Wednesday, March 3, 2010

All of it happened so we could open the hatch.

Orrin Hatch's editorial in the Washington Post is typically confused, degenerating pretty quickly into stock phrases, misleading language, and giving only cherrypicked details of the state of the "healthcare" debacle. Hell, at times he even tries to claim two incompatible moral high grounds in the same paragraph (In 2003, we refused to use reconciliation on principle. Our bill had enough bipartisan support that we didn't need to use reconciliation.)

But a stopped clock is right twice a day. And before descending into madness, Hatch nails the state of the union in general in his intro:

"America's Founders gave us a system of governance designed to limit government power and maximize liberty. The legislative branch is different from the executive, and the Senate is different from the House. No single branch has all the power. That can be frustrating for those with ambitious agendas, but everyone benefits by respecting those checks and balances even as we fight over policies." *

Our system is built specifically to break the inertia of ambitious politicians by slowing the rate of change. Fundamental changes to the way our system works require very strong consensus, not simply a President and a majority in Congress. Of course, this is frustrating to the kinds of people who think instant government action is the appropriate remedy for social issues.

It should be no surprise that Obama's last grasp at passing this abomination (which, even if you like the idea of government medicine, is now so badly mangled as to be a useless and costly symbol) is an unconstitutional dirty trick. That's the only way things like this can be pushed past the protections built into our system. Bush did the same thing, misusing "executive privilege" and "national security" policies to essentially ignore the Constitutional protections that could have frustrated his War On A Concept.

But this tradition dramatically predates the O and the W, of course. All the way back in 1937, when Franklin Roosevelt wanted to completely remake the federal government into a massive regulatory machine, he had a simple problem: the Constitution doesn't allow it. And the Supreme Court of the time was actually prepared, by a narrow margin, to do its job and enforce the Constitution. Pissed off that anybody would dare to strike down parts of his agenda, Roosevelt made an observation: the Constitution doesn't set the size of the Supreme Court. He introduced a Judiciary Reorganization Bill that would have let him choose and add six new justices to the Court, overwhelming his opposition and allowing him to pass any laws he wanted without fear of judicial review.

Now, some people think this is just great because they like the particular illegal policies FDR shoved through. But there are reasons we have to stand on principle. In a similar confluence of circumstances, Bush could've packed the Court and fundamentally remade the US by enshrining his "imperial Presidency" model into law. Are you pissed off about the "war on drugs"? The Constitution actually protects us from that kind of intrusive governance, but the same tools used to justify the government excesses of the "New Deal" were also used to justify our patently unconstitutional drug prohibition (which is why we have a 1919 amendment for alcohol prohibition and a 1933 amendment that repealed the prohibition, but we have marijuana prohibition based on a creative application of tax law from 1937).

It's tempting to ignore principle when the crisis du jour seems so pressing. After all, who can get all tangled up in technicalities when people can't afford health care? And who can worry about where the authority comes from when terrorists are blowing up our skyscrapers? And who can insist on properly amending the Constitution when lives are being ruined by the demon weed? And who can get upset about separation of powers and checks and balances when people are suffering in a great depression?

But this shit sticks around long after the crisis or moral panic has passed (whether or not the power grab in question actually addressed the problem). And every step down that road is one more small or big erosion of the system that keeps us free.

My family absolutely relies on continued access to prescription drugs to stay healthy. And if I lost my job, we'd have a lot of trouble paying for them out of pocket. But freedom is simply more important that my economic and health concerns. The Constitution amust stand, and our President's attempt to circumvent it must fail. Whether or not government medical care is a good thing simply isn't the issue.

[* - Not that Hatch has any moral high ground here, either. We always hear lofty rhetoric about checks and balances from the minority party, but today both parties turn back into despicable statists when thet regain majorities. Remember how many Democrats were incensed by Bush's trampling of the Constitution? How many of them give a damn about limitations on government power now that their party's abusing its authority to get things _they_ want? There was a time when the Republicans were better about this, but Dubya's despicable statism lost them any lingering credibility they had left.]

No comments:

Post a Comment