A Less Perfect Union: How Will Conservatives Restore States’ Rights?
Thanks largely to the Tea Party movement, the United States is thinking harder about individual liberty and states’ rights than she has in years. But despite identifying the problem, conservatives aren’t any closer to enacting a viable long-term solution for taming our federal leviathan.
Several efforts show promise. Many states have challenged the constitutionality of ObamaCare’s individual mandate to purchase health insurance, guaranteeing an eventual ruling from the Supreme Court. Though worth doing, that’s far too risky a basket to put all our eggs in, since it relies on a majority of the justices to rule based on the text of the Constitution rather than their personal ideologies.
In his popular book Men in Black, constitutional scholar and talk radio host Dr. Mark Levin suggests that Congress should restrain such activist judges via its constitutional authority to place limits on the courts’ jurisdiction and to impeach especially odious judges, and advocates constitutional amendments to give judges term limits and give Congress a supermajority veto over Supreme Court decisions. All these proposals are worth exploring in further detail, but even if enacted, there would still be legislative statism to deal with.
In Minnesota’s 2010 gubernatorial race, unsuccessful Republican nominee Tom Emmer backed a state constitutional amendment forbidding federal laws from taking effect without approval by a two-thirds vote in the state legislature. This proposal’s practical failings are obvious—preemptively nullifying all federal laws until the high bar of supermajority support is met would drastically complicate the law’s execution, and there’s no reason to expect state lawmakers’ decisions will be significantly more pro-Constitution that Congress, instead of simply turning on whether a particular majority happens to agree with whoever controls Capitol Hill at any given time.
In his recent book Power Divided is Power Checked, talk radio host Jason Lewis floats a more radical solution—a 28th Amendment, which would expressly affirm each state’s right to secession: “any state whose inhabitants desire through legal means and in accordance with state law to leave this union of the several states shall not be forcibly refrained from doing so.”
Secession is one of the Right’s more heated inter-movement debates, often distinguishing Libertarian from Republican, Northerner from Southerner. This conservative believes secession-at-will is a dangerous doctrine which undermines the rule of law and forgets the nation’s founding principles. Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, and Jay all considered the national Union an indispensible safeguard of liberty, and “Father of the Constitution” James Madison explicitly denied secession’s legitimacy, explaining that, as a mutually-binding legal compact, the Constitution cannot be broken by any single party.
Moreover, conservatives need to be honest about secession’s full implications—by breaking away from the country, a state wouldn’t merely be rejecting an unjust administration, but also rejecting our very Constitution as no longer worth defending within the system of government it establishes.
So what is the answer? Taking unconstitutional laws to court would certainly be worthwhile. So would Levin’s proposed remedies. But these aren’t magic bullets, and conservatives need to recognize that the problem is more complex than “good states versus evil feds.” Indeed, bad national politicians don’t just fall from the sky; they start out as bad state and local politicians.
Why do so many Americans accept statism? Because the rest of us have failed to be vigilant in our own backyards. For decades, we’ve let progressive presuppositions about government and society gradually infect our politics, education, and culture. To really change course, we must retake our institutions at the local level, particularly with renewed scrutiny of what our schools are—and aren’t—teaching. We can’t expect future generations to recognize betrayals of our founding principles if they don’t even recognize names like Locke or Publius.
We didn’t get here overnight, and we shouldn’t expect a constitutional rebirth overnight either. Every level of American government and society needs to be scrubbed clean. Meaningful, lasting reform is the work of generations, which will demand from each of us more patience, tenacity, and fortitude than ever before.
