A Lesson from the “Shutdown”

We have entered week two of the federal government’s “shutdown” and, amazingly, Americans are still hanging in there.  This is a fact that has chagrined federal politicians to no end.  In an effort to convince us all that we really need our omnipotent overlords, federal agents continue to execute their directive which, as one federal employee has unhappily admitted, is “to make life as difficult as possible.”

So far their actions have included closing national parks, barricading monuments, holding elderly vacationers hostage in Yellowstone and, horror of horrors, shutting down Michelle Obama’s Twitter account.  If I didn’t enjoy the silence I would ask someone to tell FLOTUS that Twitter is free.

Sure, these are annoying maneuvers, but they’re fairly innocuous.  They seem more like an overgrown temper tantrum than the triumphant return of the Dark Ages.  On one level it’s actually been pretty entertaining to watch the federal government work so hard at trying to make us miss them.  On another level it’s a little sad, kind of like a jilted teenager trying to make his ex-girlfriend jealous by going to prom with his sister.

Either way, it’s a little hard to miss them when 80% of federal bureaucrats are still on the job, the NSA is still spying on us and our earnings are still being stolen from our paychecks.

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Wisconsin Nullifies Park Service Shutdown Order

Scott Walker is at it again. The governor of Wisconsin, who has previously publicly stated his intention to resist Obamacare, had his state’s Department of Natural Resources reject federal requests to close portions of parks in the wake of the federal government’s shutdown.  The Wisconsin DNR also reopened a boat launch that the federal government…

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Has Eric Cantor Read the Constitution?

Virginia Republican Congressman Eric Cantor met with President Obama on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Syria.  Shortly after his conference with the president, Cantor released a statement saying, “I intend to vote to provide the President of the United States the option to use military force in Syria.”

Just in case you didn’t get that, allow me to interpret Cantor’s statement.

“I intend to abdicate my constitutional duty and give the President of the United States monarchical powers that the Constitution clearly prohibits him from possessing.”

Seriously, has Eric Cantor read the Constitution?  Did Cantor’s copy not include Article 1, Section 8 that outlines which branch of the federal government has war powers?

This section reads, “Congress shall have power to declare war….”  Or, stated differently, “Congress, and Congress alone, shall have the power to determine who the United States can fight, where and for what length of time.”  It doesn’t say, “Congress shall have the power to declare war or to defer to the president whenever it doesn’t feel like doing its job.”

The Constitution is clear: the president has no power to declare war.  Period.  Congress makes that call. And that doesn’t mean signing off on allowing the president to go to war if he wants to. The Congress debates and makes the decision. The president carries it out – whatever it may be. Cantor wants to let the president decide with his blessing. No! That’s YOUR job congressman!

Why is it that the people who have the hardest time understanding this are the people whose job description is literally “to uphold the Constitution of the United States”?

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A Long History of Constitutional War Power Violations

Barack Obama is clearly not the first president to ignore the framers’ intent regarding the executive’s war powers. In many ways Obama is merely building upon the framework of George W. Bush, whose many foreign interventions were based on, at best, faulty evidence, and even worse constitutional reasoning.

Believe it or not, it is not constitutional for Congress to officially hand over its war responsibilities to the president. This was the basis for Bush’s interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But even George W. “If You’re Not With Us You’re Against Us” Bush didn’t lead the way in trailblazing the path of presidential war powers. Harry Truman kicked it off with his “police action” in Korea. The reasoning back then was pretty much the same as it is today. If war was redefined as a “police action,” it wouldn’t have to be declared by Congress and the President could wage it on his say-so alone.

If you or I tried to redefine the law like that we’d end up in jail. But when a president does it we’re supposed to fall in line with a chorus of “Yes, sir.”

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Political Pressure is Like Real Estate

I have a confession.  I’m not one of those suave guys who always does everything right.  I once put diesel fuel in my car only to find out that diesel fuel and unleaded gasoline are not interchangeable.  As an usher at a wedding I once seated relatives of the groom in the row designated for family, only to discover a few minutes later that they weren’t closely enough related to sit there.  My request that they move has created a family rift that has endured for half a decade.

But one of the most foolish things I have ever done is contact federal politicians with the expectation that they would listen and respond to my concerns.  Unfortunately, I seem to have a lot of company in making this mistake.  Even today, after decades of federal politicians’ near-universal indifference to their constituents, many people seem to believe that if they can just organize a large enough number of people, they can effect change at the federal level.

Sorry, folks, it just ain’t gonna happen.  I’ve contacted federal representatives of both parties over the course of my adult years and have gotten exactly the same amount of satisfaction from each occasion.  Which is to say, none.

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Founders Turning in Their Graves

“A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”

So said the ever-quotable Benjamin Franklin upon emerging from the Constitutional Convention debates in 1787.  Franklin’s now-famous statement to an inquisitive Philadelphian causes us today to pause and reflect.  Have we kept the republic that Franklin and his contemporaries bequeathed us?

A recent poll answers this query with an emphatic “No!”.  According to a Gallup survey, 71% of Americans believe that the Founders would be disappointed in the United States today.  This comes on the heels of another Gallup survey showing that Congress’s approval rating has hit its lowest mark ever at 10%.  President Obama doesn’t fare much better, garnering only 36% approval.

Are Americans beginning to realize that the government they have bears no resemblance to the one designed by the framers of the Constitution?  If the 71% are correct in saying that the Founders would be embarrassed by America today, the next logical question we should ask is “Why?”.

Could it be because we’ve completely abandoned the structure of government that they fought the British for and then jealously guarded while debating the Constitution?  Maybe we can find the answer in what some founders said about how American liberty would be preserved.

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Some Utah Republicans Get It, Some Don’t

Some sentences are so contradictory, so self-evidently oxymoronic that they stop you in your tracks.  For example, maybe you have a friend who says something like, “I’m a vegetarian, but I really love cheeseburgers.”  Hearing this, you’re likely to give your friend a bewildered look and say, “Dude…huh?”

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s June 26 decision that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional, the reported response of some Utah politicians elicited a similar reaction.  As reported by The Universe, “Prominent Utah Republicans overwhelmingly applauded the Supreme Court for recognizing same-sex marriage as a states’ rights issue but expressed disappointment that the Supreme Court is not in harmony with the Congressional majority that favors DOMA.”

Dude…huh?

How can it be simultaneously acknowledged that regulation of marriage is  a state issue and bemoaned that a federal law that nationalized the issue was struck down?  What can account for such an obvious contradiction?  As always, the devil is in the details  It is enlightening to understand which Utah Republicans acknowledged this issue as the domain of the states and which didn’t.

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