109th Congress (2005-2006)
THE OFFICIAL TRUTH SQUAD ON THE HISTORY OF AMERICA — (House of Representatives – March 09, 2006)
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The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under the Speaker’s announced policy of January 4, 2005, the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Poe) is recognized for 60 minutes as the designee of the majority leader.
Mr. POE. Mr. Speaker, the Official Truth Squad tonight is going to continue the theme that has already been addressed by three of our friends, Mr. Otter from Idaho, Mr. Bishop from Utah and Mr. Garrett from New Jersey. They have been talking about our history. They have been talking about the philosophy of America and who we are and what we are and what we stand for. So for the next few minutes we will be discussing our history, the American Revolution, the people who lived before us, what they thought, what they wrote, and what they said.
I have with me tonight my friend from Texas, another freshman, Mr. Conaway from West Texas, and he is going to start out discussing our heritage and giving us some truth about who we are, what we are, and what we stand for.
Mr. CONAWAY. Judge, I thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to share this hour with you tonight and to be able to discuss these very important topics with our colleagues in the House.
One of the things that occurred to me while I have been here in Congress is that we don’t do a real good job of delineating between the role of the Federal Government and everybody else. There is a great push every single day while we are here to expand the reach, to expand the scope, to expand the Federal Government’s role in all of our lives. One of the reasons for that is I don’t think we have a really good, clear appreciation for our founding documents.
So I have introduced a bill, H. Res. 485, called the America Act, a modest effort to reinstitute the Constitution in America, which would require every Member of Congress, every Representative, every Senator, to read the Constitution once a year. It would also require our senior staffers to also read the Constitution, because an awful lot of what you and I do every single day is somewhat influenced by what our staff does; the idea being that you and I raise our hand in January of every odd-numbered year, one of the seminal moments of my short term here in this Congress in January of 2005 when we stood up to take our oath of office. We pledge to protect and defend the Constitution. In our role as lawmakers, we write laws to implement the Constitution, and, every once in a while, we attempt to change the Constitution.
So it seems pretty self-evident to me we should know what is in the Constitution, and, given the reach of this Federal Government over the years, it seems we may have lost our way with respect to that.
When the Constitution was being written 230-plus years ago, there was a constant struggle or tension, as has already been discussed on this floor tonight, of what the role of the Federal Government should and should not be. Those headed up by Alexander Hamilton thought a wide-ranging, wide-reaching government would be appropriate. Others, such as Adams and Jefferson, thought a much more narrow interpretation of the Constitution would narrow the scope of this Federal Government.
I doubt that if our Founding Fathers could join us today, that even the strongest proponents of the most expansive Federal Government would recognize what we have done under the Constitution with this Federal Government. It reaches into every single portion of our lives.
You and I also, when we campaign and when we are talking on this Hill, talk about reducing the size of government, reducing Federal spending, the threat that the growth in spending has to our way of life.
The real solution, in my mind, is going to lead to some hard decisions that sweep major programs, major perhaps Cabinet-level agencies, out of the Federal Government; a clear recognition that this Federal Government should be limited; that there should be certain things that are totally left up to the States. I am not going to name any of those tonight, because that is going to create some controversy when we begin to talk about that.
The truth of the matter is if we are, in fact, going to rein in the growth of the Federal Government, we have to begin limiting the reach into particular areas that our Founding Fathers did not envision. So a modest step, a new effort to try to help each of us understand clearer what our role should be and what this Federal Government’s role should be in our day-to-day lives, will be a reading of the Constitution.
So I am going to begin asking each of my colleagues to cosponsor and join this effort to pass this resolution that would require all of us to read the Constitution once a year. It is going to be an honor system. We are honorable men and women in this body, and I think we can trust ourselves.
I am a CPA by trade. You are an attorney. Our professions all require continuing professional education: doctors, lawyers, engineers, CPAs. CPAs in particular have to have 40 hours a year of continuing education just to stay current.
It seems to me that politicians and folks serving this body should be as well informed about their job as anybody serving in a profession should be informed, and the start of that would be the Constitution, the base document on which this great hall is founded.
So this requirement would require each of us to read that Constitution once a year, and record that in our records, and be available for constituents to ask us, now, when is the last time you read the Constitution, Mr. Congressman?
I want to thank my good colleague from Texas, the great judge from the southeast part of the State. We are from the same State, but we are probably 600 miles apart in our homes. But it is a wonderful State to represent,
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and I am honored to have TED POEand the freshman group with me this year. I want to thank you for giving me this time to share this hour with you tonight.
Mr. POE. Thank you, Mr. Conaway. You made several excellent points about our heritage. Reading the Constitution is certainly something that all Members of this body ought to do on a regular basis.
I would hope all school teachers in this country would pick up this document, read it from time to time, and have their kids read this document. It is not very long. I have with me a pocket Constitution and Declaration of Independence that many of us in this House carry with us every day.
