Concept of "Limited Government" Is Right-Wing Bunk: Try to Find Anything Remotely Like It in the Constitution
[italic] Right-wingers claim the country was founded on "limited government" -- It's totally bogus. [/italic]
The Cato Institute’s Handbook for Policy Makers says, “The American system was established to provide limited government.” The American Enterprise Institute states its purpose to “defend the principles” of “limited government.” The Heritage Foundation claims its mission is to promote “principles of … limited government.” A multitude of Tea Party associations follow suit.
At first glance the concept of “limited government” seems like a no-brainer. Everybody believes the power of government should be limited somehow. All those who think totalitarianism is a good idea raise your hand. But there is one problem with the ultra-conservatives’ “limited government” program: it is wrong. It is not just a little bit wrong, but demonstrably false.
The Constitution was never intended to “provide limited government,” and furthermore it did not do so. The U.S. government possessed the same constitutional power at the moment of its inception as it did yesterday afternoon.
This is not a matter of opinion, but of literacy. If we want to discover the truth about the scope of power granted to federal government by the Constitution, all we have to do is read what it says.
The Constitution’s grant of essentially unlimited power springs forth in its opening phrases: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
As might be expected in a preamble to a founding document, especially one written under supervision of arch-aristocrat Gouverneur Morris, the terms are sweeping and rather grandiose. But the point is crystal clear: “to form a more perfect Union.” If the object of the Constitution were to establish “limited government,” its own Preamble must be considered a misstatement.
[bold] Enumerated Powers [/bold]
Article I establishes Congress, and Section 8 enumerates its powers. The first clause of Article I, Section 8 repeats the sweeping rhetoric of the Preamble verbatim. While it provides for a measure of uniformity, it does not so much as hint at a limit on the federal government’s power to legislate as it sees fit:
“The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States…”
No attempt is made here, or at any other place in the Constitution, to define “general Welfare.” This oversight (if that is what it was) is crucial. The ambiguous nature of the phrase “provide for the…general Welfare” leaves it open to widely divergent interpretations.
Making matters worse for federal government power-deniers is the wording of the last clause of Article I, the so-called “Elastic Clause”: Congress shall have power “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.”
Thus the type, breadth and scope of federal legislation became unchained. When viewed in light of the ambiguous authorization of the Article’s first clause, the importance of the “necessary and proper” clause truly is astonishing. Taken together, these clauses – restated in the vernacular – flatly announce that “Congress can make any law it feels is necessary to provide for whatever it considers the general welfare of the country.”
(More at link)
When the US was first created: no large standing military, no income tax, no government provided healthcare, no social security, no welfare, all default powers to the states
That makes no sense, R1. You can't expect federal programs to precede the institution that manages them.
Common sense dictates a small government.
R2, I don't believe that most of those programs came into existence until the 20th century
Yes, that's fine. Times had changed considerably by then, too. You can't seriously draw comparison between the late 18th century and the 20th, never mind 2013.
The only thing I'd appreciate, which is probably unlikely due to scale and scope, is more nuance, instead of a one-size-fits-all mindset. Limited government, or no government at all wouldn't make a difference.
R4, FYI, the income tax didn't come into existence until the 20th century.
Our founders recognized that we needed a strong central government to hold everything together.
They could never have envisioned that what they created would have the power to snoop on everyone's private communications, and potentially destroy citizen's lives at its pleasure.
Wow. I normally like Alternet, but this writer is a complete ignoramus and dangerously ignorant of some of the most basic precepts of American law. First of all, it takes a *hell* of a lot of audacity for anyone to attempt to offer THEIR OWN personal constitutional interpretation, as opposed to any of the numerous *legitimate* means of interpreting the document, e.g. scrutinizing the Federalist Papers to find out what Jefferson, Madison et al held as general beliefs, and also looking at how the Supreme Court has interpreted the vaguer parts of the Constitution over the past 200 years. This guy very clearly overlooks the fact that the Framers were *intentionally* vague in certain areas, particularly regarding the "necessary and proper" clause. To comment on specific quotes:
[quote]The U.S. government possessed the same constitutional power at the moment of its inception as it did yesterday afternoon.
COMPLETE bullshit: the U.S. government has VASTLY MORE "constitutionally drawn" power today, in every respect, than it did when the Constitution was written. Particularly during the 20th century, the Supreme Court has "found" constitutional rights for the federal government to regulate anything even remotely related to, say, interstate commerce, and much to the chagrin of right-wingers, it has overwhelmingly ruled in favor of federalism over states' rights (well beyond the most basic interpretations of the supremacy clause). Hell, the Court just last year passed one of the most wide-reaching pro-federalist decisions in decades, in allowing the federal government to tax people who refuse to buy health insurance, regardless of what the states have to say about it (never mind that the Affordable Care Act requires them to either set up state-run health insurance exchanges or forces them to accept a system set up by the feds).
[quote]The ambiguous nature of the phrase “provide for the…general Welfare” leaves it open to widely divergent interpretations.
...which is the WHOLE POINT of the ambiguity.
[quote]“Limited government” advocates are fond of cherry-picking quotes from The Federalist Papers to lend their argument credibility, but an adverse collection of essays called the Anti-federalist Papers unsurprisingly never gets a glance.
