The Brains of the Operation | The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Brains of the Operation
by

Our-Lost-Constitution-Subversion-Americas/dp/159184777X">Our Lost Constitution: The Willful Subversion of America’s Founding Document
by Senator Mike Lee
(Sentinel, 256 pages, $27.95 list; $17.94 at Amazon.com)

In recent years there has been a welcome infusion of young Constitution-minded Republican members into the U.S. Senate. A few of these first-term senators have already announced that they’re running for president. So Ted Cruz (TX), Rand Paul (KY), and Marco Rubio (FL) tend to get the airtime and the ink — not a bad thing since they represent an interesting cross section of the GOP.

But the brains of the operation — the guy behind the guy — is another freshman senator, a man who seeks less publicity than most politicians but who provides the philosophical foundation, the intellectual ammunition, and — and this is more important than you might think — the moral support for constitutional conservatism among politicians and ordinary citizens alike.

That man is Utah’s junior senator, Mike Lee, who is the author of a new and important book, Our Lost Constitution, which should — along with the Constitution itself — be required reading. Not just for anybody seeking elected office in the United States but for any American who cares about good government, freedom, and leaving a worthwhile country for our children.

The book’s subtitle more explicitly diagnoses the disease for which Sen. Lee offers a treatment (if not a guaranteed cure): “The Willful Subversion of America’s Founding Document.”

According to Lee, ever fewer Americans “care about the Constitution and the essential role it plays in limiting the power of government” while an increasing number of “legislators, judges and presidents…ignore and distort it.”

The book does an effective and entertaining job of tying political philosophy and American history to current political debates, explaining with all too much ease how President Obama, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and many politicians before them have shredded the Constitution and why the damage caused by their actions is not simply theoretical.

Our Lost Constitution is divided into two main parts: First, an explanation of several key provisions of the Constitution — “the lost clauses” — which have been almost completely abandoned by so many American legislators (and not a few presidents) and the harm that abandonment is causing. The second section describes how we can “reclaim” those lost clauses.

The book’s first chapter begins with an effective visual metaphor: “I keep two towers of documents in my Senate office. The first is only a few inches tall. A collection of all the legislation passed by Congress in 2013, it contains about eight hundred pages. The second tower, which is eleven feet tall, is a collection of regulations proposed and adopted by federal agencies in 2013. It contains about eighty thousand pages.”

In other words, when it comes to making rules that impact the lives of all Americans, Congress has delegated 99 percent of the work to unaccountable, unelected bureaucrats despite the Constitution clearly assigning “all legislative powers” to Congress. It’s not because legislators are lazy — or at least not solely for that reason — but rather that this structure allows politicians to take “all the credit for a popular goal and none of the blame for the controversial particulars of regulation.” Lee paints a maddening picture of cynical legislative scapegoating and bureaucratic petty tyranny (which is turning less petty and more aggressive with each passing year).

Any good book about the Constitution — even if it’s largely about how Progressives continue to trample on it — should include stories from the American Founding and other relevant history. Not to gin up patriotic fervor but because the context of the birth of the nation is critical to understanding America’s purpose and because learning about brilliant and fascinating men is as entertaining as it is informative.

On this score, Our Lost Constitution doesn’t disappoint.

There are tales of presidents and others of the last few centuries, including how elder statesman Benjamin Franklin effectively saved the Constitution through his wisdom and personality and how Andrew Jackson survived a duel with Charles Dickinson, the best shot in Tennessee, by allowing Dickinson to shoot him first. Dickinson, true to his reputation, didn’t miss; Jackson really was “tough as old hickory.”

Lee also introduces readers to the remarkable John Wilkes — whom I somehow had not stumbled across despite plenty of prior reading about our Founding. Wilkes became a living legend in England and then in the colonies for challenging King George III’s violations of the same liberties for which so many Americans were willing to risk their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor in 1776.

And of course there is the eternal, such as James Madison’s wisdom that “‘no political truth is certainly of greater intrinsic value, or is stamped with the authority of more enlightened patrons of liberty’ than the maxim that ‘the legislative, executive, and judiciary departments ought to be separate and distinct.’”

For those who esteem Madison’s many crucial insights, it is difficult to remain calm when reading about President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address in 1933 when he called on Americans not just to “endure” but to “submit our lives and property” to a “common discipline.” (Roosevelt is rightly lauded for his leadership during World War II but when it came to economics and principles of liberty he was absolutely clueless — much like our current president.)

In order to impose his will on a nation that was founded on separation of powers — a structure specifically designed to prevent tyranny — Roosevelt doubled down: “It is hoped that the normal balance of the executive and legislative authority may be wholly adequate to meet the unprecedented task before us. But it may be that an unprecedented demand and need for undelayed action may call for temporary departure from that normal balance of public procedure.”