Your comment about taking an oath to uphold the Constitution: Not only do Members of the United States House of Representatives raise their right hand and swear to uphold the United States Constitution, but every elected official in this country takes that same oath. Members of the Supreme Court take it, the President takes it, every State representative, State senator, the Governor of every State. Every peace officer takes that oath, every member of a city council, every school board, every person in public service in our country takes an oath to uphold the Constitution. It is the only oath that most of us take while we are serving in office. It certainly is an oath that we are obliged to follow.
Several years ago the world was divided between free and unfree, and we had this Iron Curtain that existed in much of the world that separated those of us who are free and those that were not free. After the great wall came down, we heard many stories about those oppressed people who lived behind the Iron Curtain and what their life was like in that political slavery in which they found themselves.
Several prisons throughout the Eastern Bloc of Europe housed political prisoners, one of which was a Czechoslovakian student who had been imprisoned and sentenced to 5 years for reading from a prohibited document in that Communist nation.
What he did, he found himself on the steps of Prague University. He stood there, defiant, and quoted a document from history. It went something like this: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights , that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
For reading from that document, that Czechoslovakian student went to prison. Yes, that is a portion of the Declaration of Independence, our Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson.
Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence justified to the world our independence from Great Britain. It gave the reasons why we had the divine right to leave that country.
It starts out, “When in the course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.”
That is how the Declaration of Independence starts. It gives the justification, the divine right, for an independent Nation, and, first and foremost, sets the parameters on where we get rights .
As many in this body do, I from time to time talk to kids in schools, the younger the better; talk to them about America and our history, our glorious history. And I ask the question many times to students, where do you get your rights ? And I hear all kinds of answers. “My parents give me the rights .” “Teachers give me rights .” “The government gives me rights .” More often than not, most of them say, I don’t know where I get my rights .
But the Declaration of Independence establishes to the world, first and foremost, where we receive those rights .
So there is no misunderstanding, Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence wrote it down, that was later signed by 54 signers of the Declaration of Independence, that “We hold these Truths to be self-evident.” The truth. It is obvious. That is what that means. We hold these truths to be obvious. “That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by,” and notice what the word is, Mr. Speaker. It doesn’t say government. It says “their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights , that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
We live in a time where in our society we don’t want to talk too much about the Almighty.
Or we may offend somebody. We may get sued. Our schools may get sued if they happen to mention God in the public school system.
Well, they are going to have to mention the Creator if they are going to mention the Declaration of Independence, because the philosophy of who we are is that we receive our dignity not from government but from a creator, from a supernatural being.
And the rights that we have come from the creator. Many times we hear about the right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but for some reason we seldom say where those rights come from.
Mr. Speaker, this is a big deal. It is not a minor deal. Because, you see, government does not have any rights ; only people have rights . Government has power. And it gets power from us, the people. We are higher than government. We are not lower than government.
And this philosophy was new in 1776. Always before, the King was most powerful or the dictator was most powerful, or the military; Caesar was most powerful, not the people.
And so when our forefathers got together and started talking about this concept of freedom and independence and America, they knew that the rights that they wanted to talk about did not come from the King; they did not come from a dictator; and they did not come from some military official. They came from the Creator.
Because, you see, if they came from government, that means government can take them away. And the only way government gets its power is from us, the people. So the most important phrase in the Declaration of Independence establishes that the rights that we all claim to have come from a creator.
It is interesting to note when Thomas Jefferson first penned the Declaration of Independence, his first draft, the three rights that he mentioned were life, liberty and property. But after it was debated, the issue was changed from property to pursuit of happiness.
You know, it is important that we understand some basic principles about our past and who we are. Tonight, Mr. Conaway and several others have mentioned Alexander Hamilton. And Alexander Hamilton understood that principle that Jefferson wrote about, that our forefathers signed.
And he said in 1775, a year before Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, that sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchment or musty records. They are written as with a sunbeam in the whole volume of human nature by the hand of the Divinity itself and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.
One of our forefathers, once again speaking to the absolute truth, that rights that we have are because of a creator. And we have that right, those rights , because of the dignity and worth of the individuals, all of them because of that.
Now, government seems to be very powerful nowadays, our Federal Government does. As Mr. Conaway mentioned, I doubt if our forefathers would believe the power of the Federal Government over the people.
Now, whether we think it is a good idea or not, the power is tremendous. Now, think about the different things the Federal Government has gotten itself involved in since the Revolutionary War. For example, I will give you one minor example. Where in our Constitution do we give the Federal Government the authority to decide what every toilet bowl in the United States looks like and how much water runs through it?
But yet the Federal Government has assumed that authority, that power. And you can go on and on and on talking about the role of government and the power of government. But I think all of us would agree the Federal Government today is more powerful than it ever has been.
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And every time we give government power, I am talking about the people, because we give them that authority, because government does not have any rights , we take a little bit of liberty away from the rest of us every time government makes those decisions.
And there is a difference between the government in control and having all authority, and the independent or the people having authority. I have used the example of the Iron Curtain and Communism. There are many Americans today who did not live during the time of what we call the Cold War or during the time and have watched what occurred behind the Iron Curtain.
