Friday, April 2, 2010

Why the Constitution Matters

There's a YouTube video out there showing an Illinois Congressman (Phil Hare, Democrat) saying (repeatedly) that he "doesn't care about the Constitution" (some of his constituents were asking him where the Constitution authorizes Congress to mandate health coverage). I was going to embed the video here, but honestly it nauseates me so much that I just don't want to have to look at him when I log on. The link, though, for those with strong stomachs, is here: Phil "I don't care about the Constitution" Hare.

The idea that the U.S. Constitution--which the Congressman swore to uphold, I might add--doesn't matter anymore ought to strike fear into the hearts of every American. Because the Constitution, you see, is sort of a contract between the federal government and us--the people. The document spells out all of the rights of the federal government and explicitly states that everything not specifically mentioned in the Constitution itself is reserved to the states or the people. Here is the language: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

The reason this document matters so much is that we really only have two choices in how we live our lives: we can choose to live under the rule of law, or we can choose to live under the rule of man.

History--and our knowledge of our own fickle natures--teaches us that men are not to be trusted. Today's wise king is tomorrow's evil dictator and power, once given away, is difficult to get back. Ignoring what is in the Constitution in order to do anything--whether it be providing "free" health care to 30 million people or stifling political speech by creating restrictive campaign finance laws--puts us on a slippery slope that leads away from the rule of law.

Amending the Constitution is a difficult process; this is by design. The Founders understood that today's burning issue might be nonsense tomorrow and if amending the constitution were easy the minority would be at the mercy of the caprice of the majority.

For most of my adult life it has seemed that conservatives have been obsessed with the Constitution while liberals have been obsessed with trying to make it say things it simply does not say (do some reading on the history of the right to privacy and you'll see what I mean). Anyway--this attitude by liberals has always seemed amazingly shortsighted to me. Sure, when you're the party in power it's fun to ignore the Constitution and to ram unwanted legislation down the throats of voters--but they're not always going to be the party in power. And once precedent has been established it's difficult to move the fences back in.

Every American, from the left to the right, should be fiercely protective of this Constitution. It was written to limit the powers of the federal government, after all, and to assert that the government cannot abolish or unduly restrict our freedoms and our rights. Ceding these rights for the entitlement of the moment is on par with Esau selling his birthright for a bowl of stew. Whether for ourselves, or for our children and grandchildren, we each ought to be jealous of this document and when we see its tenets violated we ought to holler.

More later...


  1. For Congressman Phil Hare to openly state that he does not care about the US Constitution, is outrageous. We need to hold our elected officials accountable for what they say, just as much as we do in corporate America. A statement of disloyalty to the Constitution they are sworn to uphold, should absolutely be grounds for immediate dismissal with loss of all benefits for it is tantamount to treason.
    I am disgusted.

  2. I see validity in both sides of the argument. Were the constitution God-given, there would be more to it. But let's look at history and the constitution:

    Prohibition (brought about by amendment) was the greatest thing to ever happen to organized crime. Ever.

    Slave ownership (once a constitutional right) is perhaps the most shameful thing in American history. Would you cry "treason!" at someone who tried to pass an anti-slavery law when slavery was still a constitutional right? I think that loyalty should fall first to God and what an individual knows to be right and that loyalty to a flawed piece of paper (because all things written by men are) should always be inferior.

    Now, of course we're not talking about abolitionism. We're talking about the re-institution of slavery, in a (scarily accurate) sense. But the reason I dislike this argument from conservatives so much is that proving something is unconstitutional does NOTHING to prove it's a bad idea.

    Should the states win in the supreme court and prove this HCR is unconstitutional, what ammo does that give conservatives? "Yes well, our 234yr old rules say you can't do that!" That's just not convincing to anyone and not a legitimate argument (unless we have some evidence the rules are perfect).

    Beating this on the grounds of constitutionality will do nothing to quell the ideology that spawned it. A wise man once said "If you strike me down now, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine" and I'm weary of such eventualities.

  3. Your recitation of constitutional errors only proves my point: when the Constitution has been wrong, it has been (legally) changed. Congress does not simply pass a law that ignores the Constitution and the courts do not say, "This is for a good cause so even though it is unconstitutional we are going to let it pass" (even if that's how it seems sometimes).

    I would not cry "treason" at someone who passed an unconstitutional law; that is not the definition of treason.

    And nowhere in my post did I imply that constitutionality=good idea.

    If the Supremes rule that the health care evil is unconstitutional, that's not just ammo for conservatives. It's OVER. Forced health coverage will be an idea whose time has gone. Will we stop arguing about health coverage forever? Of course not, but the most egregious parts of the bill will be demolished.

    I have never understood this tack of yours; constitutionality is paramount and for you to dismiss it out of hand is odd to me. I can always say, "Well, you're young," which I'm sure is at least annoying and maybe worse, but I'm going to fall back on that now. ;)

  4. When half the nation still supports this bill (see latest gallup polls) finding this law unconstitutional will do nothing to mitigate the debate on health care, or even lessen it.

    That's why I'm so worried about all the constitutionality issues. A smaller percentage of Americans wanted to leave British rule than support this bill. If we simply cry it as unconstitutional we act as dividers, we need to explain why it's a bad idea.

  5. Of COURSE we need to explain why the bill is a bad idea (although, it's legislation now, not merely a "bill"). Upholding the Constitution doesn't mean you don't do anything else.

    And according to this CBS poll (released today), only 34% approve of the way Obama handled health care while 55% disapprove. A 21% spread is pretty impressive.

  6. Oh my goodness. Representative Hare declaring that he doesn't care about the Constitution.