulled and stretched by the myriad of meanings that can be read into its written form. Over the centuries, its principles have been interpreted, and reinterpreted, the meanings changed as our society changed.

We hope, as no doubt the founding fathers hoped, that in the long term opposing forces should balance each other out and a centrist consensus should emerge that keeps us moving in a generally positive direction. For more than two hundred years, that has successfully transpired. While we applaud the robustness of a document that has weathered the slings and arrows of time so deftly, we must also look as events in the short term and the trauma they may impose.

Long before the abolition of slavery, there was the degradation of thousands of human lives, treated, auctioned, bullwhipped, and ravaged like livestock, all under the auspices of the Constitution.

Before Brown vs. Board of Education, there was Plessy vs. Ferguson and thousands of black children were restricted to separate educational facilities, patently unequal in every resource: money, personnel, books, supplies, and expectations. Recourse was banned because the Constitution countenanced such a lie.

Decades before Roe vs. Wade, doctors were fully competent to perform clinically safe abortions. Yet thousands of women died in backrooms, in Mexican hotel rooms, and in the parlors of unlicensed midwives.

Each time a decision is made about what the Constitution "really" means, someone gets hurt.

Abolition saved the slaves but economically destroyed the Old South. Desegregation of schools helped black children embrace the hope of a better life but bankrupted marginal communities who already had severely limited resources. Legal abortion saved the lives, and lifestyles, of thousands of women but destroyed the possibilities inherent in those fetuses we threw so casually away.

It is in their recognition of the power inherent in any one person's, or group's, ability to interpret the Constitution for us all, that the feuding Senators deserve our respect. On each side, they seek to protect their chosen electorate from the "excesses" of the other side. They feel responsible for averting the emotional carnage that extreme views, of any persuasion, impose on the general populace.

It would be easy to simply look at the long haul and calculate that "everything will work out" in the end. Unfortunately, the long haul may mean many lifetimes and we have only one to live - the "short term" incarnate.

It would behoove all of us, no matter our views, no matter our political position, to seek out and identify those our ideas would hurt and think, before we speak or act, how such harm might be minimalized.


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