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Welcome to STop, the Seattle Times Opinion blog where our editorial writers and editors share their evolving thoughts on a variety of issues. STop is a place where opinion writers and readers can exchange views and readers can learn more about how editorial positions are formed.

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December 12, 2005

Unlimited Government

Conservatives have too often forgotten that the centerpiece of their doctrine is limited government. Here (click link) is a fine article by a conservative who still believes in it, and understands it. He gives several examples of totally unconstitutional practice--the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law, the law allowing the FCC to set its own tax rates, the tobacco "settlement" and the suppression of medical marijuana by federal law--and writes:

The Constitution's own purposes, provisions, and architecture of government no longer attract our interest or give us much pause when they stand in the way of doing something that sounds good or is backed by an influential constituency. It is now invoked mostly in opportunistic ways to bulk up arguments about policies we support or oppose for other reasons.

That is exactly right. The Constitution is invoked formalistically, like playing the ace of spades. You use the Constitution when it's useful, and you ignore it at all other times. Even those who profess to care about the Constitution usually care only about one or two clauses in it, and assume the rest is taken care of.

To continue with DeMuth:

Many of us can remember when senators and representatives (usually curmudgeonly Midwesterners) would rise to object that proposed legislation, although perhaps desirable in its own terms, was simply beyond Congress's Constitutional powers. But today there is virtually no serious Constitutional deliberation in the Congress....

And look at what has happened at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. In the Republic's early days, Presidents used their veto power almost exclusively to strike down bills they regarded as violating the Constitution, not those they disagreed with on policy grounds... But in modern times the original practice has been turned completely on its head. In recent decades, Presidents have routinely--about once a month on average--signed bills into law while announcing that they regard some of their provisions as un-Constitutional (before 1945, this strange procedure occurred only about once a decade).

... So how can Presidents use their sole legislative power to enact laws they consider un-Constitutional, right out in broad daylight? I have raised this objection when working at the White House (in the Nixon and Reagan administrations), and must say that it was always regarded as quite silly.

Conservatives' blind spot is war; notice that DeMuth does not attack the Executive Branch for abrogating congressional war powers or blame war for bulking up the government. Some of those "curmudgeonly Midwesterners" who cared so much about the Constitution were antiwar nationalists like Gerald Nye (R-Neb) and Robert Taft (R-Ohio). War has been the biggest reason for the growth of government under George W. Bush, and AEI, the think tank DeMuth heads, has been a prominent perch of the neocons. Still, what DeMuth says about government and the Constitution domestically is quite true, and too often forgotten

Respond to Bruce.

 
Posted by Bruce Ramsey at December 12, 2005 07:02 AM



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