From when I was a kid in high school, I don’t remember much about the Constitution from my government class. It was pretty basic, actually. Here’s what I remember, in a nutshell.
The Constitution is the framework of our government here in the United States. It defines the different parts and how they provide checks and balances for each other. There’s a clearly defined process for changing it and some of the Founding Fathers insisted that a Bill of Rights be included to make sure we kept our freedoms.
All this is true, but somehow I missed one of the most important aspects of the whole deal. You see, the Founding Fathers had just fought a bitter war against the British Crown (not to mention some of their neighbors) to throw off the oppression of a government that did pretty much what it wanted to without regard for what was right or even legal. As they were working to create a new government, they were very much aware that, if they weren’t careful, they’d end up right back where they started – with a government that was oppressive.
So, the second half of the Constitution story is this: It’s designed to limit the Federal Government. It clearly enumerates with the government is allowed to do, and it clearly states that everything else is to be addressed by the individual states. The idea was to handle certain things, like the national defense and the highways and trade with foreign nations, at the national level and push everything else down to the local level where they can be handled according to regional preferences. It was never intended that the Federal Government would have the reach that it now has.
There is currently an assault on the Bill of Rights by the Federal government, but I’ll save that discussion for a future blog. What I want to do here is to provide a perspective that I think is missed by most people.
Today, there are a lot of legal challenges to enacted laws that are based on violations of the Bill of Rights, notably the mandate to buy insurance in the controversial Affordable Care Act. While these cases are valid and probably more winnable than others, they tend to ignore a more serious problem. What we should be doing is to fight the battle over whether or not the Federal Government has overstepped their enumerated powers in the Constitution.
By the way, I credit Charles Krauthammer for making this clear to me. See the video on YouTube – search for “Charles Krauthammer – Constitution Day Celebration 2011”. He makes the point right around minute # 45.
So let me try to say it a little better. By taking the stance that a particular law violates the Bill of Rights, we are in effect building a wall around the Bill of Rights and abandoning everything else as fair game for the government to legislate for us. What we should be doing is to build a wall around the Federal Government’s enumerated powers, limiting what they are allowed to legislate.
It was interesting to me that the Constitution actually mandates that the Congress meet at least once a year. To me, this seems that they didn’t expect them to have all that much to do, but they wanted to make sure they didn’t ignore something that needed to be done. I’m sure they would be horrified to find that our Congresses over the years (Republican and Democrat) have created such a monolithic mish-mash of laws, not to mention the ocean of regulations that have resulted.
It strikes me that most of our legislators today believe that what is unconstitutional is what they say is unconstitutional. When a legislator is interviewed and asked about the constitutionality of something, their answer is, for the most part, dictated by their politics and what comes through is something like “Don’t trouble your simple little mind with that. We’ll tell you what’s okay and what isn’t”. In other words, we are Congress and we decide what the rules are. That isn’t the way it is supposed to be. Everything they do must be judged through the lens of what the Constitution says.
To be honest, I’d be happy to vote for a Senator or Congress-person whose record was that they tried to stop passage of bills that are outside the enumerated powers.
What do you think? If you agree, post this on Facebook or somewhere.