What a delight it is that the citizens of Massachusetts have risen up against the federal leviathan. All across the country, the tea party movement is furiously aboil, angry Americans anxiously awaiting the opportunity to pull some levers in a voting booth.
But if the current populist uprising is nothing more than yet another throw-the-bums-out movement, it will come to nothing. We threw the bums out good and hard in 1994, and yet the federal leviathan has done nothing but grow since then. By now the national government is so huge that it threatens to crush the nation and its people and productive plant beneath its enormous weight.
It is not enough to throw the bums out. To contain the federal government, we have to cut its powers. Nothing else will stop its long-term growth.
The United States was originally conceived of as a confederation of sovereign states. The states joined together for those common purposes that seemed to make sense to them, with each state retaining is sovereignty in all other matters.
That was the theory — the federal government was to be the hand-servant of the states. In practice, the federal government has usurped the power of the states from the very beginning, with the abuses becoming more bold and more comprehensive with each passing decade.
This turns out to have been a mistake — as we are discovering. Where each state is independent of all the others, each one can try different policies. The states can become the laboratories of democracy that the founding fathers envisioned.
But to achieve this, we will have to rein in the federal leviathan. The states and the people need to reassert their ownership of and control over the national government.
How? By constitutional amendment. Probably by constitutional convention, since it seems unlikely that sitting members of Congress will vote to circumscribe their awesome and terrifying powers.
But here, in a very short summary, is what needs to be done, if the head of steam built up by the tea party movement is not to be wasted. The text within the quotation marks is proposed amendatory language, followed by a discussion of the objective to be achieved.
1. “The words ‘general welfare’ appearing in the United States Constitution or its Amendments do not create any powers of the legislative, executive or judicial branches of the government of the United States. Any legislation authorized by the words ‘general welfare’ is repealed.” This gets rid of one of the most pernicious pieces of federal elasticity. The pretext for forcing people to buy health insurance under Obamacare — now dead, one may hope — was to have been the general welfare clause.
2. “Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution is stricken in its entirety. Any legislation authorized by that clause is repealed.” This does away with the power of the federal government to regulate commerce. The interstate commerce clause is second only to the general welfare clause as a means of enlarging the power of the national government.
3. “Amendement 16 to the United States Constitution is stricken in its entirety. Any legislation authorized by that Amendment is repealed.” Goodbye federal income tax. The federal government will have to return to taxation by capitation — the head tax.
4. “Amendement 17 to the United States Constitution is stricken in its entirety. Any legislation authorized by that Amendment is repealed.” This language puts the Senate back under the control of the states. This was a vital check on federal power. Its absence is what has permitted the most abusive usurpations of power by the federal leviathan.
5. “No governmental entity in the United States nor any office-holder or employee of any governmental entity in the United States is immune from criminal prosecution or civil litigation.” This eliminates the legal doctrine called sovereign immunity. The argument is that the people ought not be able to sue themselves. But when government officials commit crimes against citizens, they should be held fully accountable to the law. Americans fought and died so that no sovereign could tread on the rights of the people.
Taken as a whole, this language will eliminate much of the federal government. The power to defend the nation will be retained, but most of the alphabet soup agencies will be gone, as will be most of the taxes and regulations strangling our economy. The states will have to fill some gaps, but I think we will all be quietly amazed at how little value the national government brings to civic life — and how relieved we all will be to be out from under its enormous weight.