When Nancy Pelosi was asked where in the Constitution she found the authority for a federal health-care mandate, she replied, incredulously, “Are you serious? Are you serious?” The reporter explained that indeed he was. Pelosi simply laughed and moved on to the next question.
Scenes like this have grown commonplace in contemporary America. The only unusual aspect of the Pelosi story is that a reporter bothered to ask about the Constitution in the first place. The Constitution has ceased to play any meaningful role in the deliberations of our so-called public servants.
That may sound like hyperbole. Why, the president is still elected every four years, senators continue to serve six-year terms, and the various other procedural norms described in the Constitution are still scrupulously observed. Surely our Constitution is alive and well.
But it is not for those purposes that we need a written constitution. The British lack a written constitution, and yet the terms and functions of its various branches of government continue to operate, like ours, without innovation or disruption. The purpose of a written constitution is not to describe the structure of the government – countless governments, like the British, have maintained their traditional governmental structure without written constitutions – as it is to limit the powers that structure is to exercise.
Dishonest interpretations of the general welfare, commerce, and “necessary and proper” clauses of the Constitution have provided the bulk of our officials’ constitutional defense on those rare occasions when they are asked to provide one. These clauses do not at all mean what our overlords say they do. As I’ve shown in several of my books, there is no historical basis whatever for the so-called progressives’ interpretation of the Constitution. That’s why they have to resort to all the “living Constitution” nonsense – they realize their arguments won’t stick to the actual Constitution we have.
Meanwhile, what do we do about this? Pretty much nothing. Oh, we hold conferences. We write papers and books. We publicly deplore what is happening. And nothing changes.
We’re told to elect new people. Thanks to federal patronage, it’s almost impossible to unseat congressional incumbents. And on those rare occasions when we do, the new people soon become indistinguishable from the old people. And nothing changes.
We’re told to wait for the Supreme Court to come to the rescue – an institution that did not invalidate a single federal law on commerce-clause grounds (the federal government’s favorite catch-all justification) for nearly 60 years. Moreover, as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison reminded us, the Supreme Court is itself a branch of the federal government, and therefore not an impartial arbiter in disputes over power between the federal government and the states. Our program consists of waiting for the federal government to tell us it has behaved wrongly, and we wonder why we’re not getting anywhere?
As Jefferson warned, if the federal government is allowed to hold a monopoly on determining the extent of its own powers, we have no right to be surprised when it keeps discovering new ones. If Jefferson’s point was valid then, it is valid now.
In his famous Report of 1800, James Madison reminded Virginians and Americans at large that the judicial branch was not infallible, and that some remedy must be found for those cases in which all three branches of the federal government have exceeded their constitutional limits. If Madison’s point was valid then, it is valid now.
How much longer do we intend to be suckers? How much longer do we intend to hold conferences and give pretty speeches, as if these are the only peaceful modes of fighting back? The federal government isn’t interested in conferences and speeches. It wants victories. And it gets them, again and again. When will we do likewise? When do we intend to do something?
That is what I intend to discuss on Friday night.
Thomas E. Woods, Jr., is the New York Times bestselling author of ten books, including Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse and The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. Visit his website.
Please join the Republican Party of Iowa at an event
Celebrating Our Constitution
With special guests
Congressman Ron Paul
Friday, June 25, 2010
5:30 p.m. Reception
6:30 p.m. Dinner
7:00 p.m. Program
730 3rd Street
Des Moines, Iowa
$50 per ticket
$500 per table of ten
*Delegate discount see below
For tickets click HERE
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