Conservatives Still Don’t Get It

minute-man-2-lithoAfter hours of watching coverage of the Great American Tea Party and hours of listening to and reading commentaries on the coverage, and commentaries on the coverage of the coverage, I came to the conclusion that most of us still don’t get it.  I don’t expect liberals, socialists, statists and democrats to get it; their brains are wired differently.  But most conservatives don’t seem to have gotten it yet, either.

It is not out of control spending, astronomical national debt, and bureaucratic regulations that reach into every nook and cranny of our lives that are the problems.  These are only symptoms of the real problem.  For over a hundred years, we have allowed the political class free reign to do pretty much as they please, and they please to bolster their egos with more and more power.

As power increases, so does corruption and political lawlessness.  Today we have the most corrupt and lawless federal government in the history of the country.  The vast majority of government spending is illegal, most of the national debt is illegal and virtually all of the hundreds of federal bureaucracies are illegal.  If the same legal standards were applied to the political class that is applied to private citizens and private business executives, Washington would be empty, because everyone would be in prison.

This has been going on for so long that the average citizen has forgotten what it is that the federal government can legally do. For example, how often have you mentioned something that you consider wrong or immoral only to have the person you are talking to respond with, “no, that’s okay, I do that myself?”  Just as we have a natural tendency to measure morality against what we ourselves do, we have a similar tendency to decide what is permissible or even desirable for the government to do depending on how it affects us personally.

The poster child for this line of thinking is Bill O’Reilly, host of the “O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News. His is the number one rated show in cable news, dwarfing all the others on his own and competitive networks.  I have watched his show for years and have always been puzzled by its popularity, until it finally dawned on me that his audience must have the same standards of what is acceptable that he has. Since his views are generally conservative and most of the Fox News audience is conservative leaning it’s only natural they should compliment each other.

I usually agree with most of his conclusions, but it is evident that he has no consistent standard by which to judge.  He has no “yardstick” with which to measure the actions and pronouncements of those about whom he comments.  His judgment on most subjects seems to be based solely on whether or not he would do the same thing or take the same actions himself.

Since April 15 is tax day, it was expected that the tea party protests would focus on taxes and spending.  However, in watching and listening to participants, and reading their signs, I got the distinct impression that most would be fine with a little less spending and a little lower taxes, so long at the money spent went to things like roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects, education, health care and so on.  However, the Constitution is very specific on items the federal government is legally permitted to raise taxes and spend money for.  Few of the things most citizens expect the government to regulate and pay for are included in that list.

For example, one of my favorite conservative commentators is Mark Steyn. In his column on the tea parties, speaking about government spending he said this:

“OK, to be less absolutist about it, my interests include finding a road at the end of my drive every morning, and modern equipment for the (volunteer) fire department and a functioning military to deter the many predators out there, and maybe one or two other things. But 95 percent of the rest is not just “special interests” but social engineering.”

Only one of the three items mentioned by Mr. Steyn is the responsibility of the federal government, a functioning military. The rest are the responsibility of state and local governments as are education, health care, social programs, museums, parks, etc.  If they are needed and desired by citizens of the various states it is the state’s responsibility to provide them and pay for them with tax money raised from citizens of the respective states.

The Tenth Amendment is the heart and soul of the Constitution. Without it the Constitution is just another historical document, interesting but meaningless in the hands of the professional politician.  That is why the emerging “state sovereignty movement” based on the Tenth Amendment is so important to our future.

Tracy Coyle, a reader, reminded me in a comment on my last article that state governments are just as bad as the federal government.  She is right of course, but there are some differences.  In the Constitution, the Framers attempted to divide the powers of government with checks and balances to ensure each part of government kept to its own sphere.

To use the analogy of Thomas Jefferson in explaining the separation of church and state, the Constitution places a wall between the federal and state governments and between the governments of the various states.  Article 1, Sections 9 and 10, Article 4 and Amendment 10 spells out the relationship between the states and the federal government.  Apart from those mentioned there are no restrictions on the legislative powers of the states other than those placed by its citizens.

The federal government gets its powers from the states and the states get their powers from the people.  Over the past hundred years, the wall between the federal and state governments have broken down and the federal government has spilled over into the daily lives of individual citizens to an oppressive degree. That was neither the intent nor the design of the Founders.

The Bill of Rights is designed to protect citizens from both a tyrannical federal and tyrannical state governments.  The federal government has intruded into the daily lives of individual citizens to the point that all our attention is directed to it and we have allowed the state and local governments to become as corrupt and tyrannical as the federal.  If we are ever to regain control of our governments as intended by the Founders, we must develop a zero tolerance for illegal actions by our federal officials as a first step.

