Sunday, June 19, 2011

Welfare, Tea, and Laughs: My Sojourn At the Fringe Continues...

Some friends of Tea Party temperament and I have been chatting up the Internets again, and one fellow in particular asks some damn fine questions:

David W-------, u mentioned that u believe in the welfare clause [giving the federal government the authority to do practically anything]. If the founders had intended the Constitution to give the federal government all the powers that are implied in the liberal interpretation of the welfare clause, why did they specifically enumerate the powers delegated to the fed govt in Article 1 Section 8? Why bother enumerating and voicing specific powers when the fed govt already has the power to do whatever it wants because of the welfare clause? And why did the founders bother with a Tenth Amendment, if they meant the welfare clause to give the federal government carte blanche?

Here are my thoughts by way of a reply...

All very good questions. And many generations of constitutional law students have debated them, with many more yet to do so - God willing.

Perhaps the founders included the enormously broad welfare clause right up front in the Preamble because they meant to suggest that the general welfare actually IS paramount, and worthy of inclusion in the grandest statement of principles contained in the entire document, and not in the later details.

They framers of the Constitution were not stupid and knew that debates such as this one would rage for generations as a result of its inclusion -- and yet, there it is. Right up front. You ask why the founders bothered with a Bill of Rights if the welfare clause indeed means what it says. I think you've got it backwards. Abraham Lincoln once said, "the Constitution is not a suicide pact." The welfare clause reminds us of this fact. What good are separate powers, specifically enumerated, if the general welfare of the People goes unprotected?

I admire your rhetorical skill in making my interpretation of the founding fathers' words seem naive, if not outright ridiculous. It is not ridiculous, however, to suggest that we as a nation have traditionally done a very good job of managing the tension between the elements of the Constitution that contradict, that push and pull against one another. We're not doing so now. We are in the age of the absolutists. Moderates and compromisers are in retreat, out of vogue.

Yet most Americans CAN tell the difference between Canada and the former Soviet Union, for instance. Most people in America CAN discern a firefighter's union from a committee within the Politburo or the KGB. But some of the more heated folks on the Right seem to think that any nation that even attempts to provide robust social welfare services or labor protections is no different than a communist dictatorship a la Josef Stalin. The Tea Partiers are enamored of that rhetoric, as well as any that suggests the current president didn't win his office fair and square or is somehow not "legally" the president.

The Tea Party, in other words, is entering its adolescence, and is feeling its oats, so to speak. They've only just begun to REALLY bring the funny. The Paranoid, Peeved, n' Peculiar are just getting started, so stay tuned for more and more hijinks.

You know who I'm talking about -- they show up on the evening news, pulled over on the interstate for putting homemade cardboard "Live Free or Die" license plates on their cars, resisting arrest and running all up and down the shoulder calling themselves "sovereign citizens" who need not obey the law. They do other funny things, too, like demanding their change at the Piggly Wiggly in gold bullion, or wearing tricorner hats to political events, carrying signs with funny slogans like "Get Your Government Hands Off My Medicare."

Talk with them a little, or their candidates, and you'll find that they have a host of very UN-funny ideas for improving government, mostly by killing it off or letting large parts of it die. They'll shut down the department of education, the federal student loan system, the environmental protection agency, they'll close public colleges and end social security. They'll cease funding for the arts and sciences, for international development, for medical research. Forget about federal disaster relief -- it's unconstitutional, like all the rest --; no federal protections for the disabled, for minority rights, either. Anti-American Commie plots all, just like the gold standard, and flouridated water.

The Tea Party finds the answer to the needs of the People not in any serious treatise on public health, public finance, urban development, sociology, or any other scientific thing, but in the "enlightened self-interest" of Ayn Rand that says the best help you can give people is no help at all.

I believe simply that power corrupts, and for that reason, in every system everywhere, the greatest threat of exploitation comes at the hands of those who hold the most power. The idea of American democracy is that no individual or organization is above the law, that ultimate power rests in the People - the leaders the People choose to represent them. From my point of view, the nation is at far greater threat from our electoral process being bought by the wealthy and powerful and corrupted so it no longer does the people's bidding than from the threat of too much government interference.

I believe that it is not the Status Quo, with it's Medicare and minority rights and student loans and environmental protections, that is woefully out of step with Constitutional Principles, as the ideological Right would have me believe. Instead, it is those who suggest undoing generations of needed legislation that brought equality and prosperity to the vast middle class, who incorrectly identify their own government as the exploiters, rather than the billionaires who game the political system; these are the people who are out of step.