In Who Killed the Constitution?, bestselling authors Thomas Woods and Kevin Gutzman provide their largely conservative readership a valuable service on two counts.
First, the book disabuses Republicans of the self-serving notion that they are always the heroes and Democrats always the villains. Infidelity to Constitutional writ is a bipartisan sin. Second, by stressing the affronts to the Constitution by all three branches of government, instead of obfuscating the abuses of the legislative and executive by a miasmic obsession with the judiciary, the book gives readers the broad picture.
For any liberals who crack these pages, the even-handed book imparts the hard lesson that entrusting unconstitutional powers to ephemerally governing administrations inevitably backfires. Three cheers for undeclared war under Harry Truman becomes outrage when George W. Bush similarly usurps that Congressional power.
The authors point out the difficulty in taking “seriously the arguments of Bush administration critics from the Brennan Center or the Nation magazine[.] They have pulled the very rug out from under themselves. Their sudden interest in obedience to the Constitution rings hollow.”
One transgression in which the executive wore the black hat and the judiciary the white hat was President Harry Truman’s nationalization of the steel mills in 1952. Like so many of the “dirty dozen” abuses against the Constitution that comprise the book, President Truman justified his tyrannical assault on private property by an ongoing “national emergency” — i.e., the Korean War.
In response to a threatened strike by steel workers, Woods and Gutzman write, “The owners of the nation’s steel mills had refused to negotiate any wage increase until they received assurances from the federal government’s Office of Price Stabilization — yes, there really was such a thing in 1951 — that they would be permitted to increase steel prices adequately at the same time.”
The Wage Stabilization Board (“yes, that also existed,” the authors quip) submitted a plan unfavorable to the steel companies. With a strike looming, a heavy-handed Truman grabbed the steel mills. With an arrogance seldom witnessed in American history, representatives of the executive touted the president’s absolute power.
The Supreme Court balked, in a decision unfortunately more concerned with the particular than with the principle, and overturned Truman’s power grab.