We have a great topic this week and a lively one. Methods of Constitutional interpretation may seem like an obscure subject, and maybe it would have been five years ago. But, since the rise of the Tea Party, “Constitutional conservatism” has become a kind of battle cry and a label with a fairly specific meaning to its adherents. The right is calling for a kind of restoration of a lost Constitution, one that sanctions a much narrower range of federal government activities than it currently undertakes.
At its most extreme, almost the entirety of constitutional law that expanded government since the New Deal becomes illegitimate and illegal. The Constitution allows government to protect our basic rights, mainly from government itself, plus carry out a handful of other tasks (e.g., make treaties). But, nothing else is permissible unless specifically enumerated in the document. Not Social Security, nor the Clean Air/Water Act, nor Food Stamps, nor federal aid to states for education, nor national parks, nor…you get the idea.
As suggested by Carl, I wanted to spend a few minutes Monday discussing whether we should create some new rules to make or discussions work better. Then, I’ll do a brief opening explaining the Tea Party’s version of constitutional conservatism as I understand it, and then open it up for the group’s input and discussion.
In the interest of keeping my remarks short, please read the recommended links below to a get a more thorough idea of what Constitutional conservatism means to its advocates and to its critics.
What is a Constitutional conservative, in their own words –
- Must-read: It’s a return to a government that protects our rights (especially our property rights) and does little or nothing more. From RedState.com.
- It’s libertarianism minus the social issues. From American Conservative magazine. Very good.
- It’s opposition to redistributive socialism, says Tom Delay.
Criticisms of it –
Must read[update: NOT a must-read. Read the next two instead]: A thorough takedown of this notion and its real-world implications. The New Republic.
- Another TNR, but by a different author with a different emphasis. Constitutional conservatism’s religious overtones and reactionary nature. Must-read.
- Many practical problems with interpreting the Constitution so narrowly and literally. Must-read. An alternative way, the one we’ve used since the 1930s.
- [Update] Another good and brief point: The Founders’ main achievement was to create a framework in which future debates over government’s size and power were to be constructed, NOT to settle the matter for all time, in 1792.
NEXT WEEK: Lessons learned from Guantanamo.