“Never wrestle with a pig – you get dirty and the pig likes it.”

I try to follow that maxim, and I generally avoid embroiling myself in inane Facebook debates. But every once in a while, I just can’t help myself.  I find it somewhat amusing watching ignorance fully reveal itself.

Interestingly, if you lead some people along far enough, they inadvertently swerve into the truth, even if they don’t realize it themselves.

I had an experience like that the other day, and I thought I would share it for its illustrative value.

I was having a discussion with a friend about the 112th Congress opening by reading the Constitution. I expressed the opinion that, while it’s never a bad thing to read the Constitution, the whole thing seems  more of a political stunt than an act of any substance.

At this point, a friend of my friend – I’ll call him Soli – chimed in advancing the tired worn, argument that the “general welfare” clause in the preamble basically gives the federal government unlimited power.

Seeing an opportunity to educate, I briefly explained the framers understanding of “general welfare” and included a couple of quotes by James Madison.

“With respect to the words ‘general welfare,’ I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. 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.”

“If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the general welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one subject to particular exceptions.”

Soli predictably ignored the facts and offered this brilliant (insert sarcastic tone for effect) analysis of the “general welfare” clause.

“The general welfare mentioned in the Preamble is like the introduction to a good book, it’s (sic) relevant to the plot and shouldn’t be ignored. Some people want to treat it like the previews to a movie and the movies advertised aren’t that good either. General welfare is relevant to law and the Constitution. Without it, there’s no point to a Constitution.”

I’ve dealt with Soli before, and I happen to know that his political views run to the far left-progressive side of the aisle. His objection to strict adherence to the Constitution as the framers intended lies in the fact that it will not allow the federal government to implement programs he holds dear, such as universal health care and cap and trade regulations.

So I pointed out the obvious danger to his logic. If the general welfare clause allows the federal government to meddle in health care, the same interpretation paves the way for the federal government to ban gay marriage, something abhorrent in his political world-view. Further, one can easily justify measures trampling on individual liberty following an elastic understanding of common defense.

And that’s when Soli inadvertently swerved into the truth.

“But that’s different Mike, trampling rights in the name of national defense and those ‘moral’ crusades aren’t ‘general welfare’, duh.” (On a side note, duh is a great way to emphasize a point, don’t ya think?)

Soli fails to grasp the simple fact that a flexible interpretation of the Constitution, diverging from the intent of the founders, opens the door to all kinds of federal overreach. All well and good if it happens advance your agenda, I suppose. But what happens when somebody else rises to power and takes those same interpretive liberties for nefarious (in your view) purposes?

As I explained to Soli, I would have no trouble assembling a large group of Americans who believe banning gay marriage, or pornography or any number of things, advances the general welfare. In this world we’ve created, it all comes down to the way we choose to define the terms, now doesn’t it?

Soli’s response?

“And those people are idiots, so we need to ignore them.”

Perhaps a better idea is to follow the Constitution  – every issue, every time, no exceptions, no excuses.

Mike Maharrey

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