Madison would recognize this as precisely what the American Revolution was fought to rid us of. Barack Obama recognized it as a template to get around inconvenient restrictions on executive power and the bothersome will of the people.

Unfortunately, Roosevelt got his way, coaxing the biggest of big-government legislation through Congress and abusing the executive branch’s rule-making authority over feeble objections of an emasculated judicial branch (which Roosevelt made so in 1937 by threatening to increase the number of members of the Supreme Court). President Obama continues this lawless behavior today — leaving America seemingly to have gone “from Congress to a king.”

Senator Lee tells a riveting story of how Roosevelt placed on the Supreme Court a bigoted, racist, Catholic-hating member of the Ku Klux Klan named Hugo Black, and how Justice Black went on to upend the historic meaning of religious freedom, particularly the meaning of the constitutional provision against federal “establishment” of religion, to the ongoing detriment of American citizens. The recent wild and often intentional misunderstanding of Religious Freedom (“RFRA”) laws and the demonization of those who would be protected by them demonstrates the long-lasting effect of losing our Constitution through liberals’ “willful subversion.”

Demonstrating prescient ties to events which happened after Lee had finished drafting the book, the senator discusses abuse of the Fourth Amendment including the NSA’s bulk surveillance program and how it resembles a “general warrant” — what that Amendment was specifically written to prevent; the British use of such warrants, namely warrants which didn’t name a specific person to search, item to be seized, or reason for the search was one of King George’s most offensive acts.

Our Lost Constitution is not just a list of complaints and observations about Progressive bad behavior. The second part of the book is dedicated to “reclaiming the lost causes.”

Senator Lee explains four primary methods that Americans and our public officials should employ to reassert the rule of constitutional law in the United States and thereby to protect the liberty that is every American’s birthright. Lee includes context, history, and personal reflections, providing a richness to what could otherwise come across as just a conservative wish list, but in short:

  • Judges must (perhaps with the benefit of a spine-enhancing medical treatment inspired by Margaret Thatcher) stand up against unconstitutional acts by other branches of government (with legislators and presidents also taking their oaths to protect and defend the Constitution).
  • Legislators should “enact serious, structural reforms, not because members of Congress are our best hope but because, in some areas, they are our only hope” — such as by passing the REINS Act.
  • Members of Congress can aggressively use the “power of the purse” to stop implementation of unconstitutional laws even if courts won’t. Budgeting through massive omnibus bills makes this more difficult and helped President Obama during the 2013 federal government “shutdown” over Obamacare funding, about which Senator Lee offers a deeper glimpse into his own principles and frustrations.
  • Perhaps most importantly, ordinary Americans can and must, whether at the ballot box or at a cocktail party, change attitudes, take actions and cast votes to guide fellow citizens and politicians toward reclaiming our increasingly lost Constitution.

In each of these areas, Lee notes — for example with recent Supreme Court rulings restoring gun rights — that the anti-Constitution tide can be turned back with enough effort and commitment. But it is a difficult struggle because politicians intentionally act contrary to another of Madison’s warnings: not to let government (or laws) grow too big or too complicated lest power-hungry officials create among the citizenry a dependency on government that in turn makes the people dependent on politicians.

As Senator Lee puts it: 

Elected officials rely increasingly on a familiar campaign message: “You need me to make government work for you.” In spreading this message, they don’t just mask their self-serving intentions; they obscure and diminish the Constitution by acting as if the lawmaker is more important than the law. They don’t just disguise their role as marketers of corruption and dysfunction; they undermine the role of the Constitution by putting their own personality in its place. This explains why so many take an oath to honor the Constitution but then work tirelessly to weaken it. It is the Constitution itself that makes government work for the people, and that is why there is an oath to uphold it and a constant temptation by those in power to marginalize it.

While the ordinary American has no influence on the actions of a federal judge and little influence on the actions of our “representatives” in Congress, the avenues of “reclaiming” all intersect because Americans vote for the politicians who craft legislation, fund government, and nominate and confirm judges.

Too few Americans — including far too few politicians — understand (or behave as if they understand) that the Constitution is the very reason that our government is, or should be, good — by which I mean living up to its most fundamental and profound explicit purpose to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

The best way to ensure fidelity to this highest political promise is to heed Senator Mike Lee’s alarm, to learn the lessons of Our Lost Constitution regarding what happens when the Constitution is lost through “willful subversion” by self-serving power-hungry politicians and apathetic or misinformed citizens.

When today’s adult Americans look back on our legacy and the country we’re leaving for our children and grandchildren, the most important question won’t be whether we’ve left them a good economy or even a good environment. It will be whether we left them as free people.

It is a challenge that Senator Lee takes seriously and personally, which is why Our Lost Constitution is such an important, captivating, and worthwhile read.

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