Monday, November 23, 2009

Rush to Judgment

I don't want to make a huge deal about this one but it's been bugging me since I happened to have heard it earlier. I passed the Rush Limbaugh show on the radio during my lunch break today. He was talking about an email some female associate of his had sent him over the weekend. Apparently she was having dinner with a young soldier (age 24) and he had brought up a disagreeable point during a dinner conversation. The soldier had asked her why forcing people to buy health insurance was so terrible given that we already force people to buy car insurance. The woman, somehow troubled by the question and unable to answer it herself, sent the question via email to Rush and he apparently sent back a lengthy response which he then went over during the program today.

I had been flipping around to different stations but happened to come back to him in the middle of his diatribe. He was making the obvious, yet irrelevant (in my opinion), point that car insurance is there to hedge against injuring others whereas health insurance was a hedge against our own injuries. I'm not going to make this post a tedious discussion about the efficacy of the car insurance versus health insurance argument, but his next point concerning the young man blew me away. He started haranguing about how the federal government had no authority to tell us to buy anything (I'm with him on that point). But he prefaced that argument by claiming that the Constitution was all about telling the government not what it can do, but what it can't do, and that it's a shame that civics isn't taught anymore.

I almost ripped out my XM-radio and threw it out the Goddamn window...

Granted, given the nature of the young soldier's objection, I doubt he was having any serious internal conversation regarding the Constitutional implications of such a proposal. But berating him by claiming that the Constitution is about telling the government what it can't do...that's just baffling. I'm twenty-five years young. Rush Limbaugh is damn near sixty. And I understand the Constitution better than him. And he's a political commentator no less! A part of me wants to not be so surprised but how can anyone with any reasonable amount of intellect even negotiate around the notion that the Constitution is about telling the government what it can't do. He supported it by mockingly pleading that the young man look at the Bill of Rights to discover what the Constitution is all about!

Here's a little history lesson for you, Rush. The Constitution is NOT about what the government CAN'T do. Articles 1-3 of the Constitution clearly outline not only the organization of the three branches of the federal government but their specific responsibilities and powers. This is precisely what the Constitution is and does; defining what constitutes the federal government. Hence the spiffy name; it's not just a bunch of nice looking syllables thrown together. The Bill of Rights, which are the first ten amendments to the Constitution, weren't even added until four years after the Constitution was ratified (1787:1791).

Now, of course, his view of the Constitution as a document that tells government what it can't do is predicated on the idea that these amendments...which were added years later...are somehow the core of the Constitution itself. I can't even begin to explain how frustrating it is to know how many people share that sentiment. Along with it usually comes the implication that our rights are defined by the Bill of Rights as well (I'm surprised I didn't hear this from him today as well). But in fact the Bill of Rights, in the context of the Constitution itself, is largely redundant. This was argued by the Federalists at the time of its adoption and I have to say it may have been one of the few things I would have agreed with them on.

I don't want to belabor any of these points because if you're reading my blog, you're probably already well aware of these realities. But in case you've never really been exposed to it, or maybe you're just feeling a bit rusty on colonial American history, I suggest that everyone pick up a copy of the Constitution (or find it on the internet) and thumb through the entire thing. It shouldn't take you any longer than 10-15 minutes. It's an amazingly short and concise document (especially in light of the tens of thousands of pages of federal regulation on the books today). And even better, most of it is very easy to understand. It lays out exactly what the government can do, and IMPLIES what it can't do conversely. And that obvious implication is the exact reason why the Federalists thought the Bill of Rights was unnecessary. And interestingly enough, it's also the sole reason for the 9th and 10th amendment in the Bill of Rights as well. And for those who are rusty on their understanding regarding the nature of the Bill of Rights as it relates to the Constitution itself, do a little reading on the Massachusetts Compromise. It might be kind of boring to some of you, but at least when you rest your head tonight you can take some solace in the fact that you now know more about the Constitution than the most successful political commentator in the United States. What a dolt!

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