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January 08, 2010

Comments

Neither "professional politicians" nor "the people" is a monolithic entity. As a corollary, if the fault lines among us lead to major and sustained violence, "the politicians vs the people" is probably not going to be the name of the movie.

It's not that simple. For a change.

Jes, don't take Brett's high-fallutin' claims too seriously. His bottom line is simple: Americans NEED guns to protect their right to OWN guns. The logic is compact and irrefutable.

--TP


We have a limited government Constitution.

I'm sure I've asked this before, and I'm sure you've answered it before, so my apologies in advance if I'm making you provide answers that you've already been kind enough to supply.

But can you tell me what you mean by this?

In what ways is the US federal government limited?

What things does the government do now that you think are not allowed to it by the Constitution?

The ACLU, not the NRA, is the chief bulwark against government tyranny

Agreed 100%.

I thought a free press was our greatest protection against tyranny.

"else they're at best going to be waging a long, bloody insurgency campaign, not a quick, glorious revolution"

At least our military will have lots of COIN practice and will know how to focus on building trust with the locals.

I've observed before that our political system is rather like a PC that's been running without reboot too long.

IMO that's a pretty interesting observation.

My first reaction is that, were we to try to rewrite the Constitution, we would be well and truly screwed. At this point, IMO some allegiance to the existing Constitution, even if nominal or hypocritical, is about all that's holding the wheels on.

Put that up for grabs, and I'm not sure things will hold together.

It was a challenge to make it happen the first time around, with a much smaller country, and a much smaller and more homogeneous population.

The Constitution as it stands is about the only thing we have in common anymore. That and WalMart.

Put that up for grabs, and I'm not sure things will hold together.

Eh, would that really be so bad? If people in different parts of the country disagree on really fundamental issues, then maybe everyone would be better off if the US split into half a dozen countries. Liberals would get to live in more liberal states, conservatives would get to live in more conservative states, and our shared cultural cohesion would probably ensure easy migration.

My biggest concern here is that the really significant political differences can't be easily divided up by region; I get the sense that its a lot more urban/suburban rather than north/south or coastal/non-coastal.

Republican Party = Republicans
Democratic Party = Democrats
Socialist Workers Party = Socialists
CPUSA = Communists
Libertarian Party = libertarians
Green Party = greens
National Socialist Party = nazis
Industrial Workers of the World = wobblies
Tories = conservatives
Tea Bag Party = Tea baggers.

There seems to be a pattern here, a loose one, but one nonetheless. But hey, wild eyed leftists didn't choose the name "Tea Bag Party", the populist right and their corporate sponsors did it all on their own. They undoubtedly would prefer "patriots". So why didn't they name their movement The Patriot Party? Already taken?

And it is really quite amusing that you are just fine with your's and others' right wing populist rage (I mean your stuff about guns and political legitimacy is right out of the militia movement play book), but cannot abide political rage by others who don't share your particular political viewpoint. So I'd recommend you try your fake fainting spell on others.

"Liberals tend to want government thugs doing their violence for them.."

That would be what, precisely? Our armed forces? The police department? No, I suspect you are thinking of some hapless IRS nerd questioning somebody's tax return.

Well BB, it's a so-called free country. But when you use this kind of language to consciously delegitimize your political opponents, don't be surprised when the favor is returned.

That's all I'm sayin'

It's comforting to remember that Afghanistan, one of the most heavily-armed countries in the world, is for this reason safe from the risk of falling under an oppressive religious dictatorship.

Oh, wait.

As Rick Perlstein notes in a conversation with Fallows, "In the long rhythms of American jeremiad, he said, [the proliferation of doom and gloom tracts] was a sign of political health...By contrast, the public mood now is “perilously blithe.”

He's writing an article predicting that the US is doomed, and his evidence is that there aren't enough articles around predicting that the US is doomed? That's so meta...

Marty: I thought a free press was our greatest protection against tyranny.

Think for a while about what it takes to make sure a free press stays free, Marty. Doesn't just happen by libertarians waving their rifles ...

In fact, you might say it's pretty sure that the moment armed authoritarians start waving their guns around next to a free press, they're not doing so in order to ensure that a free press stays free.

Except that they call themselves the "Tea Party", not "Tea Bag Party". Nice try, though, bobby. (I'm joking about that.)

