Happy Constitution Day from a Document on Life Support

Some people think the Constitution is almost dead. Some people wish it were dead. And some people are doing their best to kill it. I think, though, that the Constitution is much stronger than we give it credit for since, when its precepts are adhered to, it's still the best bastion of liberty the world has ever seen. Learning this immutable truth might be rather costly in the days ahead, but that's another story...
The current health care debate, as well as the previous and ongoing debate over the global war on terror, show just how little people think about the United States Constitution anymore.

On September 17, 1787, 39 men put their lives on the line by signing the greatest freedom compact known to mankind--the Constitution of the United States of America. The Constitution eloquently and with wisdom set forth rules under which Americans could live in liberty and peace. But ask many people what they know about the Constitution and "racism" is one of the first thoughts that comes to mind.

Besides telling us how many senators and representatives we are supposed to have in Congress, the Constitution has become for far too many Americans a symbol of American greed and haughtiness. That's because far too few Americans know or care anymore what the Constitution actually says. That's because our federal government, having strayed far from the moorings of the Constitution, actually has become the epitome of greed and haughtiness. This was not always so. The Constitution prescribes very limited functions to the Federal Government, leaving all other responsibilities to the states. Few would recognize those limitations now, not to mention knowing that they even exist.

The current debate over health care captures the essence of what has gone wrong in America. Prior to that, the debate over the war on terror was a ripe indication of how little we understand our founding documents. Over the last 4 decades, the national Republican party has taken the role of tearing us away from our Constitutional moorings on an international level, while the national Democratic party usually plays the part of making the domestic scene constitutionally unrecognizable.

Most liberals recognized when George W. Bush wiped his...er, um...feet on the Constitution in usurping power during the war on terror that the Constitution actually vests in Congress (which Obama has unsurprisingly not relinquished). Most conservatives now recognize that Barack Obama has equal disdain for the Constitution in his push for nationalized health care. But it's not enough to recognize and admit violations only when someone from another party commits them. Real integrity is when, regardless of what party one belongs to, one recognizes (and cares) when anyone rides roughshod over the pages of the Constitution.

It's come to the point that we're asking the wrong questions. To take the latest example, rather than asking if all Americans should have proper health insurance, the right question is: if all Americans should have proper health insurance, who is responsible to provide it? Certainly, under the rules of Article I Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, it can't be the federal government. Under the broadest interpretation of the commerce clause of Article I Section 8, the Federal Government may have the authority to require the states to allow their residents to purchase health insurance in any other state, but that would be the outer limit of the federal government's powers. Other than maybe that, unless we amend the Constitution to allow the federal government to provide a national health care plan, we can't use whether or not (I think not) Britain or Canada provide their citizens better health care as a reason to start a national plan.

James Madison warned that
If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may appoint teachers in every State, county and parish
and pay them out of their public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union;
they may assume the provision of the poor; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post-roads; in short, every thing, from the highest object of state legislation down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress....

Were the power of Congress to be established in the latitude contended for, it would subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature of the limited Government established by the people of America.
It's as though most big-time Republicans and Democrats alike think that Madison was encouraging the "transmut[ation of the] nature of the limited government", because that is exactly what we have become.

As deficits mount and the love of Americans for each other waxes cold, the Constitution is honored today more in the breach of its rules than in respect for them. And that's exactly why I think the Constitution will never die, because as the breach becomes wider, it becomes more and more plain to see that true liberty and prosperity will only be found by returning to its precepts than by taking false comfort in becoming separate laws unto each of ourselves.


  1. For an interesting take on the Founding Fathers and their beliefs about government and the Constitution, try reading "Screwed" by Thom Hartman.


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