McCarthy on the Secret History of Medicare
Medicare was a scam from the start. It had to be a scam because its ostensible purpose — providing health insurance for the elderly — was never the objective of its proponents. Instead, Medicare was a stepping stone to a utopia its champions dared not acknowledge: A compulsory universal-health-care system administered by government experts. FDR’s Committee on Economic Security initially intended to issue a health-care plan in conjunction with its universal, compulsory Social Security proposal in 1934. As Cato’s Charlotte Twight recounts, the former was dropped due to fear that pervasive opposition among the public and the medical profession would jeopardize passage of the latter. But Roosevelt got right back to it the day after he signed the 1935 Social Security Act, empowering the new Social Security Board to study the “related” area of health insurance.There followed three decades of progressive proposals, each shot down by lawmakers animated by fierce public dissent. The Left realized the dream of socializing the health-care sector was not attainable in one fell swoop, so an incremental strategy was adopted: Get a foot in the door with less ambitious proposals; establish the precedent of government control while avoiding debate over the principle of government control. “Incremental change,” said Medicare scholar Martha Derthick, “has less potential for generating conflict than change that involves innovation in principle.” […]More shrewdly, proponents misrepresented Medicare as an “insurance” program, with a “trust fund” into which working people paid “contributions” and beneficiaries paid “premiums” that would “entitle” them to claim “benefits.” In reality, there is no “trust fund.” Workers pay taxes — at levels that can no longer satisfy the pay-outs for current beneficiaries. This state of affairs was entirely predictable when Medicare was enacted in 1965 with the Baby Boom well underway. Back in the early days, when the program was flush, the surplus of taxes passed from the “trust fund” into the federal treasury, which redistributed the money to whatever chicanery Washington happened to be heaping money on. In return, the “trust fund” got an IOU, which would ultimately have to be satisfied by future taxes (or by borrowing from creditors who’d have to be repaid by taxpayers with interest). And the “premiums” largely turned out to be nonsense, too: The pols endeared themselves to elderly voters by arranging for Uncle Sam pick up more and more of the tab, or by using the government’s newfound market power to demand that providers accept lower payments.When Medicare was enacted in 1965, the inevitability of its many adverse consequences was crystal clear. The system was grossly underfunded. The fee-for-service structure (expertly described by Capretta) was certain to increase costs exorbitantly with no commensurate increase in quality of care (indeed, care is mediocre, or worse). But most palpably, the fact that government was at the wheel made Medicare instantly ripe for political gaming and demagoguery. The ensuing 46 years have not only made the obvious explicit; Medicare and its tens of trillions in unfunded liabilities are actually worse than even its most fearful early critics predicted it would be.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich steered the break-out of his presidential campaign into a ditch a couple of weeks ago by suggesting that the Ryan Medicare reform was “right-wing social engineering.” He was wrong, but not for the reason cited by his critics. To be more precise, Representative Ryan’s plan is a surrender to left-wing social engineering on terms the right wing naïvely believes it can accept. Ryan is the darling of a Washington breed of conservative wonk convinced that we can make the welfare state work if we just incorporate a few free-market, family-friendly tweaks […]Reformers such as Representative Ryan always ignore this inevitable trajectory of entitlement politics. They rationalize that they can make a government-sanctioned bribery system run better, or at least preempt Democrats from making it run worse. Hoping to stave off Medicare, congressional moderates in 1960 passed a bill to provide means-tested medical assistance to the elderly. It only greased the wheels for not only Medicare but Medicaid. In Massachusetts, Romneycare was another well-meaning attempt to install a compulsory statewide health-insurance system that would be less autocratic and costly than the one the Left would have imposed. It is, predictably, a disaster that tends toward ever-more-suffocating government control.
Hey, Let’s Subsidize Crack!
Vancouver health officials will distribute new crack pipes to the city’s non-injection drug users this fall as part of a pilot project aimed at engaging crack cocaine smokers and reducing the transmission of disease such as hepatitis C.The program, part of Vancouver’s harm reduction strategy, is expected to start in October and run for six months to a year, said Dr. Reka Gustafson, a medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health.The intent is to connect health care workers with crack cocaine smokers to evaluate how many of the drug users are in the city and what equipment they need to lower their risk of catching diseases such as hepatitis C, HIV and even respiratory illnesses.A kit with a clean, unused pipe, mouthpiece, filter and condoms will be handed out to the participants, Gustafson said. It’s not known at this time how many drug users will take part in the pilot, which is estimated to cost between $50,000 and $60,000.“There’s been a shift to crack cocaine smoking and we want to make sure the services we provide are the services they need … if we’re providing syringes and what we need are pipes, we’re not serving them,” Gustafson said […] “It’s just understanding and knowing the health consequences of crack cocaine smoking.”
