27 January 2009

"True to our Founding Documents"

The title of this post comes from President Obama's inaugural address. The call to remain faithful to our Constitution is admirable. But I don't know if there has EVER been a time where we ignored our founding document more. This may seem like a shot at the new administration (which it is), but the buck doesn't end there. We, as a nation, are all complicit in remaining ignorant or apathetic to how far we've drifted from our nation's ideological moorings.

The parting shot of our Bill of Rights states:

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Anybody want to take a shot at what powers actually ARE delegated to the Federal Government? A glance at the our Founding Document will tell you that Washington has the Constitutional right:

  • To lay and collect taxes
  • To borrow money
  • To regulate international and interstate trade
  • To come up with a method for naturalization
  • To regulate bankruptcies
  • To coin money and punish counterfeiters
  • To set standards for weights and measures
  • To establish post offices and post roads
  • To issue patents
  • To create courts lower than the Supreme Court
  • To punish pirates
  • To declare war and the rules thereof
  • To raise an army, a navy, and a militia and govern them
  • To govern Washington, D.C.
  • And finally, to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States.
That's it. Those are the only things the U.S. Legislature has legal jurisdiction over, at least according to the Supreme Law of the Land. And yet, we sit and accept a vastly different reality every day. Republicans, Democrats, everybody. We are a nation no longer governed by our Constitution.

But we don't have to be.


Kristin said...

Ah.... a breath of fresh air... thank you for making that list! Joseph and I had created a list last year, but it was so discouraging that I threw it away.

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the Federalist Society.

bryant-man said...

Cool post. I'm not sure how this is a shot at the new administration any more than at any of the administrations from FDR to the present, but I definitely like the point you make about how we've allowed our federal government to run wild.

So what can we do about it (short of casting our vote in the direction of the few unelectable politicians who really are agains "big government")?

Also, isn't this issue kind of complicated by the wording of the Constitution? My understanding is that all kind of federal powers get shoved under the category of "regulate international and interstate trade" because it's not exactly clear what that means or how it was meant to be regulated. I personally would agree that the federal government has more power than it should, but as long as the courts consider those powers to fall under one of these umbrella categories then it's not really like we've abandoned the Constitution, just that we disagree about how it should be interpreted.

Russ said...

Good point, Bx. There are actually two clauses in the Constitution that are called "elastic clauses" because they can be stretched in application. This first is the commerce clause you refer to:

"To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes;"

The second is the "necessary and proper clause" which is highlighted at the end of the list.

While these clauses are not definitively explained, there are many aspects of the federal government that are not even tangentially related to the enumerated powers of Congress. A federal bail-out of private companies, for example, or the creation of the pseudo-governmental entities that got us in this mess in the first place, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

These things ought never to have been.

Russ said...

As far as what we can do about it, I think the answer is the last and only recourse of a democratic society: freedom of speech. From the housetops and in the ballot box. That's it.

The Supreme Court (appointed by our elected officials, mind you) is ultimately responsible for upholding the Constitution, but I don't know if they've told Washington to stand down since FDR was running things. And even then, we still ended up with the biggest batch of alphabet soup back there. Check out:
www.whitehouse.gov/ our_government/federal_ agencies_and_commissions

bryant-man said...

So do you know Congress gets away with all of these bail-out plans and such? Do they try to explain it as fitting under one of the umbrellas or is it just that the Supreme Court doesn't complain so no explanations are needed?

bryant-man said...

I guess as I think more about my last question I realize that they can probably sweep pretty much any economic intervention under the rug of "regulate commerce...".

Russ said...

Congress gets away with it because we let them off the hook. We've become so desensitized to the "welfare state" (AKA tyranny), that we can't imagine what life would be like without it. Take Social Security, for example. Anybody see anything in the Constitution authorizing that program?

Just for emphasis, James Madison from the Federalist Papers #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. "

Russ said...

The idea that any economic intervention can be swept under the rug of "regulate commerce" is a total misrepresentation of the Constitution. The reason that clause is in there in the first place was to prevent the states from competing with each other for foreign products through tariffs. The bidding wars were tearing the nation apart, so the Constitutional Convention wanted to impose national tariff standards.

Check out Federalist #42 for more information, starting with "The defect of power...":


Stormie said...

you guys are waaaaaaaaaaayyyy out of my league.

bryant-man said...

Storm, I think you need to upgrade your angst to the paranoid conspiracy level.