The ACLU is indeed a great help against those forms of government tyranny they actually object to. Their chief weakness is that they've so completely cut their own conception of "civil liberties" free from the actual text of the Constitution, per Strossen's notorious "not co-extensive" remark, that the phrase means nothing more than "stuff we like" when the ACLU uses it.

The NRA isn't exactly your one stop civil liberties defender, either, but they're at least not pretending to be, so they aren't faced with the necessity of denying the existence of the rights they don't feel like defending.

And, honestly, I think the best outcome we can hope for in a reboot IS the US breaking up into several smaller federations. We're too big and diverse to not have any sort of uniformity chafe. It would be nice, though, if we could work out some clever way to deal with the rural/urban divide, which is where the real conflict is.

the actual text of the Constitution

Brett, do you so automatically edit out the phrase "a well-regulated militia" from the Second Amendment, that you've come to think it's not there in the actual text?

My apologies, Brett. Teats it is.

"My first reaction is that, were we to try to rewrite the Constitution, we would be well and truly screwed. At this point, IMO some allegiance to the existing Constitution, even if nominal or hypocritical, is about all that's holding the wheels on."

Agree totally. As for what we have in common (Walmart, etc.), and whether we're the same country that elected Roosevelt, the answer is no, we don't have much in common and never did, and yes, we are the same country that elected Roosevelt - there is a historical predecessor for every single political view out there even though some political figures have managed to bring enough people together to get elected. Reagan, Clinton, Bush, Obama. All different. (And as for corporations, certainly there's a growing movement to push back with our lifestyle decisions.)

They don't call themselves the Tea Bag Party but in the early days they used teabag as a verb on a regular base. It took them some time before they realized that 'teabagging' already had a meaning and that that was the reason that the liberals always laughed, when they heard it.
---
Totally agree that the US would currently be unable to give itself a new constitution that would both work and be desirable (not just from a liberal point of view). The result would either be a de facto dictatorship* or anarchy (followed after some time by the former).

*to be precise: a narrow oligarchy with an enforcer at the top

The ACLU is indeed a great help against those forms of government tyranny they actually object to.

Which is to say, the ones that actually affect a great many real people's lives on a real, day-to-day basis. Of which, the risk of having your religious freedom impinged, or your right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, happen several orders of magnitude more frequently than any real risk of having your 2nd Amendment rights taken away. I mean, I don't see the ACLU taking on a lot of soldier-quartering cases either, you know?

For the record, the ACLU's position on the 2nd Amendment is that it is a collective, not an individual, right.

Since nobody anywhere is trying to restrict the collective right of Americans to keep and bear arms as part of their participation in any form of state or national armed forces, they apparently haven't seen the need to step up.

Their reading of the 2nd Amendment is clearly not the same as the NRA's, but it's also clearly not a bizarre or unusual reading. It's quite common, and was (if I understand correctly) the SCOTUS reading from Miller in 1939 until Heller.

And that's the position of the national ACLU. Local chapters are free to make their own decisions, and in fact the NV ACLU has been publicly supportive of Heller.

Brett: You'll be relieved to learn that Tea Party organizers and participants referred to their own early activities as "Tea Bag[ging] (tr. verb), as in: Tea">http://www.reteaparty.com/2009/02/27/rick-santelli-is-as-mad-as-hell-chicago-tea-party/&strip=1">Tea Bag the Fools in D.C. (google cache) and Tea Bag the Liberal Dems before they Tea Bag You!!. As early participants applied that label to themselves, it's wasted effort to clutch your pearls in affront when someone else uses the phrase.

The pair of young men in the photo surely know the innuendo of the phrase. With a glancing knowledge of any internet traditions (or a conversation with any young man under 25), the folks at reteaparty.com could have informed themselves.

News broadcasters shouldn't have dismissed the Tea Parters for that reason, of course. There were better reasons:
* their lack of factual knowledge about the original Boston Tea Party
* their corporate sponsorship by Freedomworks and Fox News
* the poor quality of their effigies
* their tendency to conflate the bailouts with the stimulus
* the lack of a clear message (besides anger) -- there's a huge mess of general dissatisfaction, "keep your government out of my medicare", birthers, goldbugs, and more. It's very clear that they're angry about something -- it's not at all clear what that something is.

They're as mad as hell and not going to take it anymore?

