Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Power to Do Whatever Evil They Please

Previously posted at Red County.

Last Tuesday, NPR published a profile of me, one that the interviewer purposefully wrote as a personal profile, not a political analysis. I received some serious hate mail (as did the author, incidentally, for not attacking me in this profile piece). As you can see on my blog, I also received some very angry comments. Most of the attacks consisted of the usual hyperbole and empty, hateful rhetoric of people who presume themselves to be intellectually and morally superior to anyone who does not share a liberal, progressive or left-wing ideology. They demonstrate a proclivity for ad hominem attacks, appealing to prejudice, emotion and irrationality, rather than intellect or reason.

This inability to discuss principles without personal insults is on full display in the comment wishing that I “or somebody very close to [me] gets a serious long-term illness and [I] get to see real close what happens to them in our crappy disjointed medical system.” During the heat and drama of the left’s protests against the Iraq war, I do not recall ever reading a comment by a conservative wishing a terrorist attack on a progressive or their family so that they would better comprehend the need to fight terrorism. This propensity to engage in personal attacks is also seen in the liberals’ efforts to denigrate the Tea Party movement with juvenile name-calling. However, at the end of the day, ad hominem attacks can be ignored.

Of the emails I received, and the comments posted on NPR’s web-site that did contain some substance, one argument appeared repeatedly, expressing the most fundamental of our political differences. Rather than react to each comment separately, I will address the entry written by Frank James on NPR’s blog entitled, “Tea Party Star 'Liberty Belle' Argues With Dead White Men,” as representative of the common rhetoric.

Mr. James’ main argument consists of an accusation that I am attacking representative democracy as embodied by the Constitution and that I am anti-Constitution and anti-government. He bases these conclusions on the quote used by the NPR interviewer Martin Kaste in which I summarized my anger about many of the unread bills being force-fed through Congress by the leadership and this Administration:

I tried to boil down in essence what makes me so angry about it. And it was this idea that he and other people decide what the needs are in society. They get to decide. But in order to fund those things, they have to take from some people in order to give to the other people.

Mr. James chastises me as follows:

Err, excuse me, Liberty Belle but wouldn't that be the essence of the republican (small "r") form of government created by the Founding Fathers?

He then goes on to post the definition of “republican” from MerriamWebster.com, followed by more scolding:

In our representative democracy, some people, elected as representatives of the people, are delegated to decide what's good for the society overall. That's just how it is.

Thank you, Sir, for explaining, “just how it is.” We might want to see what one of the framers of the Constitution, Thomas Jefferson, might have said about a “that’s just how it is” attitude:

It would be a dangerous delusion were a confidence in the men of our choice to silence our fears for the safety of our rights. Confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism. Free government is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence. (--Thomas Jefferson: Draft, Kentucky Resolutions, 1798.)

So, yes, Mr. James, our government is a republic, but it is a government much subject to limits and separation of powers, all of which stem from the sovereignty of the people who must stay vigilant and who can, every election, decide to send packing any scoundrel who oversteps the limits.

The real question is, “What is the proper role of the federal government and of those elected to represent us at the federal level?” Mr. James seems to believe that the role of the federal government, as defined by the Constitution and all those “dead white men” is to determine the needs of society, and to explicitly provide for them. Furthermore, according to Mr. James, it falls to our federal representatives to decide if the needs of some groups outweigh the needs of other groups.

Following his logic, my statement would appear to contradict the ideals of our Founding Fathers, the Constitution, and the process of representative democracy. I am guessing that it is also somehow satisfying for people like Mr. James to paint me as an ideologue in direct opposition to the Founders as I am sure he, and commenters like him, are aware that we in the Tea Party movement actually admire the Founders very much. In fact, he knows the only reason the Tea Party movement exists is because we would like to see a return to the limitations on the federal government initially created and espoused by the Founders. His argument is especially ironic considering how many progressives frequently disparage the Founding Fathers and the founding documents, describing the former as racist white men that we should ignore, and the latter as oppressive and out-of-date, paving the road for their concept of a “living Constitution.”

Surprising as it might be for Mr. James, I understand the Constitution much better and more thoroughly than he would credit, and accept its principles, perhaps more deeply than he does. I read it often, as I did just this week, because I like to review its words and keep them fresh in my mind. Unlike many people on the political fringes, I sometimes pause and question my beliefs and my stances on issues. Rereading the Constitution often, including the Bill of Rights and all its amendments, forces me to perform a constant analysis of the document and the impact, effects, and applications of its words in today’s society. I wonder how often Mr. James reads these documents and questions his own beliefs?

The Founding Fathers did not want anarchy, as I do not, but they also did not envision a vastly powerful federal government. Let us not forget that it was the representatives of the states that created the federal government, not the other way around, and that the Constitution is the contract between the two entities, defining the powers and responsibilities of the federal government. It is precisely this tension between a deliberately limited federal government and robust state governments that propelled the freest, most prosperous, just, and innovative country in history forward, and it is what makes the United States of America truly unique and exceptional.

