One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament is that of King Josiah in 2 King 22. One of his priests discovered the scriptures in the temple. The words were read to King Josiah, who “rent his clothes.” Josiah realized that the people of Israel had not been paying attention to the word of the Lord, clearly laid out in the scriptures. He then read the words of the Law to the people in an attempt to help them repent and turn back to the Lord, which is what the scriptures told them to do.
This is the amazing thing about going back to source documents — over time, people can lose their way unless they continually refer back to the originals. This is one reason Lehi was told to bring the brass plates to the Americas with him: without the source documents, the people would be lost.
The United States has a source document called the Constitution. Over time, it’s been forgotten and forsaken. Every once in a while something comes along that refers us back to the Constitution, such as Judge Vinson’s decision on Obamacare. I will argue in this post that getting back to the true meaning of the Constitution is something that people of all ideologies should rally around. Overreaching government — which the Constitution was intended to prevent — is just as likely to be used by Big Government conservatives as it is by Big Government liberals. In that case, it is only the Consitution that protects us all.
Liberals who are red in the face right about now — please consider the following scenario. The European debt crisis deepens. In the meantime, there is a massive debt crisis in the U.S. There is worldwide panic, and the economy plunges again just as it did in 2007-2008. Unemployment soars to 15 percent. President Obama’s approval ratings fall to 30 percent. Republicans have problems finding a standard-bearer and Mike Huckabee wins Iowa. He continues to win most other states and becomes the Republican candidate in 2012. Libertarians launch a Ron Paul third party bid, but Huckabee takes the South and most of the Midwest and West. He is the next president of the United States. Meanwhile, Republicans get 58 seats in the Senate and 250 in the House — large majorities. Two Democrats become Republicans — the Republicans have enough votes to overcome a filibuster.
Huckabee tries to rally conservatives by appointing a host of law-and-order types. Right after Huckabee takes office, terrorists attack a large U.S. airport, killing several dozen innocent people. Huckabee is outraged. He says the U.S. needs a much stronger Patriot Act to find domestic enemies. He feels the United States needs a strong popular movement to prepare to fight future wars. This includes an America-first industrial policy and a “Strong Kids Mean a Strong America” policy toward nutrition and exercise. Citing the Commerce Clause, he says the federal government has the authority to fine Americans $20,000 unless they buy cars primarily made in the United States. Also citing the Commerce Clause, he says the government has the power to regulate and control what children eat (“it’s for the good of the children.”) Parents face prison sentences unless they feed only certain, government-approved foods to their kids.
A small group of libertarian Republicans and left-wing Democrats fight against Huckabee’s fascist moves. They say the government does not have the power to force people to buy only Made in USA cars or force kids to eat only certain foods. But they are overwhelmed by the new populism and the opposition to domestic terrorists in the U.S. The new populists say that Obamacare greatly increases the power of the federal government, and these measures are the next logical steps. They bring back the words of Dem. Rep. Pete Stark, who said, “the federal government can do most anything in this country.”
Too far-fetched? Actually, no. This is exactly what Judge Vinson warned us about in his decision overturning Obamacare. Here is a key excerpt from his 78-page decision:
After all, there are lots of markets — especially if defined broadly enough — that people cannot “opt out” of. For example, everyone must participate in the food market. Instead of attempting to control wheat supply by regulating the acreage and amount of wheat a farmer could grow as in Wickard, under this logic, Congress could more directly raise too low wheat prices merely by increasing demand through mandating that every adult purchase and consume wheat bread daily, rationalized on the grounds that because everyone must participate in the market for food, non-consumers of wheat bread adversely affect prices in the wheat market. Or, as was discussed during oral argument, Congress could require that people buy and consume broccoli at regular intervals, not only because the required purchases will positively impact interstate commerce, but also because people who eat healthier tend to be healthier, and are thus more productive and put less of a strain on the health care system. Similarly, because virtually no one can be divorced from the transportation market, Congress could require that everyone above a certain income threshold buy a General Motors automobile — now partially government-owned — because those who do not buy GM cars (or those who buy foreign cars) are adversely impacting commerce and a taxpayer-subsidized business.
Judge Vinson is exactly correct. Once you begin saying that the federal government has all power, it is difficult to pick and choose between the powers you personally approve of and the powers you don’t. Liberals love the idea of government-mandated health insurance. How about government-mandated guns or government-mandated Bible-reading or government-mandated loyalty oaths?
Here’s a novel idea: how about government sticking to its enumerated powers, which are described right there in the Consitution.
Let’s take a look at the commerce clause. What does it say, and why was it included in the Constitution?
“Congress shall have Power…To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.”
Why was the commerce clause instituted? So that states could do business *with each other* which was not happening under the Articles of Confederation. Justice Marshall in 1824 said the commerce clause *only* had to do with commerce that touched more than one state. Intrastate commerce was not the province of the Consitution, and indeed again the only point of this clause was to make sure that each state was not an island able to set up its own tariffs. In 1905, the Lochner decision make it clear that the federal government did NOT have the power to control commerce in a great many areas because these attempts to control commerce on a national level violated freedom of contract. This view held sway until 1937. A few cases in the late 1930s and the 1942 Wickard v. Filburn case completely changed the interpretation of the commerce clause, and the result has been an ever-expanding *federal* government, helping create our current climate when a majority of congressmen agree that the commerce clause allows the federal government to fine people for not buying a product.
There are plenty of charitable reasons for wanting to help the poor get health care. My purpose in this post is not to re-hash that debate. Instead, I am hoping to convince a few souls that this particular issue — using the federal government to mandate something — is not a road any of us should want to go down. This power could very easily be used in ways that would horrify us all. We need to do what King Josiah did — read the original document and understand and internalize its intent, not read it with the purpose of coming up with ways of getting around the original intent.