Um, probably because the subsequent Bill of Rights addressed nearly all of the grievances in them.
[quote]This apparently has never occurred to the likes of Gov. Rick Perry and his far-Right cohorts who believe a state may reclaim power by withdrawing its consent, in effect repossessing their previously delegated power through state legislation.
Clearly, this "history" professor knows nothing about Texas history -- even though he apparently lives there, which is bizarre. Rick Perry, idiot though he may be, wasn't even remotely trying to base his argument about Texas's ability to "secede" on the Tenth Amendment; it was based entirely on Texas's written agreement with the U.S. government upon its entry as a state in 1845. Unlike that of any other state admitted to the union, Texas retained the ability to secede upon condition that it subsequently broke itself up into six entirely separate entities. (What Perry and his fellow idiots don't know is that Texas forfeited its secession rights as a result of its participation in the Confederacy, as well as on the basis of established law later in the 19th century.)
Finally, to briefly discuss "limited government": the whole *point* of establishing a tripartite federal government (legislative, executive and judicial branches) and its related checks-and-balances system was to keep it limited by design. If one branch tried to grab too much power, the other two could pull it back and reign it in. The fact that the phrase "limited government" is not specifically mentioned in the text of the Constitution is completely irrelevant.
(That said, teabaggers have utterly warped the concept of limited government beyond its intended meaning to encompass their own belief that "limited" should equal "as little government as possible, and ideally no government regulation, period," which isn't even remotely what the Framers intended.)
Sally Cato has her own institute? When do I get mine?
What a silly piece of writing.
The idea that the constitution supports or doesn't support, mandates or doesn't mandate a subjective concept like limited government is foolish.
There are plenty of reasons to argue for a strong central government. Plenty of reasons to argue for national healthcare, SNAP, welfare etc that all are constitutional. But the argument doesn't have to be based upon the US Constitution calling for a strong central government.
Stop talking about income tax. Its enactment required a constitutional amendment.
Of course its bunk. Almost anything a Regressive says requires reverse logic when you're looking for the truth. They SAY they are for smaller government, but the size of the federal government always rises sharply when a Republican is in the White House. So does the debt. Military spending increases, and that is also the time you see huge "subsidies" going out to Exxon, the airline, General Electric etc.
Just like when they SAY they don't want the government getting involved in a families health care decisions. Of course they want the exact opposite. Otherwise they wouldn't spend so much time making sure its difficult to get birth control or abortions or had bothered with the Terri Schivio matter. They SAY they are for less government intrusion into people's lives, yet they are the ones who try to legislate what two adults do in their bedroom.
Just apply the opposite, and you arrive at the truth.
R11, not to be mean, but you have a writing style that resists reading.
R12 If I gave a fuck about what you thought, that might actually mean something. But alas, I don't.
The same can be said for the Democrats.
Elect a Democratic President and nothing gets changed in the military.
Surveillance increases while privacy goes away. Individual rights mean nothing.
Unemployment for minorities increases as does the percentage of people in poverty.
Banks and Wall Street get bailed out while small businesses suffer.
Unions are under attack in states like Wisconsin, yet the President does nothing.
That's not true R14, but what is that argument anyway. The Democrats are "just as bad"? No they aren't. They are corrupt and stupid, and they've been taking over by right-wing scum from the DLC, a targeted effort by big business, the military and Wall Street to suborn them.
Could the Republicans be taken over and made a true Progressive party? Yes, but only by unions, not by "libertarians."
Government had a small size in olden days because society was simple. But they had powers: in colonial times there was poor relief, and commercial prices were typically regulated. Trade was subject to heavy regulation, manufacturing was prohibited, and government subsisted on customs duties. Life was minutely regulated, particularly in New England and the Slave South.
Just because governments were small in size does not mean they were not heavy handed. They were.
The USA started out as a confederation of states. When these assholes talk about "limited government" they fail to recognize that historically, the Founders wanted safeguards to remain in place to insure that the central, national government, did not lay the groundwork for tyranny, the way the monarchy had in the old country.
Providing for the common defense was a function of necessity for the federal gov't, but the states' militias were in place to protect the "sovereignty" of individual states so that, for example, Virginia couldn't invade Maryland and take it over. Their reference points were what had happened in Europe over the centuries.
The other issue that of necessity demanded a stronger central government, was commerce. among and between the states. Later on, when public education became compulsory, uniform national standards were important. So national security and economic viability demanded a strong central government.
National standards for clean drinking water, food safety, and public health, were all products of the evil federal government. Interstate highways, trains, etc. and other infrastructure were important. And so are the taxes that pay for them.
The repukes who now have a super majority in North Carolina are turning that state into the biggest nanny state on the planet by passing laws taking away all local powers of localities they dislike like liberal Asheville. The state gov't is micromanaging every aspect of life now. And the courts say it is okay for the state to pass laws punishing only certain localities while not applying those same laws to other localities in the state. America is truly fucked up.
[quote]America is truly fucked up.
Thanks to the selfish, arrogant, and cheating Recuntlicans.
In colonial times everybody had to put in their time maintaining the roads.
R19, the people of North Carolina need to get rid of the Neanderthals who want to turn the clock back and get better legislators and a better court, and a better governor.
I want to meet the ignorant fuck who thinks we are better off with a bigger government carrying a bloated budget.