The reason they want to get clean needles and crack pipes out on the street is because 95% of addicts don’t keep theirs clean, of course. However, once you’ve passed out a clean pipe or clean needle, **it’s only sterile for that first use**. From then on it’s dirty and stays that way. It will be used again. And again, and again, and again.But Henry, they’ll teach them all about the importance of sterile works! They have a program and everything! And the addicts will ignore them. Such education programs have been common for over forty years. I’ve been working with addicts since 1986. There is a uniquely evil kind of ignorance that tells would-be do-gooders that the addict who won’t change his behaviors despite the likelihood of death by gunshot, overdose, AIDS, organic damage, mugging, and a thousand others ways an addict manages to die, will for some reason see the light and change out of fear of contracting hepatitis. If you want to kill an addict, give him uncut heroin or a government health department social worker. They are equally deadly.So now, thanks to Vancouver Coastal Health, there will be many, many thousands more dirty pipes infected with hepatitis and other nasties out there in the addict community than there were before. Same number of addicts, just several thousand extra infected crack pipes, so the individual chance of infection is significantly raised.But, but, but.. we give them pamphlets!Arrrgh.
New on RedState – The Fate of Independence
My first RedState post:
As many of us celebrated the birth of our nation this weekend, our pride and gratitude were tempered by the fear that America might have a dwindling number of future Independence Days to look forward to. A survey of the political landscape reveals that such pessimism regarding the survival of our Founding principles and institutions is not without cause.
The Left’s cancerous influence over our politics, media, and culture remains widespread, and the Right’s efforts in curing it leave much to be desired:
- Over one million unborn children are slaughtered every year, yet when the Susan B. Anthony List asks those running to be the nation’s next president for the most basic and mild of pro-life promises, National Review decides they ask too much. Reason’s Matt Welch claims that only 30% of professed libertarians apply their philosophy of liberty and unalienable right to those most in need of their protection.
- Despite all the this-time-we-really-mean-it promises from Republicans after their 2010 victory, it’s still doubtful that the GOP has the fortitude or savvy to right our fiscal ship. Speaker John Boehner settled for a budget deal that began with far smaller spending cuts than America needs and turned out to be far, far less than even the announced numbers. Signs of further disappointment suggest the GOP still hasn’t kicked its addiction to compromise.
Yes, Let’s Emulate the UK on Healthcare
Nurses casually stepped over a patient as he lay dying on a hospital floor.Peter Thompson, 41, was left in a corridor for ten hours before someone noticed he had passed away.In a final act of indignity, hospital auxiliaries pulled his lifeless body across the floor in a manner his family described as like ‘dragging a dead animal’.The scenes which shame the NHS were all captured on CCTV. Staff thought Mr Thompson was merely drunk and left him to ‘sleep it off’.Yesterday a coroner condemned the death as ‘wholly preventable’.An inquest heard that the father-of-one, who had consumed a cocktail of drink and drugs, could have been saved had he received emergency treatment.The hospital’s accident and emergency department was just 200 yards away.
Buckley’s Observations on Libertarianism Sound Awfully Familiar
In 1957, Whittaker Chambers reviewed Atlas Shrugged, the novel by Miss Ayn Rand, wherein she explicates the philosophy of “Objectivism,” which is what she has chosen to call her creed. Man of the right, or conservative, or whatever you wish to call him, Chambers did in fact read Miss Rand right out of the conservative movement. He did so by pointing out that her philosophy is in fact another kind of materialism – not the dialectical materialism of Marx, but the materialism of technocracy, of the relentless self-server, who lives for himself and for absolutely no one else, whose concern for others is explainable merely as an intellectualized recognition of the relationship between helping others and helping oneself. Religion is the first enemy of the Objectivist, and after religion, the state – respectively, the “mysticism of the mind,” and “the mysticism of the muscle.” “Randian Man,” wrote Chambers, “like Marxian Man, is made the center of a godless world.”Her exclusion from the conservative community was, I am sure, in part the result of her desiccated philosophy’s conclusive incompatibility with the conservative’s emphasis on transcendence, intellectual and moral; but also there is the incongruity of tone, that hard, schematic, implacable, unyielding dogmatism that is itself intrinsically objectionable, whether it comes from the mouth of Ehrenburg, or Savonarola, or Ayn Rand. Chambers knew that specific ideologies come and go, but that rhetorical totalism is always in the air, searching for the ideologue-on-the-make; and so he said things about Miss Rand’s tone of voice which, I would hazard the guess, if they were true of anyone else’s voice, would tend to make it eo ipso unacceptable for the conservative. “…the book’s [Atlas Shrugged’s] dictatorial tone…,” Chambers wrote, “is its most striking feature. Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal…resistance to the Message cannot be tolerated because disagreement can never be merely honest, prudent, or just humanly fallible. Dissent from revelation so final can only be willfully wicked. There are ways of dealing with such wickedness, and, in fact, right reason itself enjoins them. From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: ‘To a gas chamber – go!’ The same inflexibly self-righteous stance results, too, in odd extravagances of inflection and gesture….At first we try to tell ourselves that these are just lapses, that this mind has, somehow, mislaid the discriminating knack that most of us pray will warn us in time of the difference between what is effective and firm, and what is wildly grotesque and excessive. Soon we suspect something worse. We suspect that this mind finds, precisely in extravagance, some exalting merit; feels a surging release of power and passion precisely in smashing up the house.”As if according to a script, Miss Rand’s followers jumped National Review and Chambers in language that crossed the i‘s and dotted the t‘s of Mr. Chambers’ point. (It is not fair to hold the leader responsible for the excesses of the disciples, but this reaction from Miss Rand’s followers, never repudiated by Miss Rand, suggested that her own intolerance is easily communicable to other Objectivists.) One correspondent, denouncing him, referred to “Mr. Chambers’s ‘break’ with Communism”; a lady confessed that on reading his review she thought she had “mistakenly picked up the Daily Worker“; another accused him of “lies, smears, and cowardly misrepresentations”; still another saw in him the “mind-blanking, life-hating, unreasoning, less-than-human being which Miss Rand proves undeniably is the cause of the tragic situation the world now faces….”; and summing up, one Objectivist wrote that “Chambers the Christian communist is far more dangerous than Chambers the Russian spy.”What the experience proved, it seems to me, beyond the unacceptability of Miss Rand’s ideas and rhetoric, is that no conservative cosmology whose every star and planet are given in a master book of coordinates is very likely to sweep American conservatives off their feet. They are enough conservative and anti-ideological to resist totally closed systems, those systems that do not provide for deep and continuing mysteries. They may be pro-ideology and unconservative enough to resist such asseverations as that conservatism is merely “an attitude of mind.” But I predict on the basis of a long association with American conservatives that there isn’t anybody around scribbling into his sacred book a series of all-fulfilling formulas whcih will serve the conservatives as an Apostles’ Creed. Miss Rand tried it, and because she tried it, she compounded the failure of her ideas. She will have to go down as an Objectivist; my guess is she will go down as an entertaining novelist.The conservative’s distrust of the state, so richly earned by it, raises inevitably the question: How far can one go? This side, the answer is, of anarchism – that should be obvious enough. But one man’s anarchism is another man’s statism. National Review, while fully intending to save the nation, probably will never define to the majority’s satisfaction what are the tolerable limits of the state’s activity; and we never expected to do so. But we got into the problem, as so often is the case, not by going forward to meet it, but by backing up against it.There exists a small breed of men whose passionate distrust for the state has developed into a theology of sorts, or at least into a demonology, to which they adhere as any religious fanatic ever attempted to adhere to the will of the Lord. I do not feel contempt for the endeavor of either type. It is intellectually stimulating to discuss alternatives to municipalized streets, as it is to speculate on whether God’s wishes would be best served if we ordered fried or scrambled eggs for breakfast on this particular morning. But conservatives must concern themselves not only with ideals, but with matters of public policy, and I mean by that something more than the commonplace that one must maneuver within the limits of conceivable action. We can read and take pleasure in the recluse’s tortured deliberations on what will benefit his soul. Bernanos’ Diary of a Country Priest was not only a masterpiece; it was also a best seller. And we can read with more than mere amusement Dr. Murray Rothbard’s suggestion that lighthouses be sold to private tenants who will chase down the beam in speedboats and collect a dollar from the storm-tossed ship whose path it illuminates. Chesterton reminds us that many dogmas are liberating because, however much damage they do when abused, it cannot compare with the damage that might have been done had whole people not felt their inhibiting influence. If our society seriously wondered whether or not to denationalize the lighthouses, it would not wonder at all whether to nationalize the medical profession.But Dr. Rothbard and his merry anarchists wish to live their fanatical antistatism, and the result is a collision between the basic policies they urge and those urged by conservatives who recognize that the state sometimes is, and is today as never before, the necessary instrument of our proximate deliverance. The defensive war in which we are engaged cannot be prosecuted by voluntary associations of soldiers and scientists and diplomats and strategists, and when this obtrusive fact enters into the reckonings of our state haters, the majority, sighing, yield to reality, whereas the small minority, obsessed by their antagonism to the state, would refuse to give it even the powers necessary to safeguard the community. Dr. Rothbard and a few others have spoken harshly of National Review’s complacency before the twentieth-century