All laws federal, state and local are governed by the Constitution, the Supreme Law of the Land.  Any violation of the Constitution by a government official is a criminal act and should be viewed as such by the citizenry.  In the final analysis, it is the voters who are the judges and juries of criminal acts committed by their officials and if we fail to hold them accountable, we have no one to blame but ourselves.


8 responses to “Conservatives Still Don’t Get It

  1. I’d say you hit the nail on the head. Too many people haven’t read the Founders’ writings, including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights (including its virtually unknown preamble), the Federalist Papers, etc.
    This isn’t even a conservative issue, it’s a We The People issue, and we’d better deal with it real quickly and real decisively or it will become a We the Subjects issue very soon.

  2. One correction to “Only one of the three items mentioned by Mr. Steyn is the responsibility of the federal government” would be that Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 gives the power to Congress “To establish Post Offices and post Roads”. The delivery of mail needed [post or postal] roads. Thus, “post Roads” refers to the main highways at the time, many of which became today`s designated interstate highways. For example, “Boston Post Road” [partly now U.S. Route 1] traverses Massachusetts. That is why these two matters are together in Clause 7 [see: Therefore, Congress does have the power to deal with the roads needed to deliver the mail.

    I do agree that Federally funding the local fire department is clearly a violation of the Tenth Amendment and not a power of Congress. Mr. Steyn is plainly wrong on this point as you have indicated. However, such does not deter Congress from illegally appropriating monies and promulgating legislation without consideration of a Constitutional Convention to actually give this power to Congress.

    Regarding Bill O’Reilly, he is an entertainer who rarely displays his political philosophy. That`s because many of his personal political positions are actually very liberal. In order for O`Reilly to command a high salary, Fox requires middle to right leaning programming. So, that`s what he delivers. Like the late Tim Russert, he typically employs the technique: “to be hoisted by one’s own petard” mainly by commenting on and/or conducting interviews rich with the past remarks of his political targets. His appeal is that he feeds upon what people want to hear and he does not clutter up his rhetoric with judgments regarding the limits of Constitutional powers granted, or not, to Congress. In short, he is a populist informer as you have noted with little follow-through to correct the problem.

    Lastly, thank you for the excellent summaries and remarks of the powers of Congress throughout your web site. It is appreciated.

    • Fenton Burroughs

      As always your comments are to the point and informative. I appreciate your input and value your ideas.

      As to the matter of federal powers concerning the spending of tax dollars on infrastructure within the states, I ask you to consider the thoughts of Thomas Jefferson as contained in a postscript to a letter to James Madison, March 6, 1796 in which he wrote:

      “P. S. Have you considered all the consequences of your proposition respecting post-roads? I view it as a source of boundless patronage to the executive, jobbing to members of Congress and their friends, and a bottomless abyss of public money. You will begin by only appropriating the surplus of the post-office revenues: but the other revenues will soon be called in to their aid, and it will be a source of eternal scramble among the members, who can get the most money wasted in their State; and they will always get most who are meanest.

      We have thought, hitherto, that the roads of a State could not be so well administered even by the State legislature as by the magistracy of the county, on the spot. How will they be when a member of New Hampshire is to mark out a road for Georgia? Does the power to establish post-roads, given you by the constitution, mean that you shall make the roads, or only select from those already made those on which there shall be a post?

      If the term be equivocal (and I really do not think it so), which is the safest construction; that which permits a majority of Congress to go to cutting down mountains and bridging of rivers, or the other, which if too restricted may be referred to the States for amendment, securing still due measures and proportion among us, and providing some means of information to the members of Congress tantamount to that ocular inspection, which, even in our county determinations, the magistrate finds cannot be supplied by any other evidence? The fortification of harbors was liable to great objection. But national circumstances furnished some color. In this case there is none.

      The roads of America are the best in the world, except those of France and England. But does the state of our population, the extent of our internal commerce, the want of sea and river navigation, call for such expense on roads here, or are our means adequate to it? Think of all this, and a great deal more which your good judgment will suggest, and pardon my freedom. T. J.”

      Evidently this did not settle the matter between Madison and Jefferson for in December of 1825 Jefferson attached another document to a letter to Madison titled, “The solemn Declaration and Protest of the Commonwealth of Virginia, on the Principles of the Constitution of the United, States of America, and on the Violations of them.” In it we find,

      “They (federal government) claim, for example, and have commenced the exercise of a right to construct roads, open canals, and effect other internal improvements within the territories and jurisdictions exclusively belonging to the several States, which this Assembly does declare has not been given to that branch by the constitutional compact, but remains to each State among its domestic and unalienated powers, exercisable within itself and by its domestic authorities alone.”