I had the opportunity back in 1987, almost 20 years ago now, to go to the Soviet Union and it was the Soviet Union at that time, a Communist nation that believed that the state was all powerful and all authority and rights went to the state.
And the state doled those responsibilities and duties out to the people. But all citizens looked at the “Almighty State.”
And I spent some time there traveling different portions of the Soviet Union. Quite an experience. Different than being here in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
But some examples of that. When I went to the Soviet Union, there was only just three of us that went over there. All of us were judges. And everywhere we went, we were followed. Usually by the KGB. We were followed two ways. Sometimes we were followed with the KGB agents right behind us. He or she wanted us to know that they are there. That was about half of the time.
Other times we were followed, and we knew that we were being followed, but they were where we could not see them. But every place we went, we were followed by the government.
We stayed in hotels in the Soviet Union. And the way it worked was you would give your passport to someone at the end of the hall, and they would give you a key to your room. When you left your room, you gave your key back to the person in charge, and they gave you your passport back.
They would also give you a slip of paper that allowed you to get out of the hotel. You needed that piece of paper and your passport to get back into the hotel. If you did not have this government document, you never got back into the hotel.
While we were gone, our hotel room was search every time. And those who searched our rooms wanted us to know that the room was searched. Our phones were bugged. We could tell, when we were listening to phone, that it was constantly bugged.
And the people in the Soviet Union, you know, they are good people. But you could tell by the way they walked and carried on their daily lives they were oppressed. What were they oppressed with? The power of government in their personal and private lives, because government completely controlled everything, from where they worked, to their health care system, to where they lived, to whether they could even leave the city on a little vacation. Total government control of the individuals, because government had to assert the individual’s worth and had taken it on as the power of the state.
And we got to talk to a few Soviet citizens. They were very skeptical about talking to Americans. They would usually tell you directions, but they never wanted to talk much about life in the Soviet Union because, you see, there is a crime under the former Soviet regime that said it is a crime to engage in anti-Soviet activity.
Now, that is a very broad statement. What is anti-Soviet activity? Well, it is anything that the government says it is: talking to the wrong person, taking a photograph of a particular building, writing something in a letter, trying to get on television to say something about the government. Any of those could be engaging in anti-Soviet activity and would cause this citizen to be arrested and tried by that oppressive government.
After we left the Soviet Union, we flew out on a Soviet aircraft, Soviet commercial aircraft. There were not very many of us on the plane. We are all Westerners. As soon as the pilot comes on and announces in English that we are leaving the airspace of the Soviet Union and are now entering the airspace of Finland, everyone on the airplane immediately cheered.
I mean, it was spontaneous cheering. And when we were getting off the airplane in Europe, I asked this flight attendant, I said, what did you think about all of us Westerners cheering when we got out of the Soviet Union? He said, it did not surprise me, because it happens every time we fly out of the Soviet Union.
So the oppression in the Soviet Union was lifted because of the people in the Soviet Union and the people in the Free World. And that is why freedom is so important, because it is not just something Americans possess or want; it is something everybody wants. The people in the Soviet Union want freedom just like those people in Iraq want freedom, and Afghanistan, because it changes the worth of the individuals and puts the individuals most important and puts government below the individuals.
And that is exactly the way it ought to be. You know, the 54 signers of the Declaration of Independence, some people have said when our country got together and started, those 54 people from all walks of life, many of them very wealthy in their own right, were the smartest and wisest people that ever existed as a group in American history to formulate these concepts of freedom.
And the purpose of the Declaration of Independence was to establish the reasons why we had the right as a people to leave an oppressive government, Great Britain; and it was justified and outlined in the Declaration of Independence.
After the Declaration of Independence was signed and the war with Great Britain was won, after several years, it was noted that freedom is always expensive, it costs the lives of other freedom fighters, because it is that important that life is put on the line for freedom. Success occurred. The Nation was free. But we did not have a basic rule of law to follow as a people. We started with the Articles of Confederation and basically the Articles of Confederation gave the Federal Government very limited authority.
And so our Framers got together again at the Constitutional Convention and drafted the Constitution that we have now. There were 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention; 39 of them signed the Constitution. Several of them did not, one of whom was Patrick Henry, one of my heroes from Virginia: Give me liberty or give me death.
He would not sign the Constitution. The reason he did not is because it did not ensure and protect individual liberty or what we now call the Bill of Rights . The average age was 42.
A French diplomat that was here in the United States at the time made this comment about those people who got together to frame our government. He said that never before, even in Europe, had there been an assembly of more respectable people for talent, knowledge, disinterestedness and patriotism to a cause than these that are assembled here, talking about our forefathers who got together to frame this document called the United States Constitution.
And before they started discussing this document, the Constitution, Benjamin Franklin, who was in his 80s at the time, said that if the Good Lord above is concerned about a sparrow that falls out of a tree, certainly he would be concerned about a new nation at its birth, and maybe we should ask for his guidance through prayer.
And when he made that statement, those men at the Constitutional Convention got together and prayed before they wrote that document. That is one reason why in this House every morning we start with a prayer, needing Divine guidance and wisdom for the decisions we make.