state in all matters that have to do with anti-Communism, reading their litanies about the necessity for refusing at any cost to countenance the growth of the state. Thus, for instance, Ronald Hamowy of the University of Chicago complained about National Review in 1961: “…the Conservative movement has been straying far under National Review guidance…leading true believers in freedom and individual liberty down a disastrous path…and that in so doing they are causing the Right increasingly to betray its own traditions and principles.”And Henry Hazlitt, reviewing Dr. Rothbard’s magnum opus, Man, Economy, and State, enthusiastically for National Review, paused to comment, sadly, on the author’s “extreme apriorism,” citing for instance, Dr. Rothbard’s opinion that libel and slander ought not to be illegalized and that even blackmail, “‘would not be illegal in the free society. For blackmail is the receipt of money in exchangef or the service of not publicizing certain information about the other person. No violence or threat of violence to person or property is involved.’…when Rothbard wanders out of the strictly economic realm, in which his scholarship is so rich and his reasoning so rigorous, he is misled by his epistemological doctrine of ‘extreme apriorism’ into trying to substitute his own instant jurisprudence for the common law principles built up through generations of human experience.”“Extreme apriorism” – a generic bull’s-eye. If National Review’s experience is central to the growth of contemporary conservatism, extreme apriorists will find it difficult to work with conservatives except as occasional volunteers helping to storm specific objectives. They will not be part of the standing army, rejecting as they do the burden of reality in the name of a virginal antistatism. I repeat I do not deplore their influence intellectually, and tactically, I worry not at all. The succubi of Communism are quite numerous enough and eloquent enough to be counted upon to put their ghastly presences forward in effective protest against the marriage of any but the most incurable solipsist to a set of abstractionist doctrines the acceptance of which would mean the end of any human liberty. The virgins have wriggled themselves outside the mainstream of American conservatism. Mr. Hamowy, offering himself up grandly as a symbol of the undefiled conservative, has joined the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy.We ran into the John Birch Society – or more precisely, into Robert Welch. Mr. Welch’s position is very well known, Scrubbed down, it is that one may reliably infer subjective motivation from objective result – e.g., if the West loses as much ground as demonstrably it has lost during the past twenty years to the enemy, it can only be because those who made policy for the West were the enemy’s agents. The ultima ratio of this position was the public disclosure – any 300-page document sent to hundreds of people can only be called an act of public disclosure – that Dwight Eisenhower is a Communist. (To which the most perfect retort – was it Russell Kirk’s? – was not so much analytical as artistic: “Eisenhower isn’t a Communist – he is a golfer.”)In criticising Mr. Welch, we did not move into a hard philosophical front, as for instance we did in our criticism of Miss Rand or of the neoanarchists. Rather, we moved into an organizational axiom, the conservative equivalent of the leftists’ pas d’ennemi a gauche. The position has not, however, been rigorously explicated or applied. Mr. Welch makes his own exclusions; for instance, Gerald L. K. Smith, who, although it is a fact that he favors a number of reforms in domestic and foreign policy which coincide with those favored by Mr. Welch (and by National Review), is dismissed as a man with an idee fixe, namely, the role of Perfidious Jew in modern society. Many right-wingers (and many liberals, and all Communists) believe in a deus ex machina. Only introduce the single tax, and our problems will wither away, say the followers of Henry George….Only expose the Jew, and the international conspiracy will be broken, say others….Only abolish the income tax, and all will be well….Forget everything else, but restore the gold standard….Abolish compulsory taxation, and we all shall be free….They are called nostrum peddlers by some; certainly they are obsessed. Because whatever virtue there is in what they call for – and some of their proposals strike me as highly desirable, others as mischievous – no one of them can begin to do the whole job, which continues to wait on the successful completion of the objectives of the Committee to Abolish Original Sin. Many such persons, because inadequate emphasis is give to their pandemic insight, the linchpin of social reconstruction, are dissatisfied with National Review. Others react more vehemently; our failure to highlight their solution has the effect of distracting from its unique relevance and so works positively against the day when the great illumination will show us the only road forward. Accordingly, National Review is, in their eyes, worse than merely useless.The defenders of Mr. Welch who are also severe critics of National Review are not by any means all of them addicts of the conspiracy school. They do belong, however inconsistently, to the school that says that we all must work together – as a general proposition, sound advice. Lenin distinguished between the sin of sectarianism, from which suffer all those who refuse to cooperate with anyone who does not share their entire position, right down to the dependent clauses, and the sin of opportunism, the weakness of those who are completely indiscriminate about their political associates.