"Which is to say, the ones that actually affect a great many real people's lives on a real, day-to-day basis."

Yeah, that would explain why the NRA is ten times the size of the ACLU: The right to keep and bear arms is something nobody cares about.

Look, the truth is, the ACLU decided that it wasn't going to take part in one of the biggest civil liberty fights of the century, save by being a bit player on the wrong side. And the result is they're a dinky fraction of the organization they might have been, with diminished influence, and a support base that's mostly limited to one end of the political spectrum.

Every time you look at the political clout the NRA wields, just remember: That could have been the ACLU, if they hadn't hated guns more than they loved liberty.

"Collective right"? That's a term that was invented to describe a "right" designed so that no particular person would ever be able to claim it. Nobody calls a right collective unless they're trying to kill it off without admitting to what they're doing.

Every time you look at the political clout the NRA wields, just remember: That could have been the ACLU, if they hadn't hated guns more than they loved liberty.

Thanks, Brett. I had been taking this discussion far too seriously.

You're seriously suggesting that if the ACLU took the stance of the NRA on gun control that they'd suddenly magically get support from the people who'd been demonizing them for years? Calling them communists and traitors? That you'd have conservatives lining up to become card-carrying members of an organization that, e.g., opposes officially conducted school prayer? And beyond that deeply convincing assumption, you suggest that it's the ACLU's narrow-mindedness in largely not addressing gun control that's preventing right-wingers from joining en masse in support of its general mission, even though they'd obviously do so in a whole-hearted manner, if only the ACLU would see the light and come out forcefully on the right side of this grave and crucial civil rights battle?

Hehe. Thanks for the chuckle.

NV: Thanks, Brett. I had been taking this discussion far too seriously.

Seconded.

Yeah, that would explain why the NRA is ten times the size of the ACLU:

Which has nothing to do with anything, of course. I don't care how many members either organization has. I care what kind of work they do.

I'm not saying that the ACLU would have gotten ALL of the NRA's membership, if they hadn't decided to throw principle to the wind when it came to the 2nd amendment. They would, however, have gotten a lot of it. The NRA does have a substantial continent of principled civil libertarians who refuse to join the ACLU because of it's 2nd amendment stance. Which isn't just, "Leave us out of this fight.", it's, "Here's why the other side is right."

And one of the results of the decision to defend the entire Bill of Rights, would have been a more politically balanced ACLU, with appeal to civil libertarians on both ends of the political spectrum. That, too, would have enlarged the ACLU's clout.

So, yes, I think the ACLU is a lot weaker for having decided to duck this fight.

Thanks for continuing the joke, Brett. You're on a roll today: you almost sound serious!

That could have been the ACLU, if they hadn't hated guns more than they loved liberty.

Clearly, they're not in it for the props.

It would make a great bumpersticker, actually:

Hate Guns. Love Liberty.


Maybe we should just let this thread fade away, but no takers on the "limited government" question?

The government shall pass NO law.... The first sentence makes it clear that the purpose is to limit government.

Actually, the first line of the US Constitution is not "The government shall pass no law" but

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.

Modern proponents of "limited government", especially internet libertarians, tend to speak as if "government" was an alien entity, whereas it's quite clear by the Constitution that to the Framers, government is something that free people do, in order to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure liberty for yourself and for the next generations.

In a participative democracy, government isn't something done to you by an alien force, but something you are individually responsible for. That adult responsibility is something both conservatives and libertarians hate, which is probably why they get along so well: conservatives because they think only the privileged few should have it... libertarians because, well, they think only the privileged few should have it.

That's the First Amendment, which begins "Congress shall make no law...".

The Second Amendment is:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Apparently alternatively capitalized and punctuated thus:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

The second comma in the first version either introduces ambiguity or renders it unparsable.

Fortunately, precedent (both up to and including Heller is not much clearer. (The majority in Heller attempts to assert an individual right while not disturbing certain "longstanding prohibitions". Perhaps we are to conclude that if the legislation in question had been enacted earlier then it too would pass muster.)

The government shall pass NO law.... The first sentence makes it clear that the purpose is to limit government.

I appreciate the reply, but with respect I guess I was looking for something with a little more meat to it.

Let me try again.

