Category Archives: Constitutionalism

Constitutionalism: Searching For A Voice In A Two-Party System

I recently posted a blog addressing the corrupt operating principle of modern liberalism Because it is entirely policy driven and has no regard for constitutional rule of law, the democratic process, or the truth, modern liberalism is bankrupt of any motivating principles other than expediency.  Its approach to governance and the consolidation of power is tyrannical because it seeks to impose its policies and obtain the political power necessary to do so by whatever means possible.

Unfortunately for us all, modern liberalism is the motive political power behind the national Democrat Party.  As a result, the only current competitive alternative for constitutionalists to find a national voice is the Republican Party.  While the Republican Party is certainly not immune to criticism for growing the Federal government, it typically has a less broad policy agenda and is generally somewhat more committed to maintaining some fidelity to our constitutional process.  On balance, though the mainstream Republican Party is unquestionably to a large degree statist in its governing philosophy, its policy positions are usually less offensive to constitutionalists and government minimalists than those of modern liberalism.  However, being not as bad as the Democrats is hardly sufficient.  Constitutionalists need a national voice that boldly articulates and defends adherence to the Constitution and the rule of law as the only true entitlements we have as American citizens.  The national Republican Party is not fulfilling that role.

The unfortunate hallmark of the national Republican Party has been its unwillingness to deconstruct the artifices of modern liberalism once established.  In fact, once modern liberals succeed in establishing in the Federal government a more expansive role in governing some aspect of society, Republican officials often seem as eager to exercise the new power as are their modern liberal counterparts.  As a current example, consider how many Republicans running for office advocate repealing the Affordable Care Act.  Repeal of the ACA is simply not a primary campaign issue in this year’s mid-term elections.  At most, we hear establishment Republicans speak of “fixing” the ACA.  This, despite the fact that most say they believe the ACA is unconstitutional and despite polling that demonstrates the American people have never supported it.

The standard operating procedure of the Republican establishment seems to be to make a passable showing of opposing most modern liberal policy advancements for a time, but only for a time.  At some point, whether after losing a key vote, after losing a court battle, or after simply growing weary of the battle, the Republican establishment stops fighting, cedes the issue and then rushes in to exercise the new power as quickly as possible.  The political argument all too often becomes, “we can wield this power better than the Democrats”, rather than “we recognize that this power is misplaced in the Federal government and is destructive of liberty.  We will therefor continue to fight it as long as there is any viable possibility of defeating it.

As a result, it is difficult to ascertain the motivating principles of the Republican establishment today.  Though they often speak of freer markets, decreased regulation and returning to the founding principles, their actions more often reflect a disposition to conciliation and compromise.  When, in a two party system, one party is motivated by conciliation and compromise while the other is motivated only by expediency, one outcome alone can result—policy will trend toward the objectives set by the party of expediency.  How quickly public policy will trend left is dependent upon many factors.  But regardless of timing, it should be clear that where one party has specific objectives and is willing to do virtually anything to achieve them and the other mostly operates from a position of compromise, the party of expedience will achieve its objectives over some period of time.  As a result, we have seen throughout recent American history since the advent of the progressive movement and particularly since the New Deal, a continuous move toward bigger and bigger Federal government with more and more authority over all aspects of society.  The few interruptions in our march to ever bigger government have been short lived.  For the most part, we’ve had two parties working together in the interests of “getting things done” or “in the spirit of compromise”, to push the U.S. to ever higher degrees of statism for many decades.  While we might debate whether the Republican Party wittingly or unwittingly played its part in this process, that it has played its part is not subject to serious debate.

What we have to show for our ever expanding Federal government is not pretty – a liberty stifling regulatory system, $18T in debt and growing fast, more dependency and a quickly deplenishing spirit of individuality and personal responsibility.  With this expansion our Federal government has become nonresponsive, even uninterested in the opinions of the people and more focused on protecting its power and in growing even further the scope its authority.  At a time when the people desperately need political leadership persuading us toward individual liberty and away from statism, what we have instead are two parties leading us to oblivion.  The Democrats urge “full speed ahead” while the Republicans argue for a nice steady cruise control.  They both have us headed for a cliff.  They only differ in how quickly they’ll have us plunging over the edge.

If the Republican Party is to be the vehicle of our national salvation, it will have to change.  Clearly, it will not change from the top down.  The vast majority of the leadership of the Republican Party shows little interest in expanding freedom, little interest in shrinking government and absolutely no interest whatsoever in addressing the government debt that is sure to be our ruin.  One need only consider the disdain establishment Republicans show for the Tea Party to see the truth of the matter.  The national Republican Party is ambivalent about the debt until challenged politically.  Once challenged by true fiscal conservatives, they become fierce in the defense of their power.  Their ambivalence turns to scorn as they work to vilify their challengers.  By implication, they dismiss or even mock Tea Party concerns over the debt.

If the Republican Party is to be the vehicle of our national salvation, it will change from the grass roots up.  The Tea Party and others committed to fiscal responsibility and individual liberty will be the organizing and motivating factors.  The Republican Party will have to shed its decades long mode of operation.  Opponents have pejoratively called it “the party of ‘no’”.  We need for it to truly become the party of “NO” and enthusiastically embrace that role.  No more compromise toward economic ruin.  No more expanding power and spending in the spirit of “getting things done”.  No more spending growth.  No more government growth.  No more fostering dependency.  No more political cowardice in the face of the left’s ridiculous allegations meant only to induce the division inherent in identity politics.  We desperately need a new Republican Party led by constitutionalists who believe in liberty, free markets and limited government, who are proud to defend those principles and who are capable and willing to persuade their constituents and their colleagues to their point of view.  This can only happen if it originates from the base.  Constitutionalists have to stop hoping for better leadership and start working towards it.