Mr. James enjoys linking to the Federalist Papers and several of the Founders regarding our republican form of government guaranteed by the Constitution (Article IV, Sec. 4). I, too, enjoy the writings of the Founders for their guidance in the original intent of Constitutional provisions.

For example, James Madison writes in Federalist No. 45:

The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.

It appears that Madison would place “ordinary affairs” within the purview of state governments, rather than under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Thomas Jefferson also writes on this subject:

I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That ‘all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states or to the people.’ To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specially drawn around the powers of Congress is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition.

Question: why did the Founders bother to enumerate specific and particular powers if they used the term “general welfare” as an all encompassing concept possessing no boundaries?

My interpretations stem directly from my understanding of the Founding Fathers’ writings. The NPR quote was a brief synopsis of my frustration with Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) and other elected officials that I believe legislate outside of the parameters of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Namely, they govern as though it is their responsibility to determine the needs of individuals in society. Subsequent to that, they proceed to decide who must pay to satisfy said needs. Attending to the General Welfare, as understood by the Founders, referred to functions such as National Security that affect all citizens across the board.

Functions such as health care require tailoring to fit millions of different families and individuals and were never intended as federal government mandates. The Founders never meant for representatives to be able to take money from one group of taxpayers in order to fulfill a political party’s pet causes, ultimately allowing a majority in government to buy votes from certain special interest groups. Yes, we elect people to represent us because pure democracy usually amounts to nothing more than mob rule, but it is a dangerous game we play when we elect people to steal from other citizens in order to receive free benefits for ourselves.

Madison's view of the General Welfare Clause of Article 1, Section 8, is especially enlightening:

… a new Constitutional doctrine of vast consequence, and demanding the serious attention of the public. I consider it myself as subverting the fundamental and characteristic principle of the Government; as contrary to the true and fair, as well as the received construction, and as bidding defiance to the sense in which the Constitution is known to have been proposed, advocated, and adopted. If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one, subject to particular exceptions. It is to be remarked that the phrase out of which this doctrine is elaborated is copied from the old Articles of Confederation, where it was always understood as nothing more than a general caption to the specified powers. (From a letter written by James Madison to Edmund Pendleton on January 21, 1792)

Additionally, these limitations apply to big business and their cozy relationships with big government. Contrary to progressive rants, tea partiers, conservatives, and libertarians, though ardent defenders of capitalism, are not fans of big businesses making deals with the devil and assisting in the transformation of our system from one of capitalism to one of crony capitalism. No company or bank is “too big to fail,” just as any individual is not entitled to immunity from failure. General Motor’s need for a bailout is as constitutionally irrelevant as the individual who needs a bailout on his or her mortgage. The Constitution provided for Congress to formulate Bankruptcy laws; bailouts are not found mentioned anywhere. And do not forget, the bailouts were a bi-partisan breach of our Constitution.

If a word search is performed on the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and all of the amendments, there are zero instances of the word “need” or the word “needs.” Do you not think that if the Founders intended to address individual needs that they would have mentioned it in the Constitution or Bill of Rights somewhere? Mr. James and I have completely different ideas about the role of the federal government. He, and others, attacked my stance based on the most shallow and cursory of analyses. However, it is a debate that must be had, and the sooner the better.

People with views similar to mine are usually attacked as wholly anti-government when in fact we are pro-limited government, especially limited federal government. Progressives often scream about how dangerous conservatives and libertarians are because we dare to debate, for example, the efficacy of the Department of Education, and other such progressive holy grails. Well, why? Why can we not hold real discussions encompassing all public issues and possible solutions? I received many comments asking me if I use public roads, and my answer is, of course I do; I was born in 1979, long after roads were built by the government, leaving me with no alternatives at this time. But the better question to ask is, are building roads a proper function of government?

Could we perhaps go on an intellectual journey together to assess the possible outcomes if government were not involved in building roads? I am open to the suggestion that roads are a legitimate function of government, and I believe it would make for an interesting conversation. Why does the very discussion of ideas like these scare progressives so much? I can only conclude that they must feel their beliefs are rootless, subject to toppling by any wind, if the mere suggestion of limiting the federal government’s hand sends them into apoplexy.

I am more than willing to have these discussions. I am willing to hear Mr. James’ interpretations of the Constitution and his arguments about how the Constitution mandates that the federal government satisfy our individual needs, rather than protect our liberties. I am willing to discuss ideas like single-payer health care. In fact I wish that Nancy Pelosi had been honest enough to just put forth legislation to implement single-payer because that was the intended outcome anyway. Had it been open and transparent, we at least could have had a real debate about it.

So let us put it all on the table to examine. Let us not be afraid to openly and honestly discuss ideas. If you want to change the Constitution, use the process left to us by the Founders - amend it.

Mr. James, far from arguing with our Founding Fathers, I will leave you with a supremely eloquent and concise quote from Thomas Jefferson that exactly expresses my thoughts on the possible danger that looms over us as Senators and Congressmen grow evermore powerful.

It would reduce the whole instrument to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and, as they would be the sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please.. (Thomas Jefferson, 1791)