Promoting the General Welfare

I just read Robert Parry’s essay regarding an anticipated showdown with the Tea Party over the Constitution. I share his suspicions about what motivates the Tea Party, and I applaud his contention that “reason and consistency have little place in the U.S. political/media system.” However, I have to take issue with a couple of points he makes.

First, I would like to lay to rest, once and for all, this notion that the general welfare clause in the Constitution is still subject to interpretation. Any debate over what this clause meant ended with James Madison’s explanation in Federalist 41:

For what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power? Nothing is more natural nor common than first to use a general phrase, and then to explain and qualify it by a recital of particulars.

Mr. Parry tries to imply that there is a tension between the clause and Article I, Section 8, but it is clear from Madison’s words that the eighteen enumerated powers in Section 8 are comprehensive, and the general welfare clause cannot be construed otherwise.

Second, I don’t agree with Mr. Parry framing the proposed 28th Amendment as reckless and a precursor to another civil war (although if it causes such to happen, maybe it was necessary). Let us not ignore the fact that the Constitution granted the States a veto power originally, with each state having the final say in all acts of Congress by choosing not to pay their apportioned share of the bill. This provision was completely subverted by the implementation of the 13th Amendment and the personal income tax, allowing Congress to spend The People’s money directly without the approval of their state, and the 28th Amendment would simply restore this valuable power. I believe that our history records that the truly reckless approach is refusing to recognize and/or affirm states’ rights.

In the end, I agree with Mr. Parry’s assessment that “the country is in for a new round of crazy,” but I will leave identifying the sources of the crazy as an exercise for the reader.

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