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A Bold Attack On Freedom Of Political Speech In America

On September 11, 2014, the Senate voted 54-42 to end debate on Senate Joint Resolution 19.  Sixty votes were needed to end a filibuster and force a vote on the resolution.  Because the required sixty votes were not obtained, the resolution could not overcome the filibuster and it died.  Fifty four Senators, all Democrats, voted to end debate and go forward with a vote on the resolution.  Included among those 54 Senators were 48 who co-sponsored the resolution.

The point of the resolution was to propose an amendment to the United States Constitution.  Had the resolution gone to a vote, a two/thirds majority of both houses of Congress would be necessary in order to submit the amendment to the states for ratification.  In the Senate, that would require 67 votes, a number clearly unattainable since there were not even enough votes to overcome the filibuster.  That the resolution was doomed from the outset is clear.  Equally clear is that the lack of respect for the U.S. Constitution among our elected representatives is an historic problem that continues to this day.

The proposed amendment is short and easily understood.  It states in its entirety as follows:

Section 1. To advance democratic self-government and political equality, and to protect the integrity of government and the electoral process, Congress and the States may regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.

Section 2. Congress and the States shall have power to implement and enforce this article by appropriate legislation, and may distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.

Section 3. Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the press

The ultimate ratification of the proposed amendment by the states would have authorized governmental powers over political speech expressly denied by the First Amendment which states in its entirety as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The proposed amendment would, by it’s express terms, empower Congress and the States to regulate raising and spending money “to influence elections”.  Because any political speech can reasonably be deemed “to influence elections”, the government would have been empowered to regulate those persons and corporations spending money on disfavored political issues while leaving others deemed by the government to be advancing more “acceptable” political positions unmolested.  Because spending money is the only reliable method to ensure that a message is widely disseminated, the amendment would have empowered the government to choose who is entitled to amplify their political messages by spending money and who is not.  It would have enabled the government to criminalize the spending of money to communicate one message, while leaving those espousing the opposite message free to spend as they wish to communicate to the public.

History has proven that it is naïve in the extreme to hope that those in power will honor the limits on their constitutional powers.  The Federal government has historically and repeatedly argued in favor of extraordinarily broad interpretations of the powers enumerated in the Constitution.  The Commerce Clause provides one of many examples.  Article One provides that Congress has the power “to regulate commerce…among the several states…”  For many years Congress used this power either not at all or in a relatively limited fashion as intended—to prevent the states from implementing protectionist trade policies against each other.  For several years leading up to the New Deal era Congress, with the approval of the Supreme Court, interpreted its powers under the Commerce Clause to regulate more than strictly commerce.  Congress began regulating labor among interstate carriers, the “channels” of commerce and the instruments of interstate commerce, such as the rail cars and railroad safety devices.

The New Deal brought a continuous flow of legislation seeking to regulate wages and industry, ostensibly pursuant to the power to regulate commerce among the states.  For a time, the Supreme Court rebuffed such unconstitutional assertions of power.  But in the end and in the wake of FDR’s effort to pack the Supreme Court in order to emplace more “progressive” jurists, the Supreme Court buckled and approved the use of the constitutional power to regulate commerce among the states to, among other things, broadly regulate labor and products regardless of whether they were implicated in interstate commerce in any direct manner.  Since 1937, the Commerce Clause has been used repeatedly to justify federal regulation of matters which are not “commerce among the several states”.  On each occasion, the Federal government has expanded it’s power over the people despite the fact that it lacks any constitutional authority to do so.

With Senate Joint Resolution 19, 48 presiding U.S. Senators expressed in clear terms their desire.  They want to regulate political speech despite the fact that the Constitution specifically denies them the authority to “abridge the freedom of speech”.  The Supreme Court has not been so availing as it was nearly 80 years earlier in turning a blind eye to the illogical and extreme contortions of the Commerce Clause.  But the question remains; what did the 48 sponsors hope to achieve by proposing the resolution?  As noted, it was doomed from the start.  What did they hope would result from proposing the resolution?

One can only conclude that they hoped to score political points with the electorate.  In the 1930’s FDR and Congress perceived that the electorate would support their efforts to expand federal power despite the lack of constitutional authority.  They used the attendant political power to pressure the Supreme Court until it finally gave in, ushering in a new paradigm of federal power.  Rather than a power limited to regulating commerce among the states, the Federal government has since wielded its power unconstitutionally over almost all things arguably deemed to affect the economy.  Those who would now eliminate our right to free political speech have apparently concluded that there is sufficient public support for their efforts to enable them to utilize the debate over the resolution as an election year gimmick to compete for votes, to create a spring board for a groundswell of popular support, or both.

Regardless of their motive, it is clear that the disregard many of our elected representatives have for the Constitution, for it’s limitations on their powers and for the protocols it establishes to ensure that the Constitution can only be amended at the will of the sovereign people is at least as problematic as it has ever been.  That 48 out of 100 U.S. Senators would support a measure to obliterate the First Amendment is a sad commentary on the status of our leadership, the level of accountability demanded by the citizenry and the diminishing measure of importance we the people place on limiting the authority of our government over us and on maintaining our popular sovereignty.







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