Austin Heller

Comprehensive Reform for Lobbyists

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On Oct. 17, President Obama declared victory over the Republican Party after a contentious government shutdown and debt ceiling debate. In a moment of doublespeak remarkable even for Mr. Obama, he proceeded to promise a three pronged economic agenda for the last quarter of 2013.

He pledged to enact a budget (his code word for raising taxes) and a new farm bill, which would expand the food stamps program and institute massive subsidies. In addition, he promised comprehensive immigration reform before the end of this year. It is not a stretch to link this promise to the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” bill which Mr. Obama has repeatedly hawked.

In the same speech where he revived his push for the immigration bill which was openly and unashamedly written by lobbyists and Washington insiders, the President also attacked lobbyists, saying “all of us need to stop focusing on the lobbyists.” He was presumably including the very ones who helped write his immigration bill.

On Oct. 7, 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama declared, “We’re going to have to change the culture in Washington so that lobbyists and special interests aren’t driving the process.” As the immigration reform was authored earlier this year, quite the opposite occurred. The president sat down with business and labor leaders to craft a bill that could benefit them, rather than us.

This lobbying was somehow spun as a positive! The “Gang of Eight” crowed that the bill would have the support of labor and business, and the media gushed about how the bill would surely pass with such a storm of support. Essentially, the corporations and unions were given the opportunity, behind closed doors, to not merely make demands but to actually help write the bill. In exchange, Congress could count on their support.

I don’t blame these lobbyists. The proposed immigration overhaul would have a massive effect on our labor economy, directly affecting the interests of businesses and unions across the nation. It is entirely in their interests to promote their organization. The problem rests on the tendency of the Obama administration, though this did not start with him, to push these massive overhaul bills.

The immigration overhaul is over 800 pages long. Similarly, both the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul and Affordable Care Act (ACA) were massive pieces of legislation. Moreover, the size of these bills is not determined just by this page count. While the ACA is over 1,000 pages, the bureaucratic regulations written for its implementation have broken the 20,000 page mark.

It is the size and lack of transparency of these bills that attracts lobbyists and special interest groups like flies. With a bill of 1,000 pages, it is not obvious to the public, or even to many Congressmen, when a lobbyist has written in a provision or two.

Let us briefly examine an example. The ACA does not seem like the sort of legislation that would concern the National Rifle Association (NRA). Yet, somehow, Title X on page 2,037 of the ACA, contains five provisions concerning conversations about guns with doctors. It is difficult to imagine how this came to be. The NRA is a powerful conservative group which did very little to oppose the ACA. Is it such a crazy suggestion that the NRA was allowed to add these provisions to ensure that they would not work to defeat the bill? Perhaps the truth of the matter is not quite so incriminating, but the role of lobbyists in crafting legislation is well documented. The larger the piece of legislation the more ripe it is for such manipulation.

This immigration bill that the President has promised to push through Congress is officially dubbed “The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013”.  It joins Dodd-Frank and the ACA as another example of the massive, far-reaching overhauls pushed by the Obama administration as their answers to America’s ills. The hordes of professional lobbyists see in this proposal endless opportunities for themselves and their well-paying clients.  Unsurprisingly, they have joined in the frenzied, whole-hearted effort to see its hundreds of pages become the Law of the Land.

Once again, we risk having a massive piece of legislation, one holding a very significant long term impact on the American public, and yet written predominantly behind closed doors, rushed through. I ask you, “What is the big rush?”

This is not the way the Constitution intended for legislation to be enacted. Our Founders feared the power of special interests and warned against allowing massive, multi-facetted bills to be pushed through Congress. This reckless, imprudent process both denies the transparency needed to understand the content of these bills and simultaneously allows lobbyists to include whatever self-serving provisions they desire.

As this article is being written, the Obama administration promises on its own website, “an unprecedented level of openness”, and proclaims that “Government should be transparent.  (emphasis is theirs) Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.”

