Daily Archives: August 11, 2008

Obama’s Global Poverty Program

Obama has promised to double our foreign aid budget to $50 billion, if he is elected President in November. A part of that increase is Senate Bill S.2433, the Global Poverty Act of 2007, a bill sponsored by Obama that proposes to cut global poverty in half by the year 2050. The bill has been reported out of committee and placed on the Senate calendar awaiting action by the full Senate.

In arguing for or against the bill on its merits, a substantial argument could be made to support either side. There is a much more fundamental question to be argued however, than simply whether the aim of the bill is worthwhile, whether it is in our national interest, whether it will contribute to global stability, or what the price tag will be in increased spending. The basic question that should be asked on this and all other bills that come before Congress is whether it complies with the Constitution.

Before the Ink had dried on the Constitution, anti-constitutionalists began devising ways to circumvent its restrictions on the powers of government. During the first hundred years of our republic, their efforts met with limited success. During the twentieth century, however, anti-constitutional thinking gained momentum and by the beginning of the twenty-first, the U.S. Constitution has become little more than an interesting historical relic from the past.

Today, its most frequent use is to supply a line for the swearing in ceremony of public officials, “I do solemnly swear…to the best of my ability, [to] preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” While every public official takes this oath, from the local cop on the beat to the President of the United States, for most it has little or no affect on the way they carry out their duties once in office.

At the same time, it is the document most often referenced by those wishing to gain some personal privilege from government. “I have a constitutional right to… (Fill in the blank)”. You have probably heard this assertion hundreds of times during your lifetime, but how many times have you ever heard someone actually quote the Constitution, Article and Section to back up their claim? Probably few, if any. That’s because very few people, including our elected officials know what the Constitution truly says.

Barack Obama, in spite of the fact that he taught constitutional law for over a decade in one of the premier universities in America, is merely another of those politicians who either do not understand the constitution or are counting on the constitutional ignorance of the citizenry in order to implement their agenda. The Global Poverty Act is an ideal legislative example to illustrate this point. No matter how you interpret or misinterpret the Constitution, this Act is clearly unconstitutional.

The two most popular ruses for circumventing the clear meaning of the Constitution and nullifying the restrictions it places on government are the “living document” canard and a clever use of the phrase “general welfare” coupled with the so-called “elastic clause” found in Article 1, Section 8.

Of all the devices used by constitutional heretics to deny the limits placed on congressional power by the Constitution, none is more disingenuous or more easily proven false than the idea that the Constitution is a “living document” that evolves and changes as the needs and desires of the nation changes over time.

The pervasiveness of this heretical doctrine among our political leaders was indicated by Al Gore during his 2000 bid for the presidency. In describing the type of judges he would appoint to the Supreme Court, he stated; “I would look for justices of the Supreme Court who understand that our Constitution is a living and breathing document, that it was intended by our founders to be interpreted in the light of the constantly evolving experience of the American people.”

Barack Obama has expressed a similar view of the Constitution on numerous occasions, both in his campaign rhetoric and in his prior work as legislator, lawyer and university lecturer.

The founders did foresee the probability that the Constitution as written, would not always meet the needs of a thriving, advancing society that was constantly changing as new discoveries were made and new circumstances arose in domestic and international affairs. At the same time, they recognized the dangers in trusting the Constitution to the fickle whims of popular opinion or the ambitious machinations of politicians.

To protect the Constitution from the vagaries of politics and the shifting sentiments of the populace, they constructed an elaborate, yet flexible, process for making the changes needed. It was their intention that the Constitution not be interpreted to meet the evolving needs of the nation, but rather, that it be amended to meet those needs. Otherwise, Article 5 which lays out the procedures for amending the Constitution has no meaning or purpose.

The mere existence of Article 5 is the strongest possible argument against the concept of a living constitution. If the Constitution could be changed simply by a legislative act or the ruling of a federal court there would be no reason for Article 5 and its inclusion in the Constitution would be little more than a mockery of the principles of constitutional government.

