Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A tenth the intelligence

Now that the healthcare reform bill has finally passed the US Congress, we’ll see the rightwing ramping up its efforts to derail the Obama Presidency in new and crazier ways. Chief among them are folks in the latest rightwing fad, the “Tenthers,” folks who claim to believe that states have the right to negate any federal law they don’t like.

In the weeks (months, years…) ahead, we’ll hear constitutional experts—real or self-anointed—blather on about all this, so I—a person who is definitely not a constitutional expert—thought I may as well jump in now and make my views clear: I think they’re crazy.

The Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution says:
"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
The argument actually is over whether this Amendment really means “powers not expressly delegated”. The word “expressly” was in the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the new United States, but that word was deliberately omitted from the Constitution that replaced it. In United States v. Darby (1941), Justice Stone, writing the opinion of the Supreme Court, said:
"The amendment states but a truism that all is retained which has not been surrendered. There is nothing in the history of its adoption to suggest that it was more than declaratory of the relationship between the national and state governments as it had been established by the Constitution before the amendment or that its purpose was other than to allay fears that the new national government might seek to exercise powers not granted, and that the states might not be able to exercise fully their reserved powers."
Generally speaking, the commerce power granted by the Constitution under Article I has been seen as a justification for the federal government exercising power over states. Since this argument is over the healthcare reform bill, it’s worth noting that health insurance companies are absolutely engaged in interstate commerce, and the federal government has a clearly established authority to regulate insurance.

Article I also states in Section 8 that “Congress shall have the power… to provide for the… general welfare of the United States.” Congress has already done this on numerous issues, this bill being only the latest example.

Further in Section 8 of Article I, the Constitution says that Congress has the power “To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the forgoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States…” The “necessary and proper clause” has served as the basis for much of the expansion of federal authority over the 221 years that the Constitution has been in effect.

What all of this points to is the existence of “implied powers”, that is, powers not specifically enumerated in the Constitution but which are implied by it. Those powers are vast and touch the lives of every American citizen. The evidence clearly shows that this is what the authors of the Constitution intended—not a weak confederation, like the one they’d just replaced, but rather a strong federal union, one in which states would have sovereignty over purely state matters, and the federal government had authority over all national affairs and matters between and among the states.

In sum, then, the “Tenthers” don’t have a Constitutional leg to stand on. There’s nothing in the Constitution that gives them the power to “nullify” any federal law, let alone the healthcare reform bill, and the Supreme Court will almost certainly strike down any such attempt at “nullification”.

Personally, I think the “Tenthers” know that perfectly well. Many are probably pushing this as part of a quixotic “state’s rights” crusade. It should be pointed out to them that the Supreme Court has already ruled in Texas v White (1869) that States have no right to secede from the Union.

I think there are other motives, too. First among them, the racism of the far right: They despise President Obama precisely because he’s the first African American president. They have all sorts of conspiracy theories to try and cover their racism, but it’s there nonetheless. Also, many believe that the only legitimate government is rule by far-right Republicans, christianist Republicans in particular. Because they believe that they alone should rule the country, if democracy delivers a different government, they automatically see it as illegitimate.

The inherent racism among many (probably most) “Tenthers” has been well-documented elsewhere. The proof of their belief that they alone are legitimate rulers comes from a simple observation: When the Bush/Cheney regime was engaged in clearly illegal and unconstitutional behaviour, these people were silent—no talk of “nullification” back during the most serious presidential assault on the US Constitution.

So, either the “Tenthers” are crazy, or they think we’re stupid. But if I was to bet on who’s the least intelligent in this fight, it wouldn’t be ordinary Americans. The “Tenthers” ought to be called that because they have a tenth the intelligence of ordinary Americans. I’ve seen nothing so far to make me think otherwise.


liminalD said...

"Now that the healthcare reform bill has finally passed the US Congress..."

It passed?? Fantastic!! I'd like to hear more about that :)

It will be interesting to see how it all pans out from here...

epilonious said...

John Scalzi covered it very well... and without having to deign to accuse wingnuts of racism.


toujoursdan said...

It's crazy. What passed was a Republican plan. It was essentially what Mitt Romney legislated for Massachusetts, even down to the individual mandate which was once called "conservative empowerment".