While Mr. Obama has outwardly rejected lobbyists both during his 2008 campaign for the Presidency and in his recent speech now in 2013, his call for the urgent passage of immigration reform is really just a call for one more colossal, lobbyist-ridden bill. As Nancy Pelosi said about the ACA, we have to pass it to know what is in it.

As curious as I am about this immigration overhaul, I am certainly not curious enough to pass it before we understand it.

lobbyist_briefcase_and_cash

Phantoms & Lies of Hitting the Debt Ceiling

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On Oct. 17, the United States will reach a deadline to raise the debt ceiling. At this time, Congress will have to authorize the federal government to continue accruing debts to fund our massive deficit spending. Naturally, the Obama administration has pursued a concerted policy of fear mongering by predicting default on Social Security checks and interest payments on the national debt. The US Treasury Department declared that a default would result in a recession, and President Obama told Wall Street that they should be concerned about the mere possibility of default.

The mantra continues quite simply that “We must borrow money to pay the interest on money that we already borrowed.”

These doomsday predictions are, quite bluntly, complete fabrications. If the debt ceiling is not increased, the United States will not default on its debts and Social Security checks will remain intact. Unless President Obama willfully chooses to defy the Constitution and bring about the apocalypse he envisions, there will be no government default.

If the debt ceiling is reached, the United States has certain obligations which it must pay. A failure to pay these obligations would result in default. The media and government claim that there is no law in place to prioritize these obligations, but they clearly have not read the Constitution since the 1860s.

The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution states: “The validity of the public debt of the United States… shall not be questioned.” This clause referred to the debts the United States incurred during the Civil War. Under this provision, the administration would be legally obligated to make payments on its debts even if we reach the debt ceiling.

What exactly are these debts? What qualifies as a legal obligation by the United States government? Interestingly, the answer comes from the very liberal Paul Krugman, as he attempts to widely construe our debts. He identifies both interest payments on bonds and Social Security payments as debts which must be paid. Krugman admits that the Treasury Department could “pay off bonds in full,” but he argues that “Social Security benefits have the same inviolable legal status as payments to investors.”

Bonds

First, let’s examine the situation with regards to bond payments. Obama’s fear mongering over default involves the declaration that our credit rating would be down-graded if we do not raise the debt ceiling. This would result in higher interest rates on the debt in future. However, Moody’s Investors Service, a major credit rating agency, disputes that claim. They assert: “The debt limit restricts government expenditures to the amount of its incoming revenues; it does not prohibit the government from servicing its debt.”

The Fourteenth Amendment makes clear that the government must service its debt. Since the US has approximately $222 billion in monthly revenue, with debt service payment obligations of only $35 billion suggestions that the American government might fall into default are patently absurd, unless Barack Obama willfully ignores the 14th Amendment in order to make his “gloom and doom” projections come true.

Social Security

Second, Social Security would not be destroyed by the debt ceiling. Shocking as it may be to many of you, the Social Security Administration actually runs on a surplus. According to Reuters, payroll revenue (what those of us with paycheck deductions see marked as FIFA on our paystubs) will bring in $38.8 billion more than the SSA must pay in benefits. I recognize that this is incredibly unintuitive and deserves some explanation.

Social Security payroll revenue is held by the Treasury Department in the Social Security Trust Fund. Generally, this money is raided by the Treasury Department to pay for other programs, which is why there is such uncertainty in the stability of the Social Security system. However, if the debt ceiling is reached, and the administration does not intentionally violate the 14th Amendment, all Social Security revenues must be paid out to recipients as Social Security benefits.

Given that the program takes in more revenue than it pays, it is again ridiculous to suggest that payments from the Social Security system to recipients would default, unless, of course, President Obama deliberately ignores the 14th Amendment to transform his scare tactics into reality.

The Debt Ceiling

This is not to say that the debt ceiling would not have an impact on our government spending or the economy. The government would have to make drastic cuts to its spending very quickly, but this would not result in a default.

What we’re doing is borrowing money to pay interest on our debt. That’s similar to a family whose credit cards are maxed out applying for a new credit card to pay the interest of their debt. That is not a long range plan for financial sanity, for the family in our example or for America.

