Policy and program debates are argued generally on one of three planes; constitutional authority, moral and value judgments, or economics. Constitutional and economic issues are rarely discussed on their merits. Instead, arguments degrade into a morals or values debate. To some degree or another, the topic may be germane across all three planes but it’s important to recognize on which plane an issue is debated.
Trouble arises because much of the ruling class’s arguments rely upon moral and value judgments. Obviously, moral and value judgments vary from person to person. Moreover, they are based upon abstractions on fair and unfair, moral and immoral, good and bad, or good and evil. For instance, the rhetoric from President Obama about the so-called rich paying their fair tax share illustrates how moral and value judgments are used to distract citizens and distort truths. Any impartial, objective person would concede that the majority of all federal income taxes are paid by those in the top ten percent while nearly fifty percent of tax filers have no income tax liability whatsoever.
When debates arise on whether the federal government has the constitutional authority to act it presents a dilemma to the ruling class. Republicans and conservatives fail miserably when arguing policy issues on the constitutional plane. I acknowledge elected officials from both parties know little about the Constitution. However, when the right argues against the left on a constitutional basis they typically lose. First, the right doesn’t typically present their case properly. Secondly, and more importantly, the left as well as the sycophants in the main stream media frame the debate around moral and value judgments and ignore constitutional arguments. The right simply fails repeatedly to not only argue policy issues from a moral and values perspective but they fail or do not even attempt to make the proper constitutional argument. The left, abetted by the main stream media, pummel the right on a moral basis while ignoring the Constitution.
Likewise, the right also uses moral and value arguments to further an agenda. National security is used to convince citizens that going to war, intervening in some foreign country, or passing legislation like the Patriot Act or the National Defense Authorization Act is necessary to keep us safe. Sadly, most citizens have taken the “we are doing it to keep you safe” lie and swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. First, government wasn’t instituted to keep us safe. Government was instituted to keep us free and protect our unalienable rights to life, liberty, and property. As Frederic Bastiat wrote in The Law:
It is not because men have made laws, that personality, liberty and property exists. On the contrary, it is because personality, liberty, and property exist beforehand, that men make laws.
Secondly, nowhere in the Constitution were powers delegated to the federal government to execute an offensive war or attack on a foreign country without a congressional declaration of war. Undoubtedly, when the federal government enacts legislation that violates the personal liberties protected under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the government acts without authority and uses the force of law not to protect life, liberty, and property but to assault the very liberties government was instituted to protect. Bastiat aptly characterized this as legal plunder. Personally, I have absolutely no fear of terrorists violating my life, liberty, or property. But, I do live in constant fear of the government assaulting my rights or my wallet, and in many cases both.
The crux of the problem is citizens, the ruling class, and the media conflate constitutional authority with moral and value judgments. In other words, if something is deemed good, moral, necessary, proper, easy, convenient, or is used to further personal or party ideology then the Constitution is ignored. Instead, the entire debate focuses solely on the moral or value aspects of the issue. Let me illustrate the absurdity. I give full credit and attribution to the Tenth Amendment Center’s Executive Director Michael Boldin for this illustration.
Imagine you go to a restaurant for lunch and you have a fabulous meal. The meal was simply one of the best you’ve ever had. The server approaches and you say, “Wow! That was totally constitutional”. Shortly thereafter you head over to the post office to take care of some errands. You are in line for forty minutes, the person working treats you rudely and afterwards you turn to another patron and say “that was totally unconstitutional”.
The meal was fantastic and something that appealed to you. It’s reasonable to say it was a good meal. But the meal has nothing to do with the constitution. Likewise, your experience at the post office was terrible and perhaps a private company would be more efficient, competitive, and provide better customer service than the United States Postal Service. But, the postal service is constitutional and has nothing to do with good or bad service. The ruling class purposely and knowingly conflates constitutional authority with moral and value judgments. Many generations have fallen for this tactic.
Arguments posited by the ruling class are generally won or lost on moral or value judgments by the citizens. Long ago, the ruling class learned that appealing to the masses through public programs, promises of subsidizes or special treatment, and the use of the law to enforce distributive or social justice equates to votes. The constitution be damned! The ruling class is concerned first and foremost with retaining power. This is true of both parties. Too many citizens simply buy into the lies perpetrated by the ruling class — with major assistance from the main stream media — to vote for a person based on moral and value judgments rather than their fidelity to the Constitution.
Furthermore, both citizens and private enterprises understand they can use government to enforce their own personal desires and will upon others. Private enterprises can use government for special tax benefits or to impose tax penalties on competitors, to erect obstacles to competition ensuring their product or service is successful, or in concert with political parties to achieve the desired ends.
Fair or unfair, good or bad, moral or immoral, and good or evil are distractions. Government is an entity not a person. Government is incapable of compassion or kindness. Moral and value determinations rely upon an ends justify the means approach. If the outcome is good, fair, or moral then the means to institute laws are valid, just, and necessary. Imagine a parent playing a game with a child and teaching them that winning is more important than following the rules of the game. Why do the very same parents that teach their children about playing by the rules vote for people that violate the very rules established by the Constitution? After all the Constitution is the rulebook that governs government.
Constitutional authority is all about the means and has little to do with the ends. That is, the federal government has been delegated the powers to act within very specific areas. Regardless of whether the outcome appeals to your moral senses it is of the utmost importance that government always act within the powers delegated under the Constitution.
Otherwise, we have a nation based on the rule of men rather than a union based on the rule of law.