Not to be swept up in the emotionally charged atmosphere being created by both the proponents of the latest draft of the proposed constitution as well as its detractors is challenging. Giving in to one's emotions always seems like the easier path simply because there is no required effort to challenge old assumptions or to question the rationale employed. Whatever the difficulties though, such efforts are certainly worthwhile if they lead us to a better understanding.
Can there be any doubt that the function of government includes the enforcement of laws and the performance of those acts which attain to the common good on which a civil society depends? What we are experiencing today though, is the result of what happens when the exercise of government becomes a contest wherein competing lobbying efforts ultimately determine the content of laws and the direction of policies and programs. Representative government has become a mockery, and the undeniable reality is that the people on the lower rungs of the economic ladder are feeling the brunt of the consequences that attend such a failure of government.
The efforts of some convention delegates to point at more recent arrivals as the cause of problems here is a very old device that employs xenophobia in order to mask the fundamental flaws in our government structure. Their failure to devise a constitution that is fair and equitable is the product of that misunderstanding, and any efforts to 'educate' the public now will only compound that failure by an attempt that can only serve to mislead others.
So what is this 'common good' on which civil society ultimately depends, and that should be serving as the true end of government? The 'common good', as I understand it, consists of those actions and shared insights that contribute to a more perfect sense of justice. Perfection here being defined as an ever-evolving state of understanding that seeks to correctly perceive the best interest of the greatest possible number of elements. Those elements include not only ourselves, our family, our community, people outside our immediate community, in fact a virtually endless list of other life forms, the environment, and even the past and future. Each of our lists may vary somewhat, but that is because only existence is universal, and reality is an individual consciousness of varying elements. That more perfect sense of justice can only be made real if we both limit the preponderance of our own self-interest, and resist the emotional appeal of that xenophobia that is now being actively promoted.
The proposed constitution, like all such documents, represents a contract of consent between the government whose structure is therein described, and those who it purports to govern. The changes that have occurred as democracy evolved to the present day, speak strongly against the premise that such a document should be exclusionary in its various components. The adoption of the constitution, through the franchise of the vote is an act of direct democracy, clearly the drafting phase to date, has not been. The workings of the convention included a number of acts which did not conform to the mandate that various laws of the senate established. To salvage whatever remains of that initial intent would require that both the latest draft and the one proposed by delegate Eugene Peterson earlier on be offered to the public in order to determine which best represents the 'will of the people'.
This necessarily must be done before the formal process of government review and approval is allowed to continue. The Senate and the Governor, as our representatives should have no qualms in offering whatever revisions are required to the original legislation to facilitate such a process.
Privileges and freedoms are both established in a constitution as political rights and therefore a personal basis of action. History has shown us that neither can long exist unless equality is there to assure the needed basis of justice. If varying standards are established, how will it be possible for individuals to judge the significance of socially acceptable motivations, moral standards and various codes of conduct handed down through family and community? The Virgin Islands are already divided by much more than the body of water that separates us; our politics of personalities, and the perception of differences however small all serve to distance us from each other. What can the benefit of enshrining such divisive elements in our constitution now hope to accomplish? The current election process amounts to a very expensive contest of personalities in which those who are amply financed convince the public to vote for them through the power of repetitive but ultimately meaningless political advertising. The costs of all public appearances in which the issues are presented, the candidates questioned or debates conducted should be funded by a line item expense of government, with no outside funding allowed. As things stand now, winning candidates dance to the tune of who funded their campaign, and who stands ready to pony up for the next election cycle. The truth is that contributors win an election, not the voters. That's our real problem, and it requires a really appropriate solution. The argument that only defined 'natives' of these islands will protect the integrity of government and the interests of average citizens is a grievous falsehood and an attempt to divert attention from a system of government that lacks accountability and serves as fertile ground for unending corruption.
Given the opportunity to choose between the documents prepared, I believe the vast majority would choose what Eugene Peterson has offered. If our representatives cannot see the wisdom of giving us that choice, then let us organize the required effort to petition them to do so. If we convince them now that their political futures depend on it, the required consideration of our futures will also be made clear. After that the changes we really need will no longer amount to only some cleverly concocted political slogan!
Hugo A. Roller
Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to email@example.com.