Imagine that that family throws a fit when they are denied their credit card, and you will have a pretty good understanding of the administration’s debt ceiling argument.

Capital dome and new $100 bill

Slouching towards Washington

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Turning and turning in the widening gyre

There is much chatter about the comings and goings of politicians in Washington D.C. The presidential races are watched with the utmost anticipation, and the media obsess over the bickering and scheming of hundreds of federal congressmen. These politicians, of course, have a great deal of power over our country and our lives, especially in this day and age.

However, standing in the shadows, in firm control of our economy and our wellbeing are the generally faceless controllers of the Federal Reserve. The Fed’s Chairman, currently Ben Bernanke, shows his face occasionally, issuing some incredibly obtuse statement about the state of the economy and his policy plans. Unfortunately, the average American cannot understand such statements and thus ignores them. This is the only sad pretense of transparency that we have come to expect from our central bank.

I am writing today to both underscore the extreme importance of this institution and to expose the increasing power being wielded by the bank. Not only does the Federal Reserve have inestimable power over our economy, but the woman who is generally expected to succeed Bernanke will certainly seek to continue expanding this control.

The Federal Reserve has been tasked with two ultimate responsibilities: inflation and employment. It seeks to both control inflation and to maximize employment through manipulation of the monetary supply. In pursuit of these goals, the Fed seeks to balance a precarious juggling act.

The Federal Reserve primarily pursues these goals by controlling interest rates on bank loans, with the purchase of bonds and other securities. Higher interest rates decrease inflation by reducing the amount of money brought into the economy out of bank reserves. A classic example of a high interest rate policy was the Fed’s policies in the late 1970s when interest rates were increased in order to combat rising inflation.

Currently interest rates are very low, ideally increasing employment under classic stimulus principles: more money in the economy boosts consumer spending and thus hiring. Unfortunately, the Fed cannot decrease interest rates below zero but still wants to pump more money into the economy. Instead, they have opted to pursue a policy of quantitative easing.

Under this policy, the bank pumps billions of dollars into the economy each year by purchasing long-term commercial assets from private banks. Predictably, this policy has two primary risks. First, it can lead to higher inflation. More money in circulation reduces the value of the currency, potentially leading to inflation, and the Fed’s quantitative easing pumps enormous amounts of money into the economy.

In addition, the Federal Reserve runs the risk of creating what is known as an asset bubble. These bubbles, as we have recently seen both with the housing and the internet markets, result from too much money being poured into the economy through credit, hence artificially inflating the productivity and value of the marketplace. The disastrous effects of these bubbles need not be explained, I am sure.

It is the Federal Reserve’s job to determine when to raise interest rates in order to prevent both inflation and asset bubbles. Failure to account for either possibility would have an incredible impact on common Americans who will find that their savings accounts have less real value due to increased inflation or who suffer from the sort of economic collapses that we saw in 2008. We are being forced to trust the judgment of bankers and politicians, whose motives and even identities are known to very few Americans. It is a wonder that the media has so little attention to spare on such matters.

The she-devil of Constitution Avenue

Paul Krugman, the former Enron consultant and current columnist for the New York Times, once ironically dubbed Janet Yellen the “she-devil of Constitution Avenue.” Krugman, with the same judgment he used to advocate the artificial housing bubble and predict the transient nature of the internet, assures us that inflation is not an issue and heralds Ms. Yellen for her extremely “dovish” beliefs concerning inflation. Calling her a dove simply suggests that she is less concerned about inflation than she is about restoring employment.[1] This means that if she becomes Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Yellen will be less likely to raise interest rates to fight inflation and artificial bubbles than many.

This predilection is particularly alarming given that Yellen is in large part responsible for the current quantitative easing policy of the Federal Reserve. Additionally, she was in charge of the Fed’s banks in San Francisco, one of the areas hardest hit by the collapse of the last bubble.