Even David Frum, George W. Bush's speechwriter and coiner of the "Axis of Evil" phrase said this is the Republican plan.

But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.

Frum Forum: Waterloo

This is a deeply conservative plan. It keeps an unravelling healthcare system in private, for-profit hands, which is unique in the developed world. There are no new state-run services for the public whatsoever. All of us who aren't on Medicare or the VA must deal with a private, for-profit insurance company. There is absolutely nothing socialist about it.

So this collective freakout over "socialism" and a "government take-over" by not only the wingnut base, but by Republican leaders, is. just. nuts. It's exhausting to turn on your TV and see all the crazy talk debated as if they are serious policy or ideological points by CNN, MSNBC and even NPR.

This country is being driven into the ground by its own people.

Roger Owen Green said...

If I may say, Epilonious - Certainly all the Tenthers, Birthers, et al. are not racist. But if you (intentionally) subject yourself to as much of the noise as I do, you might be inclined to think that there is more than a scintilla of racism (spitting on a member of Congress, blocking members of Congress, being only the most obvious recent examples).
And it's not just the right wing. I remember a blogger I follow (SamauraiFrog) talking about family members who voted for Obama now using racial epithets to describe him. One can disagree with Obama's policies, but why do they so often use racial slurs in their rhetoric?
"He's a stupid so-and-so" is legit; stuff I won't bother to repeat is not.
America STILL has a race problem, and it's not limited to the fringe elements.

Anonymous said...

Coming from a state with a crazy tenther attorney general, I agree with you Arthur. They don't have a leg to stand on and they are wasting time and money on something so stupid.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

Thanks for the great comments, everyone!

liminalD: To those like us, who live in the majority of developed countries that have universal healthcare, the bill isn't that big a deal. But in the US, it's s very big deal, indeed. Once fully implemented, it'll bring the US the closest to universal coverage that it's ever been.

toujoursdan's comment sums it up the domestic politics pretty well.

epilonious: That was an interesting post, thanks for the link. I was glad to see the news on the mainstream TV networks making many of the same points.

However, I wasn't accusing the winguts of racism, merely making an observation of reality. Contrary to the Conservative intellectual elite (was it in the National Review? I don't remember), I know damn well that racism isn't over.

In any case, I wasn't speaking to what happened in the healthcare debate, but rather the "Tenther" movement, something that is inarguably linked to racist movements; though the elected officials may not themselves be racists, they know full well the ideological underpinning of the "movement".

toujoursdan: I agree with you, except on one thing: While it's true that the "country is being driven into the ground by its own people", I'd add that the reason they're doing it is that the corporate elites (working through astroturf organisations like "Freedom Works") have used all the tools of marketing and propaganda to convince people to act against their own best interests. In America, as has long been argued, fascists don't need to seize power: They can convince ordinary Americans to hand it over to them.

Roger: I agree with you, and have heard many similar stories of families expressing casual racial epithets (and, btw, I follow SamauraiFrog, too).

I'd say that most of the teabaggers (and the others) aren't actually racist, in the sense that they want to "get" non-whites (apart, probably, from "illegal immigrants", a topic in itself). However, with constant aggressive rhetoric coming from Fox "news", Republican Party leaders and the astroturf organisations, it's inevitable that the rhetoric of ordinary people will become less and less reasoned and ever more aggressive. From there, racist, sexist and homophobic slurs are a short hop.

I believe that if the rhetoric were dialled WAY back, and the volume reduced, we'd see much less of the overt racism, sexism and homophobia. The hard-core haters would still be there, but the ordinary folks who wouldn't actually do anything based on hate would be less likely to be so crass.

That doesn't fix the underlying race problem, of course, but if mainstream people go back to feeling that using racist epithets is always wrong, we may be able to get back on track. Maybe.

Archerr: Your Attorney General was one of the people I was thinking about. He's a "Tenther", a birther and a darling of the teabaggers. He's also been militantly anti-gay. But I have no idea whether he actually holds any of that hate personally, or whether he's just cynically using it for political power, believing it'll get him into another office, like Governor or US Senator or even president. Naked political ambition is the real motivation behind most (all?) of the "Tenthers" filing the absurd constitutional challenges; your AG is probably no different.