Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Strict Construction

New Utah Senator Deconstructs the Constitution

            We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.” –Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1865.
            Mike Lee is the new Republican senator from Utah. He replaced John Ensign, also a Republican, who left amidst allegations of ethics violations.
            Sen. Lee is about the most coherent Republican I’ve heard speak in a long time. He certainly beats out the current clutch of GOP presidential hopefuls, whose attempts to communicate usually amount to repeating the latest mantras of Faux-Limbaugh. Lee is different. His arguments are cogent and he seems to believe what he’s saying. He is intellectually consistent. He scares the hell out of me.
            Here’s what he had to say about taxation at a town hall meeting in Fairview, UT, on August 30th. (You can hear the whole thing at http://www.c-span.org/Events/Senator-Mike-Lee-R-UT-Town-Hall-Meeting/10737423846/.)
            “At the 50,000-foot level, the purpose of government is to protect life, liberty, and property. Government can’t do – government shouldn’t try to do – for me that which would be immoral for me to do by myself. The government shouldn’t, just because I know that it’s wrong for me to rob from my neighbor and take my neighbor’s money for myself, I shouldn’t enlist the government and outsource it as an agent to do that for me.
            “When we pay taxes, we pay, as it were, at the point of a gun – not literally, it’s really at the point of a pencil or a pen. But we know that if we don’t pay them, eventually some guys with guns will come to our house and then we’ll have to pay them. So we just pay them. So we need to be careful about what we use government for, and I think we have to use government for only those things that no one else can do, that we really can’t do for ourselves, and that usually involves protection of life, liberty, and property.”
            So, Lee believes, such government activities as welfare payments, disaster relief, medical assistance, research and development, educational support, and the like are immoral. The government takes money from some and gives it to others, and that’s just simple theft. I don’t know if he includes special tax breaks for corporations, agricultural price supports, and bail-outs for banks and brokerages. And isn’t taking a smaller percentage of the money earned by trading stocks than that taken from money earned through employment sort of immoral, as well?
            Anyway, Sen. Lee gave the following interpretation about what the U.S. Constitution allows the federal government to do:
            “Now, you won’t find in (the Constitution) any power that says Congress has the power to make everything fair. You won’t find anything in here that says Congress has the power to relieve suffering wherever it may exist, or to make things more just or equitable in society generally. You won’t find any power in there that says Congress can tell you where to go to the doctor and how to pay for it. You won’t find anything in here that says Congress can tell you that you have to buy health insurance, not just any health insurance but that kind of health insurance that Congress in its infinite wisdom deems necessary for you to buy.
            “What you will find in here is the power for Congress to take care of a few basic things: national defense, regulating trade between the states and with foreign nations, regulating trademarks, copyrights, and patents, a uniform system of weights and measures, the federal court system, a federal bankruptcy system, declaring war, taking care of federally-owned property, and my personal favorite power of Congress, the power to grant letters of marque and reprisal. That’s a hall pass that allows you to be a pirate in the name of the United States. I’m going to get one some day. So, that’s the power of the government in a nutshell. That’s the purpose of the federal government, as I understand it, in the Constitution. There are a few other powers, but that’s it in a nutshell.”
            Under those limitations, one wonders what the Founders thought Congress would do, or why they took so much time to create two diverse bodies within it. Were they expected to meet for just a couple days every two years to approve a new official definition of the ounce, approve a trade agreement with Zanzibar, and go home? Apparently Lee thinks so.
            I am always bemused by way Republicans ignore the very start of our Constitution, where are set out its reasons for being: “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
            Article One, Section 7, says: “Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate shall, before it becomes a law, be presented to the President of the United States.” It then goes through the procedures required in case of a presidential veto, and concludes, “it shall become a law.” I cannot conceive that the Founders put together this complicated structure just to allow Congress to redefine the ounce and the handful of other powers enumerated. But that’s what Sen. Lee thinks.
            Under his standard, the Erie Canal should have been solely a project of the states it crossed. The land-grant colleges are just legalized theft from the citizens – and, for that matter, so were the various homestead acts. Private enterprise should have gone to the moon, not the federal government. The Soil Bank, the interstate highway system, Amtrak, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, federal assistance to education, all of our efforts to insure civil rights and equality, and so many other projects and programs that have helped this country grow and prosper were all illegal, unconstitutional, and morally wrong.
            This is a bizarre and dangerous conception of the Constitution, but Mike Lee presents it clearly and convincingly. We’ll hear more from him.

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