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Darn, That Pesky Constitution Again!

         This Article will also appear on the on-line newspaper the Revered Review:

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“What kind of country would this be if this Chamber had voted down Social Security or Medicare just because it violated some rigid idea about what government could or could not do? How many Americans would have suffered as a result?”

-Excerpt from President Obama’s Speech to Congress September 8, 2011.


I was listening to the President’s speech last night and nothing surprised me with the jobs plan he outlined to Congress since it was the same Washington game we have heard from both parties in various versions over many years. What struck me in the speech was his statement about the passage of the Social Security and Medicare programs listed at the beginning of this article. I believe it encapsulated what many in both parties and both sides of the political spectrum believe about the limits of the Federal Government.

While I would venture to say no one in either major party, or even the most die hard Constitutional Libertarians, would advocate the immediate dissolution of Social Security or Medicare for those currently in these programs. I also do not believe anyone with an ounce of credibility would be in favor of denial of future benefits to those who are over 40 years of age who were forced to pay into these programs for the majority of their working lives. Advocating this would be advocating theft, although most Constitutional Libertarians believe these programs should be discontinued or modified for future generations or transferred to the states.  That being said, let’s look at the President’s statement at face value.

What is the “Rigid Idea about what the (Federal) government could or could not do” that the President referring to — could it be the Constitution and its list of enumerated powers? All elected and governmental appointed officials — Local, State and Federal — take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. When I was in public office over twenty years ago, I had to take such an oath, along with an oath to uphold the Constitution of the state of New Jersey.  I took these oaths very seriously. We are a nation of laws and not people. The Constitution was to put “chains” on the Federal Government as described by James Madison.  He wrote as a Congressman in “The Report of 1800” reflecting on the discussion that occurred during the drafting of the Constitution’s enumerated powers of federal government:

          “In all the co-temporary discussions and comments, which the Constitution

           underwent, it was constantly  justified  and recommended on the ground,

           that the powers not given to the government, were withheld from it;  and

            that if any doubt could have existed on this subject, under the original text

             of the Constitution, it is removed as far as words could remove it, by the

12th amendment [now the present10th Amendment] now a

            part of the Constitution….”

I am not attempting to debate the wisdom of the passing of Social Security, Medicare or any other program. What I am at odds with is the disregard for the Constitution that both parties have shown over the last 100 years. The routes that Presidents Rooseveltand Johnson, along with the respective Congresses  in 1935 and 1965, should have taken was the Constitutional amendment process. The ideas that the Constitution is “flexible” and a “living document” are a flawed construct of the Progressive movement of the early 20th century.

If we buy into the idea that the Constitution means what the federal government says it means should scare every citizen. It is said the road to hell is paved with good intentions; so is saying that the general welfare or Commerce Clause of the Constitution means the federal government can do anything it wants if it involves public safety, or the poor etc. If this were the case, why did the founders specifically list the enumerated powers and pass the 9th and 10th amendments? If you fall into this trap that the government can exceed these powers for the public good, then how long will it be that the federal government can “violate” individual rights of free speech, assembly, religion, or bearing arms, as well as state rights, if it deems it for the public good or welfare? It’s a slippery slope and I would say that as a Constitutional Republic, we have already fallen at least a quarter of the way down.

It is time we as a free people pick ourselves up and demand our current and future Presidents and Congresses understand and honor the oaths of office they take.

-Just my opinion-D.B.

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