Her tendency towards increased government spending suggests that as Chairman Yellen will continue, if not expand, quantitative easing in order to restore full employment. Admittedly, Yellen does seem to be a very intelligent woman, so it stands to reason that we ought to consider whether she would have the good judgment to cut off the spigot should matters begin to spiral out of control. She has repeatedly stated that the government must spend more to bring our country out of the recession, getting further praise from Krugman by doing so. Furthermore, the Wall Street Journal reports that she has always pushed Bernanke into the current policy of quantitative easing.

Yellen was president of the San Francisco Federal Bank and, as the Cato Institute argues, she has defended the Fed’s role in regulating the disastrous bubble that hit the Western States in particular in 2008. A review of her 2010 Senate testimony shows that Yellen defends the role she played in trying to prevent this crisis. She states again and again that the bubble would have been prevented if the Fed had more power, ignoring any possible role that Fed interest rates and policies might have had on this crisis. While she may have been unable to stop this catastrophe, we must seriously ask whether she would consider the Federal Reserve’s role in another asset bubble given her refusal to do so during the mortgage crisis.

Let us put together the pieces. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Yellen would aggressively pursue quantitative easing as Chairman of the Federal Reserve, hence increasing the risk of inflation or an asset bubble. When combined with her less than strong concern over inflation and her refusal to admit that the Fed’s monetary policy contributed to the housing crisis, her tendencies create a very frightening picture indeed.

A Constitutional Remedy

Predictably, the Constitution provides a very clear alternative to Federal Reserve and its increasing power. In 1791, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton engaged in a fierce battle over the creation of the first National Bank. Jefferson argued vociferously that the creation of the bank was unconstitutional.

Hamilton, one of the strongest supporters of big government among our Founding Fathers, justified the bank as an implied power under the Interstate Commerce clause of the Constitution, as well as both the General Welfare[2] and Necessary and Proper clauses.[3] He, of course, ignored the fact that no such understanding of these phrases was accepted at the Constitutional Convention. In fact, an attempt to use simple punctuation to expand the General Welfare clause was resoundingly struck down by the Convention.

Thomas Jefferson, in a famous opinion on the Constitutionality of the bank, argued for a much more strict interpretation of the Constitution. His opinion is widely regarded as a crucial tenant of strict Constitutional constructionism, and I recommend reading it even outside of this specific subject matter.

First, Jefferson claimed that the Interstate Commerce clause argument holds no water, because the bank would explicitly impact intrastate commerce, just as our Federal Reserve does today.

Jefferson refuted the implied powers of the General Welfare clause by pointing out that the government only has the right to “lay taxes for that purpose,” rather than “to do anything they please to provide for the general welfare.”

Finally, he attacked the Necessary and Proper argument by pointing out that all the powers of the government can “be carried into execution without a bank. A bank is therefore not necessary, and consequently not authorized by this phrase.”

This is a powerful argument by one of the leaders in constitutional originalism. The existence of a national bank such as the Federal Reserve is as unconstitutional now as then, and for the same reasons. This fundamental discussion has been ignored, however, as we simply debate how much the Fed should pump money into the economy. We have strayed so far from the actual restrictions that the Constitution sets on the powers of a central bank that we would do well to bring the debate back to these fundamentals.

Even if this does not actually end the stranglehold of the Federal Reserve, it cannot help but reduce its influence by shifting the argument from the pragmatic policy decisions of the Fed to the fundamental discussion of whether it ought to even exist. Instead of arguing about whether it should assume more power, we should be arguing whether or not to give it any power at all.

Any liberal reader will be appalled by this notion. They will ask, “But what would we do without a central bank?” I will preemptively say two things on this subject. First, there was a long period of time in the United States where there was no central bank. In fact, one of the most highly regarded banking systems that America has experienced was the privately run and independent Suffolk banking system. This bank provided an alternative to central banking after Andrew Jackson destroyed the Second Bank of the United States, and it ensured market stability and sound currency in New England for almost two decades.

