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MARCH 25, 2015
One of America’s most famous political rivalries was Thomas Jefferson vs. Alexander Hamilton, and it was a bruiser. The heart of the rivalry is no less basic than the American political philosophy and the U.S. Constitution: Republicans vs. Federalists, limited central government vs. strong central government, common man vs. élite, strict constructionists vs. loose constructionists.
Political descendants of Jefferson and Hamilton are alive, and they know how to keep a rivalry going. If Americans appreciate a political metaphor, it is football. The U.S. Constitution has been tossed, kicked – inflated and deflated — like a football since 1787, but the constitution of the American system is healthy and resilient, if the Constitution itself is a bit bruised and recovering from a series of concussive injuries.
Defenders of the Constitution’s original meaning, strict constructions like Jefferson, battle constantly against pressure to circumvent the restrictions proscribed therein for the federal government and to protect the rights of the American people. As Thomas Sowell puts it, “The Constitution protects us as long as we protect the Constitution.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a vocal strict constructionist, reminded attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in February that “We have to defend the whole Bill of Rights,” not just the First or the Second. The Constitution limits the powers of the central government, and the Bill of Rights enumerates in more detail what the rights of the people are, such as habeas corpus, warranted searches and seizures, due process of law, and the inherent protection of privacy and private property.
Paul has dedicated many speeches and interviews discussing the overreach of the federal government, NSA surveillance, and data collection of citizens without warrants, appealing to the “leave me alone coalition.” The intrusiveness and regulatory excess of Washington has created a reaction from an unlikely mix of factions: anti-abortion religious groups, medical marijuana advocates, fiscal conservatives calling for an audit of the Federal Reserve, civil rights advocates protesting the disproportionate enforcement of drug laws against minority offenders, critics of the War on Drugs, opponents of “net neutrality.”
Last week during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to discuss the president’s current application of the 2001 “Authorization for Use of Military Force” (A.U.M.F.) against I.S.I.S., Paul began with a quote of James Madison: “The executive branch is most prone to war, and therefore, the Constitution . . . vested that power in the legislature . . . The separation of powers would be protected by pitting the ambitions of one branch against the ambitions of another.” Channeling Jefferson’s spirit, Paul illustrated that the Constitution is too often abused and “how things change over time and people transmute words to mean things that they really weren’t intended to mean.”
Whether over healthcare, education standards, or military force, the president has time and again abused the Constitution, and overstepped the bounds of the executive branch as provided by the separation of powers. While the president has his pen and his phone, he does not have legislative power. That power belongs to Congress alone. Not even the most activist of judges.
In 2008, Justice Anthony Scalia published his book, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges. A self-professed “originalist” and strict constructionist, Scalia captivated NPR listeners by proclaiming that the “Constitution is dead.” Did we kill it, as Nietzsche claimed we killed God? Not exactly. Scalia was arguing against the view that the Constitution is a “living” document whose meaning changes with the changing morés of each generation. The Constitution is alive, and remains a steadfast defender of our God-given rights.
Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-Utah) forthcoming book, Our Lost Constitution: The Willful Subversion of America’s Founding Document argues for a resuscitation of the constitution’s original meaning. While the Constitution is not dead, it could use revitalizing fresh air and access to healthcare by the federal government.
Mr. Obama and the Democrats indeed won both presidential elections, but like with any good rivalry, there is always next year.