Fellow Patriot: The voluntary financial generosity of supporters like you keeps our hard-hitting analysis coming. Please support the 2022 Independence Day Campaign today. Thank you for your support! —Nate Jackson, Managing Editor

William Murchison / March 31, 2009

Alas, The Constitution

The mind boggles, and then again, maybe it doesn’t, having become what you might call boggle-proof over repeated assertions of federal government power to do this and do that, whatever you please, don’t bother asking.

The newest proof – anyway as of Monday – was the Obama administration’s plan to fix General Motors and Chrysler through bankruptcy filings and the Lord only knows what else.

At such a spectacle there wasn’t room to wonder after the administration told the chairman of General Motors, Rick Wagoner, to scram, get lost.

Is there anything at all, we might ask at this dramatic passage in U.S. history, that the U.S. government doesn’t feel fully empowered to do? Nothing suggests itself, which is a big part of the tragedy of our times.

I invite the reader to gaze higher than mere Events usually cause us to gaze, and to look at what is going on. Every supposed constitutional limit one can think of is falling without remark, far less protest. The American people seem to have made up their minds, presumably without bothering to exercise them, to the effect that the Constitution doesn’t divide or limit power the way we were once taught.

That old piece of parchment carefully delineated powers. The federal government, by advance arrangement, could do specific things. Others it couldn’t do. A role remained for the states, stipulated in the 10th amendment. Good taste and a healthy measure of modesty on the part of the executive and legislative branches were supposed to restrain the illegitimate exercise of powers illegitimately assumed.

Of course it never worked perfectly. Thomas Jefferson, anti-centralist as he was, stretched the meaning of the treaty power so that he might purchase Louisiana. It was a good lick, in many ways, but it showed that the Constitution, as a brake on the exercise of power, had its limits. Over the decades, the Constitution barely changed, save through the accretion of amendments like the one authorizing an income tax. What changed was the disposition of the Constitution’s interpreters to decide that A Good Idea just had to be constitutional. Vigilance relaxed. Congress and the President got in the habit of doing pretty much what they wanted. Our luck was that much of the time they chose not to do the outrageous.

Like kick out a corporation executive? One could say that if Washington, D.C., was bankrolling GM, it could sure tell GM what to do. Some might recall under the circumstances the famous photo of two National Guardsmen, in 1944, carrying out of his Chicago office the obstreperous chairman of Montgomery Ward, Sewell Avery, who had refused a Roosevelt administration edict to allow unionization.

Well, it was wartime, you know. Earlier, The New Deal had started telling farmers what they could plant – and couldn’t plant. It was an emergency, you know. A problem with emergencies, like the present one, is that the habits of command and obedience become institutionalized. Freedom retreats and only occasionally dares stick its nose back inside the door. Not so government. Government never retreats. The more we ask of it, the more it gives. The more it gives, the more latitude for action it demands – the more oversight of our affairs.

Mr. Justice James W. Reynolds’ dire and dour formulation from New Deal days – “the Constitution is gone” – could ring in our ears like a funeral bell. Supposing that anyone remembered McReynolds and the now-quaint intention that in a free society measures to limit government were of the essence.

Alas, Sewell Avery. Alas, Rick Wagoner. Alas, Mr. Madison, Mr. Adams, Mr. Jefferson – the whole powdered-wig contingent that worked to pen government, that bumptious contrivance, behind a wall of carefully specified duties and powers, in the interest of keeping freedom free. I somehow don’t imagine that at the end of the present emergency we are going to find freedom nearly as free as it was just weeks – - count ‘em, weeks – ago.

COPYRIGHT 2009 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

 

Start a conversation using these share links:

Who We Are

The Patriot Post is a highly acclaimed weekday digest of news analysis, policy and opinion written from the heartland — as opposed to the MSM’s ubiquitous Beltway echo chambers — for grassroots leaders nationwide. More

What We Offer

On the Web

We provide solid conservative perspective on the most important issues, including analysis, opinion columns, headline summaries, memes, cartoons and much more.

Via Email

Choose our full-length Digest or our quick-reading Snapshot for a summary of important news. We also offer Cartoons & Memes on Monday and Alexander’s column on Wednesday.

Our Mission

The Patriot Post is steadfast in our mission to extend the endowment of Liberty to the next generation by advocating for individual rights and responsibilities, supporting the restoration of constitutional limits on government and the judiciary, and promoting free enterprise, national defense and traditional American values. We are a rock-solid conservative touchstone for the expanding ranks of grassroots Americans Patriots from all walks of life. Our mission and operation budgets are not financed by any political or special interest groups, and to protect our editorial integrity, we accept no advertising. We are sustained solely by you. Please support The Patriot Fund today!

★ PUBLIUS ★

“Our cause is noble; it is the cause of mankind!” —George Washington

The Patriot Post is protected speech, as enumerated in the First Amendment and enforced by the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, in accordance with the endowed and unalienable Rights of All Mankind.

Copyright © 2022 The Patriot Post. All Rights Reserved.

The Patriot Post does not support Internet Explorer. We recommend installing the latest version of Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, or Google Chrome.