The Suffolk system was distinctly different from the Federal Reserve. It was intended to prevent the inflation of currency, which it did admirably. It is not just libertarians and Austrian economists that admire the Suffolk System. In fact, the Federal Reserve of Minneapolis published a paper analyzing the bank and its successes, eventually asking “is there a need for a government-sponsored central bank?”

Second, we suffer from the same sort of economic collapses that faced America before the Federal Reserve. Don’t take my word for it, though! Janet Yellen herself made that argument in a speech in early 2013. She began this speech on a humorous note, encouraging her audience to remember a well-known incident where a speculative bubble collapsed, leading to economic hardship. She was, however, not referring to 2008 but to 1907. It was not until 1913 that the Federal Reserve was created, in part due to the crisis of 1907, as she explains. Yellen proceeds to state “it is striking how many of the challenges of that era remain with us today.” Does it occur to her that perhaps the answer is not more regulation? Perhaps the Federal Reserve was not the answer to the crisis of 1907? Indeed, if it were the answer to that crisis, then it stands to reason that we would not encounter similar hardships today.

Conclusion

The Federal Reserve demonstrates incredible power which will only expand when Janet Yellen takes charge. How can we trust our economic livelihood to the decisions of a handful of academics and politicians who meet periodically in Washington? Long ago our government abandoned our Constitution, empowering a bank with incredible power over our lives. It is time to push back against the Fed and retake our rights and our freedoms.


[1] It is a commonly accepted fact that Yellen is a dove on monetary policy. Her apologists may attempt to argue otherwise, and I am happy to engage in that debate should any reader wish to.

[2] The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States

[3] [Congress shall have Power to] make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into the Execution the foregoing Powers

 Statueof Freedom atop the Capital building smaller

The Problem with Internationalism

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The recent debate over intervention in Syria demands a broader discussion of the United States’ role in the international community. While the notion of an imminent military strike seems to have passed for now, we should not let this incident slide into obscurity. It is time to critically evaluate American foreign policy and to determine what role our nation must have as a part of the international community.

For years we have been considered the “world’s policemen”, a role that is untenable and often promotes the interests of foreign countries over our own. This role has a lengthy history, but it is important to examine how our foreign entanglements have changed over the last couple of decades. During the Cold War, we could not police the entire world, but we were tasked with preserving stability in what was then referred to as the Free World, with the Soviets enforcing stability on their side of the Iron Curtain. During the Cold War, we actively worked to promote our interests throughout the world. We supported regimes that opened trade with the United States, and we suppressed rebellions that would disrupt the stability of allied countries and crucial regions.

The end of the Cold War saw a collapse in this international balance, with the former Soviet states incapable of enforcing the stability to which the Eastern world had grown accustomed. In the intervening two decades, the United States has been called in to act as an enforcer of international law. Time and time again, we intervene in foreign affairs due to human rights violations or as part of a UN or NATO task force. The crucial difference being that rather than engaging in competition with our political and economic enemies we are enforcing the dictates of international conventions and organizations. We have shifted from pursuing foreign policy concerns that further our interests to channeling our resources into matters which are necessarily to the benefit of our citizenry. It is this change from national concerns to international concerns that must be re-evaluated.

The duty of a national government is to promote the interests of the nation first and foremost. The Founding Fathers understood this, with political ideals derived from the philosophical tradition of social contract theory. This theory held that individuals came out of the state of nature (a state of anarchy before political institutions) in order to enjoy certain benefits that they had lacked in the state of nature. John Locke was arguably the most influential of these political philosophers on the founding of America, and he claimed that individuals join together in governments in order to protect their natural rights and allow for some impartial judge to adjudicate disputes between members of this government.

This philosophical tradition is relevant to the concerns of American foreign policy as it designates the purpose of a government, at least a government that the Founding Fathers hoped to create. While clearly nuanced, the purpose of a government, under this theory, is the protection of the rights of its citizens and the adjudication of their differences within the civil society. It is the promotion of the members of the social contract that concerns the government. That which does not advance their concerns by protecting their rights and property is not the purpose of a government as the United States was envisioned.