Yes, it's true, the first amendment begins with the line "Congress shall pass no law". We can infer from that, and from lots of other statements in the Constitution, that there ought to be bounds on the powers and responsibilities of the different branches of government, and in fact of the government as a whole.

In fact, a lot of what the Constitution is about is defining those bounds.

So, yes, we all agree that the Constitution calls for a limited government.

What I'm not clear on is what that means when Brett, or any of the other conservatives and libertarians who say it, mean when they say it.

The question was prompted by this, from Brett:

We have a Leviathan state. We have a limited government Constitution.

Leviathan, as we all know, is the work of political philosophy by Hobbes, in which, inspired by the anarchic bloodletting of the English Civil War, he recommends a commonwealth ruled by an absolute sovereign, preferably in the form of a king.

Is that an accurate description of what we have here in the US?

Brett's comment is quite commonly made, by him and lots of others, and its clear intent is that the current government of the US exceeds, in practice and perhaps in law, the scope and boundaries set for it in the Constitution.

My question is, how so?

The concept of limited government actually means government by laws, not government by kings or autocratic rulers. The United States Constitution is the basis for the laws, and yes, the federal government is limited by the Constitution, most explicitly by the 9th and 10th amendments.

I am not a libertarian, so I can't speak for them, but I believe in Constitutional (limited) government, and support the Supreme Court's role to interpret the law and decide whether various governmental actions are lawful. I think they decide wrongly sometimes, but accept their judgments as final until overruled. (For example, I agree with the dissenters in Gonzales V. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (2005), the only case I know of where I agree with Clarence Thomas over the majority, that the federal government had no authority under the commerce clause to convict defendant for cultivating marijuana in his own backyard for his own consumption.)

To give an example of what I'm talking about, we've got a Constitution which gives Congress the authority to regulate commerce which crosses state boundries. And a Congress which regulates things which are not commerce, and which do not cross state lines, supposedly on the basis of that grant. Based on the sophistry that the power to regulate only a particular subset of commerce can't really be exercised if Congress is denied the power to regulate everything that the commerce clause went to substantial verbiage to NOT include in the grant of power.

That's a limit, and the reality of it being ignored. And ignoring it has an overhead, in terms of a required level of dishonesty. That's an overhead we wouldn't have if a rebooted constitution just gave Congress the authority it exercises in practice, to regulate anything it feels like.

This sort of sophistry, and the overhead of dishonesty necessary to sustain it, has grown exponentially since the New Deal. Rebooting the constitution to, much as I would despise it, limit some of the limits on federal power it contains, but which aren't being enforced, might get us out of the need to staff our government with people practiced in this sort of doublethink.

Brett, thanks for the reply.

Your point is not unreasonable, and to be honest I have my own list of Constitutional violations, mostly having to do with the expansion of power of the executive.

My issue with the "limited government Constitution" line of argument is that it's typically invoked by conservatives when (and only when) things are proposed that have even a whiff of transfer payment. It seems like a bit of a narrow focus. Not pointing a finger at you specifically, it's just a general observation.

In any case, I appreciate the reply.

Well, Russell, that's to be expected. The 20th century's explosive growth of federal power by 'interpretation' of an unamended constitution might have been kicked off by the Democrats, but Republicans got used to participating soon enough. Both parties are deeply complicit at this point, and you just don't get very far in federal politics unless you're willing to at least play along. Not unless you're a political freak like Dr. Paul, who regularly gets reelected with his own party working against him. He's about the only man I know in federal politics who's willing to admit something he wants to do isn't constitutional.

The tale of the little boy and the Emperor's new cloths is all very nice, but in the real world, the Emperor doesn't get embarrassed, the little boy gets dragged off into an alley and clubbed. "Speaking truth to power" ain't nearly as effective as people might imagine, much as it does need to be done.

Anyway, the downside of rebooting the Constitution is that we could end up with a more expansive constitution, AND still have the systematic corruption that we put in place to get by with the old one. That could be pretty nasty, and it takes more than a formal reboot to get out of that sort of situation, nothing short of real revolution cures that.

Oh, and limited government conservatives who don't notice that they're actually for quite expansive government in some area? I suppose they're the inevitable counterpart to liberal civil libertarians who don't want to admit that gun ownership and property rights are civil liberties. It's always easier to protest the other side's abuses, and not your own.

It's always easier to protest the other side's abuses, and not your own.

True dat.

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