Our National Debate: What's Truly Important
The right and the left in this country have long debated what the role of government should be. With the troubled rollout of ObamaCare, the latest discussion naturally centers on health care, but as the seasons change, so changes the debate. What should be government's role in education? Employment? Energy? Transportation? Manufacturing? Commerce? What should government do more of? What less of? From where will come the next czar?
The answer is: it doesn't matter.
For there is a much more important fight to which comparatively few are paying attention, the answer to which renders all other questions moot. That fight is for the rule of law.
That may strike some as an odd assertion in a nation drowning in laws and regulation. Indeed, the government churns out law left and right - pun fully intended. From Obamacare (the most massive U.S. bill ever passed at more than 380,000 words, spawning over 11 million words of regulation) to the crucial matter of the design specs of Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coins (they can't read the Patriot Act or ObamaCare, but they made time to tackle that one), legislators have lost sight of their charge, carefully enumerated in the Constitution -- the very document that created their stations.
For instance, during the recent federal government "shutdown" (which furloughed a mere 17% of the government), a Nevada couple were dispossessed of their home in direct contravention of the 5th and arguably the 4th Amendments. Such abuses of power are played out repeatedly, be it wiretapping by the NSA, selective targeting by the IRS, or opportunistic invocations of the Patriot Act -- itself passed with insufficient consideration of the Constitution or of legislative duty (see failure to read above).
This is nothing new. Since the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, the government has skirted the Constitution. Times have changed, but habits have not.
Conversely, and perversely, even while paying the Constitution short shrift, it has become the tool of choice for a faction of American politickers and activists. In the latest high-profile example of this phenomenon, a federal judge this week struck down part of a recent Texas abortion law as unconstitutional because it would "unreasonably restrict a woman's access to abortion clinics." Think what you will of the Texas law or of Roe v. Wade, but the Constitution provides no such guarantee of convenience. The next logical step in this line of reasoning would be to assert the power of the federal government to force medical practitioners to perform abortions should no other qualified and willing abortion doctors be present in an area -- all for the convenience of women seeking abortions. Such specious reasoning and misuse of power in support of personal and party aims is precisely what the Constitution was created to preclude, yet the go-to argument for anything such individuals don't like is that "it's unconstitutional." (Fortunately, in a moment of sanity, an appeals court upheld most of the Texas law soon after.)
Wielded as a weapon to champion one's causes or bludgeon one's foes, seldom is the Constitution adhered to strictly and faithfully as the basis for the rule of law, which a society must have, lest it devolve into factional wars for unchecked power. But that is inexpedient and inconvenient, and so the Constitution is said to be ill-suited to today's modern era. "Modern" is a relative term, however, as this notion has been espoused for at least a century, by no less than those in the nation's highest office, who are sworn to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Woodrow Wilson viewed the Constitution as an antiquated and inconvenient shackle, and he actually advocated presidential usurpation of authority reserved by the Constitution to the legislature and judiciary. Likewise, Franklin Roosevelt felt that the Constitution was too confining and that it should be reinterpreted however necessary to enable his progressive designs and vastly expand the power of the federal government. To this end, he embarked on his infamous "court-packing" plan to instill justices who would "reinterpret" the Constitution to sanction the government's overreaching arm. Just such spurious reinterpretation led to the use of the commerce clause as one of the cornerstones of federal abuse.
As a nation, we have become fair-weather friends of the Constitution. As such, as a nation, we must make a decision. Do we care about the rule of law, or do we not? If we do not, then we need not argue further about the role of government, for it will be whatever role the ruling elites have the strength to impose upon us. In that case, let us stop paying lip service to the Constitution.
But if we do care about the rule of law, it must begin with the Constitution itself. Without due deference to that, we abandon our nation to the despotic rule of reactionary public sentiment and those who have the power to sway it. This is the understanding from which those of us who revere the Constitution do so. It isn't merely because it represents the distilled wisdom, experience, and foresight of our nation's founders. More than this, it's because it is the guiding light for a civil society to self-govern and to change as it must through reasoned deliberation rather than through deception and force.
The Constitution was carefully crafted and is quite clear on the role of government. It was written in English and needs no reinterpretation. If it is poorly suited to our modern era, or if we believe that the powers it grants are insufficient to the needs of the day, then let it be amended. If Congress will not amend it, the people can do so via their State Legislatures with an Article V Amendments Convention. Inevitably, some Amendments will be as ill-conceived as some of the flagrantly unconstitutional laws which we now pass. (Prohibition comes to mind.) But at least it will then be upholding the rule of law and will not, by usurpation of lawfully granted authority, invite such excesses and abuses as are commonplace today.
And if we do lawfully -- Constitutionally -- forsake our freedoms, then we are given hope by the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition, that we can yet lawfully -- constitutionally -- reclaim them.