Anyone, it appears, who would be driven up the wall by a reading of its enumerated powers.
When historians look back on the predicament of American liberalism, no doubt they will regard with amazement the fracas that broke out when it became clear that the House of Representatives would open the 112th Congress with a reading of the United States Constitution. The hoots of derision, the outrage, the keening were such that one might have supposed a plan had been hatched for a reading of… well, it’s hard to think of what else could have ignited such a panic among liberals save the laws brought down from Sinai.
It is true that the plan to read the Constitution had been hatched in the wake of an election that was electrified by a Tea Party movement that had sought, above all, a revival of constitutional fundamentalism. Yet one might have expected the idea to be quickly embraced by the politicians and intelligentsia in the liberal camp. Liberals, after all, had won or secured many of their most famous victories — from the minimum wage to school integration to racial preferences in college admissions to abortion rights — by wielding the very text that the Congress would be reciting.
Yet instead of a joint celebration of our patriotic parchment, the plan to read its 8,000 or so words ignited in the liberal camp an outburst of sneering aimed not just at the conservatives but at the Constitution itself. “A ghastly waste of time” is how it was characterized by the New York Times in an editorial dripping with derision. A blogger for the Washington Post, Ezra Klein, seemed to suggest in a television appearance that the Constitution was confusing because it was written more than a century ago and “has no binding power.” In print, he quickly backpedalled to acknowledge that, in fact, it is binding. At the online magazine Salon, the headline over Michael Lind’s piece declared, “Let’s stop pretending the Constitution is sacred.”
“Freedom rests on a culture of constitutionalism, not a particular document,” the headline went on to say. To illustrate the piece, Salon ran a photograph identified as having been snapped in 2009 in Pleasanton, California, at a Tax Day Tea Party. It showed a person holding aloft a sign that said:
I Believe in the
David Corn, under the title “The House GOP Weaponizes the Constitution,” warned at PoliticsDaily.com that the Founding Fathers “wouldn’t cotton to lawmakers exploiting their well-crafted document and turning it into hollow political ammo.” Once the reading actually took place, it was set down in the Daily Kos as the “most boring circus ever.”
So what’s to account for this eruption of hostility and angst on the part of our most vocal liberals to our most important secular law? The answer, it is becoming ever more clear, is that the Constitution threatens the whole liberal project — and at a crucial time. I don’t mean to suggest that the Constitution is partisan; it’s neither a Republican nor a Democratic document. But the “change” that President Obama was referring to in his famous campaign cry turns out to be a vast expansion of government and of federal power. The only place the federal government gets any of its powers is in the Constitution. And in its plain language the Constitution grants the federal government only limited powers.
ONE OF THE WAYS the Founders limited the powers of Congress was that they enumerated them. They listed them carefully, one by one. And — the crafty critters — they did so in writing. Most of these enumerated powers are in Article I. It is the article that establishes the Congress and its two cameras, the Senate and the House. The actual enumeration of the powers is in Section 8. The more one reads that list and the powers that are granted, here and there, at other spots in the Constitution, the more it is clear how shrewd the decision to enumerate, and write down, the powers being granted really is.
This fact is marked powerfully in the Bill of Rights, which, in the 10th Amendment, so pointedly reserves all powers not specifically granted to the federal government, or prohibited to the states, to the states themselves or to the people. The way this has all been done sets up in our time a perfect storm of constitutional issues, on everything from Obamacare, to the war, to same-gender marriage, to the regulation of the Internet, to the financing of education, to immigration, to birthright citizenship, and even to — dast one mention it? — the question of who gets to decide whether a candidate seeking access to the presidential ballot can be required by a state to present a birth certificate.
A lot of elements of the Constitution are going to come into play in the coming storm, but the most exciting ground opening before us is enumerated powers. No sooner had America revoked the Democrats’ mandate in the House than the speaker-to-be, John Boehner, announced that henceforth all bills would require a citation of where in the Constitution the power was granted to Congress to do what it was being asked to do. The idea is to force the Congress to take a harder look at what it is doing to see where in the 20 or so powers enumerated in Article 1, Section 8, it is getting its authority.
My prediction is that four powers are the ones to watch: the power to tax; the power to regulate commerce among the several states; the power to establish “an uniform rule of naturalization”; and — your author’s favorite — the power to coin money and regulate its value. Potentially historic contests involving taxing, regulating interstate commerce, and controlling immigration are already moving through the courts. It is hard to predict how the fourth of those enumerated powers might erupt in controversy, but with the dollar having collapsed, at one point recently, to less than a 1,400th of an ounce of gold it is not hard to imagine the courts at some point testing whether our national currency has to be accepted as legal tender and even to take a new look at whether the Federal Reserve is constitutional.
THE POWER TO TAX hove into view as a thunderhead during the climactic weeks of the debate in the Senate over Obamacare. The Republicans, led by Senators John Ensign of Nevada and Jim DeMint of South Carolina, raised a rare, constitutional point of order, demanding to know where in the Constitution Congress could find the power to require someone to purchase health insurance. The query was quickly brushed aside by the Democrats, whose spokesman, Max Baucus, declared that one of the places they had the authority was over what is called the General Welfare Clause.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?