Thursday, February 18, 2010

Constitution, what constitution?

Letters to the Editor are never random. Unless the letter is exceptionally insightful and good, most of them are merely reflections on the points the editors want to make in the first place. What they select to print is what they believe. So here is a startling letter (why am I surprised) in the New York Times:
To the Editor:

You write that Tea Party leaders want “strict adherence to the Constitution.” But since the Tea Party members distrust government, do they really understand and approve of what the Constitution actually states: Congress shall have power to provide for the “general welfare of the United States”? And further, “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers” (Article 1, Section 8)?

The Tea Party seems confused — lauding the Constitution, which gives broad power to Congress, on the one hand, and fearing a properly activist government as a threat on the other hand.

The Tea Party leaders and followers may wish to emphasize personal freedom, but they have the “socialism” (government providing for its people) of the Constitution to contend with.

Robbins Winslow
Naples, Fla., Feb. 16, 2010
The architect of our constitution, James Madision, was kind enough to elaborate on just this topic:
With respect to the words "general welfare," I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators
The New York Times editors are not stupid. They know that the author's claims are incorrect and they deliberately are trying to influence an interpretation of the constitution which goes against its plain meaning.

And lest you think that this is isolated. Gail Collins, in her editorial, derides those foolish people who actually believe in the tenth amendment:
The 10th Amendment to the Constitution, which gives the states all powers not delegated to the federal government, is all the rage. (The Second Amendment is so 2008.) Its passionate fans, who are inevitably starting to be referred to as “tenthers,” interpret the amendment as pretty much restricting the federal government to military matters. They feel the health care reform bill is unconstitutional. Perhaps also Social Security.
Actually, Ms. Collins, the health care reform bill and social security ARE unconstitutional. But let's not let the law get in the way of raw power.

Sadly, neither Ms. Collins nor the New York Times has any sense of irony or shame, or they might take the time to read some history and discover some interesting information about the tenth amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights. It seems some folks way back when really did have some reservations. Alexander Hamilton writing in Federalist 84:
I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and in the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers which are not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why for instance, should it be said, that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? I will not contend that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretense for claiming that power.
Ms. Collins and the New York Times are not very original and their criticisms were predicted over two hundred years ago by men who knew better. Either the New York Times is stupid or dangerous. I vote for the latter.


Geoff said...

I second that vote.

This reminds me of one of your previous posts about how "words mean things." It is so disheartening to hear national politicians from across the political spectrum throw around grandiose plans about "creating" jobs and providing healthcare for all without ANY regard to the constitutionality of such plans. Does the tenth amendment mean anything or not? To be free is to live by under the rule of law. Think about it.

Adam Freund said...

Good point. It would be really interesting if this country actually had a debate which asked precisely if the tenth amendment means anything or not. If the conclusion is that it means something, then the next logical question would be, "what does it mean?"

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