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December 14, 2005

Unlimited Government 2

Thomas Bonsell, author of The Un-Americans: Trashing of the United States Constitution in the American Press (available here) responds to my Dec. 12 post called "Unlimited Government":

I have to disagree with you about the centerpiece of conservatives doctrine being limited government. Conservatives have never believed in "limited government" only in small and ineffective government. Alexander
Hamilton explained the concept of "limited government" in Federalist No. 78: "By a limited Constitution, I understand one which contains certain specified exceptions to the legislative authority; such , for instance, that it should pass no bills of attainder, no ex post facto laws and the like."

Nowhere did Hamilton on any other Founder propose that government be small and ineffective. Another specification for "limited government" being that it use only those powers the Constitution invests in that government (Article I, section 8, paragraph 18).

Conservatives wish government to legislate the reproductive process (anti-abortion laws), and our dying (opposition to Oregon's death with dignity law). Conservatives want government involvement in our spiritual lives (school prayer), our patriotism or lack of such (flag burning and the Pledge of Allegiance), love lives and marriages (homophobic laws), association (segregation laws), thought (anti-communism laws), assembly (anti-civil rights), movement (prohibiting crossing of state lines for abortions), morality, speech (notification laws for abortion), property confiscation (Reagan's zero tolerance on drugs), language (English-only drives), censorship and a WASP culture for everyone.

It should be noted that the Constitution doesn't give government power to legislate in any of these areas, but conservatives legislate anyway.

In areas in which government is empowered to act (taxing and spending for Social Security, regulation of commerce on the environment, worker safety or minimum wages, among many other areas) conservatives howl to the heavens in opposition.

My response:

Where in the Constitution is the federal government "empowered to act" by requiring that all privately employed Americans contribute to Social Security? Where is is empowered to set a national minimum wage? Or a national policy on worker safety? None of these is authorized by any of the powers in Article 1, Section 8, including the Commerce Clause, if you read it literally ("to regulate commerce... among the several states". ) As for your list of un-limited conservative laws--drug laws, anti-suicide laws, etc. --principled conservatives should object to them. And most don't. That was the point of that earlier post. It did not single out liberals for criticism.

Mr Bonsell thinks conservatives typically violate the Constitution but that the liberal project doesn't. But if you read the Constitution as written, you cannot fit the modern liberal project (universal day care, universal medicine, Social Security, Medicaid, etc.) in it. Compare Article 1, Section 8, with the blue pages in the phone book, marked "FEDERAL." Simply, the Founders' project to limit federal power by enumeration has failed, utterly and totally. It did not fail all at once, but if you had to choose a year it would be 1937. The only remaining limit on federal power is the list of specific prohibitions, such as the ex post facto clause, the First Amendment, the Second, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth. (The 10th is dead.) These are tremendously important, and should be guarded zealously, but they are a second line of defense. They allow a much, much larger government than the first line of defense, which was Article 1, Section 8.

Respond here:

 
Posted by Bruce Ramsey at December 14, 2005 11:51 AM



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December 2005

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