Friday, May 6, 2011

Where Is The Constitution These Days?

The three branches of the federal government routinely ignore the United States Constitution. During the period leading up to the November 2010 elections, citizens were incensed when candidates laughed off their constitutional inquiries.
These rebuffs from our fearless leaders, and wannabe leaders, were in no small part the reason the Tea Party grew so quickly and so successfully. Apparently, no one told us backwater rubes that the Constitution was irrelevant.
It is tempting to believe that, in the first years of our country, the federal government knew its place. That it was nothing more than a benign entity, happy with its role as defender of the states.
It is equally popular to blame the erosions of our most important document on the FDR administration. And yet, while that erosion did begin to pick up tremendous momentum under Roosevelt, the problem isn't with any particular administration. The trouble is with the very nature of government.
The nature of all government is to garner power unto itself.
The states created a written Constitution, with specifically enumerated powers, to counter what they knew to be this inherent flaw in all governments.
This is an exceptionally critical point. The states created the federal government to serve their needs in a very limited fashion. Not the other way around.
However, if you look at the situation today, there is little doubt that the masters (the states) are no longer in charge of their servant.
The First Problem Started With Our First President
I'm a fan of George Washington. It pains me to point out that the very first breach of our Constitution took place before the term of our first president had ended.
1794 saw what has since become known as the Whiskey Rebellion. The federal government wanted to place an excise tax on the alcohol farmers produced. The farmers fought back and Washington raised a militia to enforce the taxes. Our third president later repealed these laws.
The next breach, one far more egregious than the first, happened only four short years later. President John Adams signed what was known as the Alien and Sedition Act of 1798.
Without boring you with details, it allowed the government to deport aliens and imprison anyone who spoke out or wrote against the federal government.
You read that correctly. The U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1788, and just a decade later freedom of speech was nearly eliminated.
Lest you think I exaggerate, not only were newspaper editors fined, Congressman Matthew Lyon of Vermont was fined $1,000, arrested and jailed for a letter written to a friend (and one published in a newspaper criticizing President Adams).
Thomas Jefferson, then vice president, stood in staunch opposition to these clearly unconstitutional acts. He created an elegantly simple solution without calling for succession.
Jefferson drafted the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798. Both documents said that it is the duty of the states to defend the liberties of their citizens, and each sovereign state, when the federal government oversteps its bounds.
[W]hensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force[.]
-- The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1798
In other words, if the federal government violates the Constitution, their actions are void AND the state must defend itself and its citizens against such actions.
Jefferson understood that it was the states' obligation and duty to interpose themselves between a federal government that will, by its very nature, routinely stray from the expressly limited powers as defined by the U.S. Constitution.
We cannot expect the Supreme Court to be an impartial arbitrator of its siblings.
I'll give you that 1798 was quite a long time ago and things have changed. However, one constant is that the federal government will not curtail its spending or its overreach into our lives or the sovereignty of the states that created it.
I don't know about you, but I'm getting a little frustrated that in the 30 years I've been able to vote, government spending has NEVER been cut. Ronald Reagan managed to slow spending, but no administration has reduced the size of government.
I've given up on the hope of changing the federal government from within. Each of the three branches, like a family, defends the other when under any threat of a reduction in their spending or curtailment of their powers.
It is naïve to think that the Supreme Court will limit its own power, or that of its siblings in the other two branches, or to expect it to be an impartial arbitrator when it is one of the three that make up the whole. History has repeatedly proven as much.
It is time to change tactics. We need to steal a page from Jefferson's playbook of 1798.
The state of California, even with all its glorious problems, has done just that. They've stood up to the federal government's war on medical marijuana and said, "no." And, believe it or not, it worked.
In October 2009, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced, "It will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana."
Regardless of your position on this issue, the fact of the matter is that several states told the federal government to butt out. Arizona and Kansas have recently followed and taken the same action.
This isn't entirely new. Remember the REAL ID Act? The states rejected that infringement too, and the Feds scampered back to Washington with their tails between their legs.
Or look at Arizona and its border situation. Again, it doesn't matter if you support Arizona's actions or not. What matters is the state government stood up to the federal government.
How about state courts denying the federal government any right to ban drilling in the Gulf? It's another important example of states flexing their little-used strength to take back their powers.
The Key
I believe this is the secret the federal government is hoping we never rediscover. The method to fixing the feds rests in our waking up our state governments to the duty they have to protect their citizens from an out-of-control central government.
It matters not whether you are a conservative, liberal or somewhere in between. Supporting states' rights not only is the right thing to do, it is probably the only thing we have left that can save this Union.
My little missive was to end there, but I was just handed an article from the May 3 Wall Street Journal showing that the number of households in 2009 (most recent data) not paying federal income tax jumped from 47% to 51%.
I am now more confident than ever that this 51% majority of the tyranny can no longer be turned back at the federal level. Never in our history has it been more important to reassert the sovereignty of our individual states.
It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves money from the public treasury. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most money from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.
-- attributed to Alexander Tytler (1747-1813)

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