The Booze Parallel to Big Government
You want the booze parallel? It’s that conservatives grasp the difference between having a beer in the backyard and getting face-in-the-toilet drunk. The left’s attitude toward government, by contrast, is that if one vodka-and-tonic is good … hey, can we get this stuff in two-liter bottles? And get that guy in a suit to pay for it?
Gurda does not grasp that conservatives have been saying for years — really loudly these past two — that there is a logical stopping point when shrinking government, and that is the outline put forth in the constitution. This is perhaps because liberals, and Gurda I gather is one, do not admit to any logical stopping point in the other direction. If some government is good, more is better — always. They think the constitution allows so little government, it amounts to “civic suicide,” as Gurda puts it. But what, then, is the upper limit?
Not that we’d reach it. Recall what started all this: Unions weren’t demanding that the governor offer more schooling or parks. To the contrary, Walker said, repeatedly, that he wants to preserve schools, parks, aid for the poor and so on even as the state copes with a $3.5 billion deficit, and the only way to do that in a state that’s already the fourth-hardest taxed in the country is to get the same amount of labor at a more reasonable cost. Walker suggested unions’ absurd benefits take a haircut and the mechanism that permitted the absurdity to begin with, collective bargaining, be reined in.
That’s what this is about. It’s not about nicer education or better services but about unions holding on to their power. Education and services will be much costlier to provide, if they have their way. Which, if you think about it, is the modern approach to prohibition: add taxes to jack up the cost to the point no one can afford much — what? tobacco? gas? booze? You name it, but it’s a lot more subtle than axing rum barrels.
New on NewsReal – Are Social Conservatives "Statist Control Freaks"? Not So Fast
One form of fun of which big-government statists on the social Right never seem to tire is the purity game. True believers must toe the line and never stray from it, even one jot or tittle. “You are no conservative,” another commenter harrumphed at me. Since this person evidently thinks only the big-government, control-freak statists on the social Right are the “real” conservatives, then according to his definition of course I am not. Nor would I ever want to be.
What I am is a former Leftist progressive who has come to the conclusion that libertarian conservatism is – for a wide variety of reasons – the right direction for America to take. The relentless and childish tug-of-war of the past few elections has convinced me that the Left and the statist Right are actually as alike as Tweedledee and Tweedledum and that they are, together, pulling the country apart. Just as Leftists view any liberal who believes in small government and individual initiative a heretic, so do those on the Right who view anyone who does not share their fantasies about Granny Government and her all-powerful magic wand “not a real conservative.”
Maybe I just missed them, but I’m struggling to recall a significant number of examples of this nefarious social-con variation. To be sure, there are a select handful of individuals who come to mind—for instance, Joseph Farah and Peter Sprigg—but beyond that, I don’t know how any significant, respected portion of the social conservative movement fits the bill.
What the Commerce Clause Means
Hat tip to Ed Morrissey for posting this handy video on what the Constitution’s Commerce Clause does and doesn’t mean. It’s well worth your time: