America's most outspoken commentator reminds conservatives that the foundation for their beliefs lies in the Constitution
From the Print Edition:
Jeff Bridges, Sep/Oct 01
Today the federal government dictates the amount of water that can flow through toilets, the level of emissions from leaf blowers, the future design of washing machines, who can advertise what where and the rules of professional golf. As I've told the listeners of my radio show, a government that has the power to do these things is a government with unlimited power. That's not the way it's supposed to be.
The Democratic Party is the unapologetic vanguard of big government. It's uninhibited in the pursuit of an egalitarian utopia. Republican Party leaders, including the president, must be more than a timid voice in opposition if individuality, enterprise and creativity are to flourish. They must speak with conviction and act unambiguously. Comity, "a new tone" and compromise may be tactics, but they are not substitutes for statesmanship and political leadership, as the authors of the Constitution well understood.
In 1787, 55 delegates from the 13 original colonies met in Philadelphia to look for ways to improve the Articles of Confederation. They spent a long, hot summer debating and drafting, eventually scrapping the Articles, which had provided no effective means for uniting the states, and replacing it with the Constitution. Congress approved the proposed Constitution and sent it to the states for ratification, which occurred in 1788.
George Mason, a Virginia delegate at the Constitutional Convention, refused to sign the Constitution because it did not include the 12 amendments he had authored. In 1789, Congress eventually submitted Mason's amendments to the states, which ratified 10 of them in 1791. They became known as the Bill of Rights. It's worth noting that those who opposed the Bill of Rights did so not because they objected to protecting the rights of individuals against the power of the central government, but because they believed that by listing them, some future generation might wrongly construe the Bill of Rights as the only God-given liberties belonging to the people.
The framers of the Constitution lived through the authoritarian tyranny of King George III and the
relative anarchy of a nation lacking a central authority. In their brilliance, they devised a
Constitution that granted limited, enumerated powers to a central government. The
central government was restrained further by separating power among three equal branches, each serving as a check and balance on the others.
The founders were so committed to limiting the role of the central government that they put two exclamation marks at the end of the Constitution in the form of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. The Ninth recognizes that the people retain rights apart from those mentioned in the Constitution; the Tenth recognizes that the states retain authority not specifically delegated to the central government.
The framers were also profoundly aware that both liberty and the rule of law would not endure long if the central government was ruled by an aristocracy or elite unresponsive to the will of the people or, conversely, if the central government was subject to the whims of the many. The Constitution created a representative republic. As many Americans are now aware, thanks to the events surrounding the last presidential election, the president is elected by an electoral college, not by direct popular vote. Originally, senators were selected by the state legislatures. Of course, today, like members of the House of Representatives, they're chosen at the ballot box.
The federal courts, according to Alexander Hamilton, were to be "the bulwarks of a limited Constitution." He believed that lifetime tenure for judges was "essential to the faithful performance of so arduous a duty."
About now you're probably asking yourself, "Rush, what's the point of this history lesson?" Well, the point is that today the federal government exercises power without real limits. The number of federal entitlements and programs seems infinite, and the massive federal bureaucracy knows no bounds. It's difficult to imagine any area of life that the federal government doesn't tax, regulate or otherwise influence. And each day, we gradually lose a little bit more of our freedom as a result of this incessant need to legislate, which is often nothing more than the establishment of even more restrictions on individual liberty.
Conservatives believe the Constitution enshrines enduring principles, that its words having meaning, and that the meaning of those words must be read in the context of the framers' intent. Liberals and moderates (who wait for the majority to form on a given issue and then join it), on the other hand, talk about a "living and breathing Constitution" that "adapts to the times" -- meaning it should bend to accommodate and enshrine what former Sen. Daniel Moynihan described as "deviancy defined down." There are no hard and fast principles, few if any distinctions between right and wrong, and the Constitution is subject to modification without amendment. But tell me: where is the middle ground between good and evil? Liberals and moderates struggle mightily to find it -- as in the case of Vermont Sen. James Jeffords, who said of Juanita Broderick's charge of rape against President Clinton, "That is a private matter."