Thursday, December 16, 2010

It amazes me...

A few things have really amazed me recently.

- It amazes me how "promote the general Welfare" can be rewritten to mean "to promote the following enumerated powers" without anyone blinking an eye...

- It amazes me how people are thought to "defend the Constitution" when they accuse others of overreaching, but not when they assert the right to republican self-government provided in the Constitution against those who would deny them that right...

- It amazes me that we forget that almost all of the grievances brought against George III in the Declaration of Independence involve either (1.) the denial of the authority of self-governing bodies, or (2.) the failure of the King to pass beneficial legislation demanded by the people...

- It amazes me that one of the most ideological and political movements in the post-war period actually considers itself to be apolitical or non-political or even anti-politics...

- It amazes me that a politician that has been elected over 15 times, who has been in Congress for longer than I've been alive, who has perhaps the widest - and easily the most fervent cult following of any politician in Washington today, is similarly considered to transcend politics and political opportunism...

- It amazes me that libertarianism is explicitly promoted on some shows on the largest news network in America (and implicitly promoted in many others), and yet it still claims not to have a mainstream platform, and that news network still claims to be out of the mainstream. How can you be the largest network in the industry and not be a part of the mainstream?!?!?


I don't generally go after conservatives or libertarians for "not caring about the unemployed" or "hating poor people" or "hating the environment". I understand they are not monsters on these questions, and I understand why they might come to the conclusions they do about the appropriate means for addressing these concerns (and in more than a few cases I agree with them - I occupy the market-oriented center-left). I rarely critique conservatives or libertarians on these grounds unless I stumble on a statement or an instance that gives me special reason to.

But what bothers me to no end is when they blatantly and utterly fail on their own terms. When Hill staffers and advocates that are up to their eyeballs in political pandering and strategizing tell me they are opposed to Washington politics. When I not only have to listen to people bend over backwards twisting or simply dropping the words of the Constitution to fit their viewpoint on an issue - but I also have to listen to them tell me afterwards they are constitutional originalists. And not only that they are constitutional originalists, but that they are defending the Constitution against people like me.

These people aren't originalists - they are de-ratificationists. At one point we called them anti-federalists. It's fine if that's what you are, but don't tell me you have any concern for the Constitution or a broad sampling of our founding principles (certainly they are representing a narrower sampling of anti-federalist founders).

No one instance inspired this. A fairly wide collection of things I've read and conversations I've had over the last week or so inspired it, many having to do with the health reform ruling.


  1. Here are the three things that come to my mind.

    1) There have been large dominant Liberal Parties in every western European country from Netherlands to Germany (Westerwelle's FDP) to Denmark and whatnot. There was an once-dominant Liberal Party in the UK. Every one of these Liberal Parties failed to do a single liberal thing. Some Liberals support moral policing, social engineering policies, police state measures, and defense hawkishness. Yes, liberals are very pervasive in the Western world. No, none of them has been liberal in practice for the past hundred years. The best example is the British Liberal Party which just stood by while Britain implemented disastrous price and wage controls in the postwar period and kept pushing for complete nationalisation...some of these policies were not even dared by social democracies like Austria and Scandinavian countries to the extent that Britain did.

    2) The largest liberalisations have always occured under social democratic or progressive parties, not because they wanted it, but because they had no choice. That's what amazes me about Indian intellectuals who complain about "neoliberalism". Liberalisation never took place under orders of liberals or big business, but only under desperate social democrats in crisis. Carter deregulated and privatized America heavily. So did Helmut Schmidt in Germany. Netherlands followed a policy of fiscal consolidation that will never be dared in America. Et cetera

    3) American liberals detest Washington liberals, and the Washington liberal is often classed as another problematic kind of statesman. LRC, Mises.Org, Antiwar, and such fronts have nothing but contempt for Cato, Heritage Foundation, Koch brothers, Tea Party leaders, and other establishment liberals. That said, their position on a millionaire liberal like Ron Paul - who is otherwise extremely radical - is contradictory, because Ron Paul is very much the establishment's part and parcel now. He is a likable, non-racist version of Geert Wilders, who owes his popularity to having one foot inside government and one foot outside.

    PS: The monster of an insurance legislation passed by US Senate and the opposition to it made me realize how strong a liberal fever can be in ordinary American people, who need not otherwise be liberal. However, the insurance industry controls were implemented with a lot of bullying follwed by a lot of tissue paper and generous carrots passed around to big business to stop their sobbing - it was a government at its worst behaviour.

  2. I have no idea what your point is about the general welfare clause. Nothing is being rewritten. The narrow interpretation is the one that existed for 150 years before the 1930s. The way in which it is viewed today is in fact the "rewritten" version. Progressives rewrote it in the 30s and 40s. We want to go back to the way it was before the federal government was given nearly unlimited power.

  3. JoeMac -
    You don't give me much to work with, but no - it was not rewritten in the 1930s, and it was always understood to empower Congress to provide for the general welfare. It was used for such a purpose from the very beginning, primarily with the development of infrastructure. The Constitutional concerns at the time were whether infrastructure could be build without state permission, and bickering over whether certain infrastructure plans were not sufficiently "general". These are reasonable questions to hash out, but it was never questioned whether the federal government could appropriate money to provide for the general welfare. We can see this in very early discussions of national universities too.

    I think what happened in the 1930s was a heated discussion over what falls under "general welfare". This is a vague term, and I think we have every reason to believe that the founders intended it to be flexible. Again - its legitimate to hash out these questions.

    Not all libertarians, but many are proposing rewriting the fundamental meaning of this clause. Many argue that there is no power to provide for the general welfare at all, and that appropriations can only be made for the other enumerated powers. There is absolutely zero constitutional ground for this.


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