The longest standing heresy concerning the Constitution is the application of the term “general welfare” to refer to a separate power in addition to those listed. It was first introduced by Alexander Hamilton founder of the Federalist Party and applied in a minor degree by John Adams, our second President, and the Marshall Court appointed by him. That the term would be misused by government to assume powers not delegated to it by the Constitution was anticipated by the anti-federalists before the Constitution was ratified and became a major issue of contention between the anti-federalists and the federalists that threatened to stand in the way of ratification.

The term itself appears twice in the Constitution, once in the preamble and once in the first clause of Article 1, Section 8. In the preamble, which reads,

“We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America”;

It is obvious that promoting the general welfare was just one of the goals in establishing a new government. The means of achieving these goals was to be the Constitution which followed.

Promoting the general welfare is the end and the Constitution is the means. To attribute a deeper meaning to this phrase other than the obvious is a violation of the rules of structure in writing. The term is used in a similar manner in Article 1 as one of the purposes for empowering Congress to levy and collect taxes.

Section 8 of Article 1 is a single complex sentence consisting of one independent clause and eighteen dependent clauses. The sentence contains eighteen semicolons and one period. In this instance punctuation is important because James Madison used it in Federalist Number 41 to argue against the use of the term “general welfare” as an additional power delegated to the Congress, and to ridicule those who feared otherwise.

“…It has been urged and echoed, that the power “to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States,” amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare. No stronger proof could be given of the distress under which these writers labor for objections, than their stooping to such a misconstruction.”

“Had no other enumeration or definition of the powers of the Congress been found in the Constitution, than the general expressions just cited, the authors of the objection might have had some color for it; though it would have been difficult to find a reason for so awkward a form of describing an authority to legislate in all possible cases. A power to destroy the freedom of the press, the trial by jury, or even to regulate the course of descents, or the forms of conveyances, must be very singularly expressed by the terms ‘to raise money for the general welfare.’ ”

”But what color can the objection have, when a specification of the objects alluded to by these general terms immediately follows, and is not even separated by a longer pause than a semicolon? If the different parts of the same instrument ought to be so expounded, as to give meaning to every part which will bear it, shall one part of the same sentence be excluded altogether from a share in the meaning; and shall the more doubtful and indefinite terms be retained in their full extent, and the clear and precise expressions be denied any signification whatsoever? For what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power? Nothing is more natural nor common than first to use a general phrase, and then to explain and qualify it by a recital of particulars.”

“But the idea of an enumeration of particulars which neither explain nor qualify the general meaning, and can have no other effect than to confound and mislead, is an absurdity, which, as we are reduced to the dilemma of charging either on the authors of the objection or on the authors of the Constitution, we must take the liberty of supposing, had not its origin with the latter….”

Thomas Jefferson writing on the same subject in a letter to Albert Gallatin, June 16, 1817 wrote,

“You will have learned that an act for internal improvement, after passing both Houses, was negatived by the President. The act was founded, avowedly, on the principle that the phrase in the constitution which authorizes Congress “to lay taxes, to pay the debts and provide for the general welfare,” was an extension of the powers specifically enumerated to whatever would promote the general welfare; and this, you know, was the federal[ist] doctrine. Whereas, our tenet ever was, and, indeed, it is almost the only landmark which now divides the federalists from the republicans, that Congress had not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but were restrained to those specifically enumerated; and that, as it was never meant they should provide for that welfare but by the exercise of the enumerated powers, so it could not have been meant they should raise money for purposes which the enumeration did not place under their action; consequently, that the specification of powers is a limitation of the purposes for which they may raise money…”

The “Global Poverty Act” fails to pass Constitutional muster on at least two grounds. Even if the term “general welfare” alluded to an additional congressional power, the act would still be unconstitutional. The clause reads, “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes … [to]… provide for the general welfare of the United States”. The Global Poverty Act is designed to provide for the general welfare of all other nations of the world except the United States.

Furthermore, the practice of making direct grants to other nations from taxpayer money (foreign aid) is not among the enumerated powers listed in the Constitution and is therefore unconstitutional in all cases.

It is high time we decided, as a nation, whether we wish to continue as a constitutional republic or adopt a different form of government. We can express our preference in the coming election by voting for or against the candidacy of Barack Obama.

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