      Further along in the document we find this,

      “Supposing then, that it might be for the good of the whole, as some of its co-States seem to think, that the power of making roads and canals should be added to those directly given to the federal branch, as more likely to be systematically and beneficially directed, than by the independent action of the several States, this Commonwealth, from respect to these opinions, and a desire of conciliation with its co-States, will consent, in concurrence with them, to make this addition, provided it be done regularly by an amendment of the compact, in the way established by that instrument, and provided also, it be sufficiently guarded against abuses, compromises, and corrupt practices, not only of possible, but of probable occurrence.”

      To my knowledge, such an amendment has never been added to the Constitution. In this matter I agree with Jefferson for the following reason. Article I, Section 8 gives the power to Congress to “establish post roads”. The same section also gives Congress the power to “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers”.

      Appropriating taxpayer money for the purpose of intrastate infrastructure, in this case, roads, may make it more convenient for the states but it certainly is not “necessary” in the sense as used in the Constitution.

      Thanks for the opportunity to elaborate on this point.

  3. Correct. Our problem is that as long as people benefit, they will not question the reason why. It is clear from the CNN reporter that asked: don’t you realize that your state has gotten $50b in stimulus money? I would much prefer if the Government didn’t bother collecting the $50b in the first place and just left it with us. But that is a tax issue.

    It’s for the Children…
    It’s not fair….
    If we collected just 2 cents from everyone….
    Are you greedy; whiney; mean; ….phobic; racist….

    All are used to prevent criticism of variations of collectivism. Ask the average American: If the government GAVE you a nice house, a nice car, health coverage and a quiet retirement, would you be willing to give them 100% of your paycheck? The answer from a majority, A MAJORITY, would be yes. House slaves indeed.

    Our problem is not the leftists – it is the ‘compassionate conservatives’. The Populists. To many ‘conservatives’ just want less federal government in their specific lives – and accept even encourage more federal government for their pet projects.

    Ask a 60-something staunch conservative if he supports the NEA and you will get a derisive snort. Ask him if he supports Social Security and you provoke clenched fists and a demand to honor ‘it’s committments’.

    “A republic madam, if you can keep it.” …and not give it away with a smile and cheering…

  4. The Constitution is purposely vague. That`s why it has lasted so long. Conversely, this vagueness is often exploited for poliical purposes. The thinking of the authors is important in understanding what was behind the words. But, we are not free to add or subtract words from the Constitution to make the document any more or less restrictive because of these historical notes.

    My only point is that there is at least an excuse for Congress regarding a Congressional role in establishing and maintaining interstate roads. Clearly, the extent of such and interference with states rights in these matters is subject to argument. However, tThere are clearly no excuses for Congress spending money for education, health, welfare, energy, agriculture and many others.

    • I don’t think the Constitution is purposely vague at all. I think it means exactly what it says. THAT may be subject to interpretation but it is clear to me, that constraining government was the goal and extending liberties the method.

      The Constitution was not written for Constitutional scholars or great legal minds, but for the educated citizen.

    • To Fenton

      I agree with your comment, “we are not free to add or subtract words from the Constitution to make the document any more or less restrictive because of these historical notes.” At the same time it is important in interpreting any document to look at the historical context in which it was written in order to discover the intent of the writer. In regards to the Consitution the best indicator of the historical intent is the writings of the founders themselves. It is in this regard that I quote the Founders.

      I also agree with Tracy’s comment that the Constitution is not intentionally vague. Article 1, Section 8, clause 19 and Amendment 10 dispells any vaugeness that may have inadvertently crept into the text. While clause 1.8.8 does give Congress the power to esbablish post roads, even to build them where non exists, clause 19 restricts them to passing only laws “necessary” for executing that power. If Congress can find a spot anywhere in the country where the deliverly of mail is required that is not already accesible by an existing road, by all means, let them build one. Otherwise leave that matter to the rightful authority of the states.

  5. To Tracy Coyle.

    It is my view that the framers did not trust the government and worked very hard to limit the powers of government.

    My remarks regarding “vague” were to characterize the words of the Constitution as being general in nature and without a lot of detail. This is the characteristic that makes the document virtually timeless in keeping our freedom from government intrusions.

    For example, “post Roads” did not elaborate on which roads or where they may be laid out. However, it is fairly reasonable to assume that such language does not give the federal government the power to lay out roads everywhere in country just because mail is delivered on that road. Never the less, because of the “post Roads” inclusion, Congress does indeed have a Constitutional right to legislate roads.

    Another is “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” did not mention any right to keep ammunition. But, clearly such omission did not mean that the government could ban ammunition rendering the “Arms” useless.

    I do believe every word in the Constitution is just as valuable as any other word and it was meant for “the people” to read it and understand it, including Congress, the Vice President, and the President. Unfortunately, the latter group of 537 elected officials pays little attention to the limits of their respective authorized powers.