Today is a federal holiday with the rather absurd and confusing dual name of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. The purpose of this holiday isn’t entirely clear, but the date is significant as the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution of the United States on September 17, 1787. That is certainly an historical event worth pondering.
The Constitution defined what it means to be a citizen. Two centuries later, it’s worth asking ourselves a few relevant questions, such as, “What does a good ‘citizen’ of the United States do?”
Does a good citizen vote?
In recent decades, the largest turnout of eligible voters for national elections has been about 60%. That means at least 40% habitually choose not to exercise their most basic right and responsibility to participate in national decision making.
Is a good citizen well informed?
As of July, according to Politico.com, nearly 60% of the members of one of the two major political parties weren’t sure if the current president was born in the United States. (Some were deluded by one of many rampant conspiracy theories, and others may have forgotten that Hawaii is a state.) Besides this and similar trivial matters so dear to the national media, there are much more serious issues on which a very large number of Americans are either ignorant or misinformed—from the meaning of “socialism” to the causes of global climate change.
Does a good citizen bargain in good faith about issues important for the health of the country?
Ask Max Baucus, who stood alone yesterday as he delivered the conclusions of the long-awaited “bipartisan” health reform proposal produced by the so-called “Gang of Six.” It’s abundantly clear to most observers—although perhaps not to Senator Baucus himself--that he’s spent several months of this life presiding over a very public charade, enacted to appease the 40% of the Senate who want to preserve the status quo and will go to any lengths to oppose constructive change.
It seems that on many possible measures of good citizenship, the best we can do as a nation is a feeble 60%. On this day, perhaps it would be worthwhile to consider what we can do to improve those numbers.