by Josh Eboch
Anyone who desires a constitutionally limited federal government should remember and celebrate that its limitations would necessarily cut both ways. Because if federal policy actually adhered to the letter of the Constitution, no single ideological camp could wield sufficient power to impose a set of beliefs on the entire country.
Which was exactly the point of our federalist system, and of the 10th Amendment. Beyond specific, enumerated federal powers, an infinite number of issues were intentionally left to the authority of the people through their state governments. And it is to the states that liberals, conservatives, and even libertarians must address all questions extending beyond the constitutional purview of federal authority.
Questions involving but not limited to:
Health Care: If the framers had intended the federal government to establish and manage hospitals and Alms Houses within the states, they would no doubt have given it the explicit authority to do so. To misconstrue the general Welfare Clause in such a way as to conjure that authority out of thin air is to commit a blatant act of intellectual dishonesty.
In fact, regarding those words, “general welfare,” James Madison himself said: “To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.”
This also includes Medicare and Social Security, both of which are preparing to default on a massive scale thanks to the sort of bureaucratic mismanagement and fiscal shell games at which governments excel.
Of course, nowhere does the Constitution say that states cannot establish and bankrupt their own socialized medicine or retirement schemes. See: Massachusetts and California.
Drugs: George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were hemp farmers, and drugs themselves have existed in various forms for thousands of years. They were certainly not unknown to the framers of our national government. Yet, excepting the (repealed) 18th Amendment, there is no mention of drugs or prohibition in the Constitution.
It is thanks to an expansive and unlimited interpretation of the Commerce Clause that the federal government now claims the power to ban certain substances. But in 1787, the Commerce Clause was worded to make trade regular between the states by preventing protectionist tariffs, not to give Congress the power to impose national standards of morality on the marketplace.
In recent years, some states have tried to reassert their authority on this issue, but a senselessly violent war continues to be waged by the federal government against the personal purchasing decisions of people in every state.
Marriage: The positive impact of creating social and financial bonds between consenting adults was likely as obvious in the eighteenth century as it is now. But the framers had a much healthier distrust of the federal government than we do today. They gave it no power to define marriage because the framers did not feel compelled to ask or grant the blessing of the federal government in forming private religious unions.
Neither do we need it today to legitimize private unions, religious or otherwise. But as long as both parties seek to engineer social policy through the federal income tax code, the issue of marriage will needlessly divide our country, and state governments will remain unable to fully implement their citizens’ will.
The list goes on and on, but the point remains the same: America was built on individualism and freedom of choice, and what’s right for one person or one state is not necessarily right for them all.
There is no way to make everyone happy with every law, but abandoning the futile and divisive quest for a “one size fits all” centralized government, and returning the states to their rightful role as competing laboratories of democracy is a good start.
Before America can rediscover the promise of her founding, people on both sides of the aisle must come to grips with the fact that the federal government does not exist to impose on the nation either the Right’s or the Left’s vision of freedom, morality, or social justice.
Josh is a freelance writer and journalist originally from the Washington D.C. area. He is a cynically optimistic and unrepentant news junkie. His work has been published locally and in Charleston, SC. Email Josh.