26 March 2010


The mood of the Republic is stark.

This mood change began with a 15 month long debate over a health care bill that will do nothing to improve the quality or reduce the cost of health care in America. Next, the plan proposed by the Democratic Party is opposed by an overwhelming majority of the citizenry. To gain passage, the legislative leadership of the Democratic Party had to employ secrecy in its writing, liberal use of pork and political coercion to get enough votes for passage, and feats of parliamentary legerdemain to permit its proponents to deny that they had supported it.

Mainly,however,the plan adopted promises a radical shift in the constitutional understanding of the Nation. And the people are angry.

The anger and polarization have given me pause. The fear and resentment of the national government is the worst it has been in 150 years. And it has been directed against members of both parties.

Why now and why this issue?

Think about it. One hundred fifty years ago, the Nation divided over an issue of constitutional interpretation. I have heard it said that the Civil War was fought over the conjugation of a verb.

“What verb,” you ask? “To be!”

You see, until 1860, the proper conjugation was “The United States are….” By 1865, the proper conjugation was “The United States is….” The shift of power from the States to Washington was a radical departure from the original constitutional intent. The idea that a federal government could dictate to the states was unsettling to many and frightening to most of those.

The Constitution crafted by the Framers in Philadelphia was one of limited federal powers, with all other power vested in the States or the people. But by 1860, the Nation had divided principally along geographic lines over the issue of slavery. One group demanded a federal resolution, the Constitution be damned.

The subsequent debate was a bloody one.

Much as we have recently seen, positions hardened, and States, towns, and even families were split over the issue of whether the Northern States could summarily force the Southern States to abolish slavery. Even prior to December 1860, neighbors were often pitted against neighbors over a single question: “Should the citizens of one block of States be able to force the citizens of another group of States to conform to the will of ‘the Northern majority’?” The debate was heated. In Congress, debates became physical. The most famous occurred when Congressman Preston Brooks (D.S.C.) rushed onto the floor of the Senate and beat Senator Charles Sumner (R. Mass.) senseless.

In “bleeding Kansas,” the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 left up to the electorate the decision of whether Kansas should enter the Union as a free or a slave State. In 1856, a pro-slavery group entered the town of Lawrence, burned the Free-State Hotel and destroyed the equipment of two abolitionist newspapers.

Three days later, a group of abolitionists led by John Brown responded by killing five pro-slavery settlers north of Pottawatomie Creek. Thereafter, one of Brown’s nicknames was “Pottawatomie” Brown.

Brown escaped from Kansas and led his infamous raid on the United States Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in 1859. His aim was to arm slaves and to promote a general insurrection by freed slaves against the governments of the southern States. His raid failed and he was hanged, but to many in the North, he was a hero.

The ultimate result was the Civil War, which decided the issue by force of arms.

In the ensuing 150 years, the federal government has assumed many powers that to the Framers would have been unimaginable. The idea that there would be a federal Department of Education would have been laughable; local control over education preceded the Constitution as evidenced by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. That the Congress in Washington and the Executive branch could regulate intimate issues of personal liberty through a “Department of Human Services” would have been unthinkable; those were the very services that were provided by local churches and other charities—groups in the best position to determine who was truly needy as opposed to simply lazy.

But the recent sea change in our constitutional understanding is so stark that it has again polarized the citizenry. Not even the shift to “big government” starting in FDR’s New Deal was as traumatic as the blatant power grab by the Democratic Party in the health care bill.

The New Deal legislation introduced the modern welfare state to America, but at least it promised provision of semi-uniform services in return for the taxes that the people, through their Congress, permitted. “Social Security” was thought to be a “bought and paid for” benefit, even though a similar private plan would have been prosecuted as a Ponzi scheme. The power assumed by the Courts to redraw school district lines was understood to be temporary to address an ill that the majority Americans were at least willing to recognize.

But when Nancy Pelosi and her cabal assert that the only reason that people detest the bill is that they are incapable of understanding what is best for them, the people tremble. This new Act is proof of the old adage, that you can put lipstick and a dress on a pig…..but it is still a pig. Its declaration of power to force citizens to purchase a product they do not want and may not need "for their own good", and the other provisions which are merely a Marxian redistribution of wealth dressed up in kumbaya language, are alien to the understood right of all Americans to be left alone. Particularly the right to be left alone by their government.

So the National mood is understandable.

Now, I do not suggest that a second civil war is imminent. The Country is divided politically and philosophically, not geographically. Still, when those who expected all sorts of free medical care learn that all that has happened is that the Federal government has put the health care insurance industry out of business, when development of technology and drugs remains as costly as ever, requiring ever-increasing taxes, who can tell?

I do find alarming the renewed focus of government on limiting or even repealing the Second Amendment. Perhaps they know more than we do.

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