In this philosophical context, I will call upon George Washington’s famous farewell address of 1796. This speech is often quoted as an endorsement of isolationism, but it is more complex than that. “It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.”

The salient feature of Mr. Washington’s speech is its warning against the idea of entangling alliances. In the 1790s, war was brewing between France and England, and Washington was afraid that an alliance with either one would drag the fledgling nation into war and destruction. Today, we do not primarily fear being brought into a war where we will be overpowered and crushed, and we certainly are not overshadowed militarily by our neighbors. The dangers of entangling alliances, however, remain as they can obligate the United States to enter conflicts which are of no benefit to its citizenry.

It is generally accepted that a strike on Syria does not promote our national interests. We have been reluctant to even arm the opposition, in fears that the widespread conflict will spread to other regions. The idea that conflict in Syria could spill even more into Israel and Turkey, or even into Iran, is a terrible specter that has given American policy makers pause time and time again (cite). Furthermore, it seems clear that, regardless of which side wins the Syrian civil war, we will not find an ally there. Assad will continue to work with Russia, China, and Iran, which certainly would not promote our interests. If the rebels succeed, we face the prospect of a hardline Muslim regime. Egypt’s brief rule by the Muslim Brotherhood certainly did not further United States interests, suggesting that a similar regime in Syria would be equally inhospitable. The destruction of Assad’s regime, moreover, would promote instability in the country, just as Mubarak and Gaddafi’s overthrows did.

Instead the impetus for a strike is based on the so-called “red line” advocated by President Obama. In 2012, Obama declared that he would intervene in Syria if Assad were to use chemical weapons. When Assad eventually did use chemical weapons, Obama announced that we would strike Syria and destroy their capability to use such tactics. A hailstorm of criticism against Obama harangued him for not consulting Congress before establishing this “red line” as it forced our foreign policy credibility to depend on a unilateral policy statement by the president. Obama responded to this criticism claiming that it was not his red line, but instead it was a line drawn by the international community. Despite the lack of UN support for the strike, Obama claimed that the international community had historically condemned and forbidden the use of chemical weapons as enshrined in the Chemical Weapons Convention. A failure to enforce these laws, he said, undermines not just his credibility but the credibility of these international agreements.

Let us take Obama at his word for a moment. There is certainly a lot of international legal precedent against the use of chemical weapons. Obama’s claim that there is an international red line is accurate, but why does that mean that America must enforce those laws? This is an even more pressing question given that the UN itself is not supportive of a strike. How is the enforcement of international law in this case important enough to outweigh all the potential negatives of a strike? Our president’s desire to spend American taxpayer dollars and jeopardize American national security and economic interests in such a manner sets this international law over the pursuit of American interests. How is this the proper function of our government?

Now, of course, I must be charitable towards President Obama. He is our president after all. There are plenty of arguments for why a strike on Syria is necessary for American interests. While I explain these arguments, please keep President Washington’s warning in mind.

The President of the United States did set an ultimatum concerning the use of weapons of mass destruction. If he chose not to enforce this declaration, it would undermine the credibility of the United States on international matters. South Korea has expressed fear that North Korea would not be deterred by American threats of violence. This is a problem similar to that which faced President Eisenhower when the Soviet Union invaded Hungary. He had pursued a foreign policy which asserted that the United States would attack the Soviets if they attempted to expand in such a fashion. When he did not uphold this threat, it undermined our credibility and foreign policy strategy. This is a very real problem in today’s age, as we attempt to enforce global stability and support our allies across the globe.

So here is the crucial problem. We have become obligated, based on our extensive involvement in the international community, to advance a foreign policy agenda that does not promote our interests. It does not promote our economic ties, nor does it advance allied interests in Syria, nor does it promote stability in the region, yet it is necessary to strengthen our credibility given our traditional role of enforcing international law. We have entangled ourselves so hopelessly in the international world, so completely embraced this internationalist mentality, that our government is compelled to act against our interests.

This dilemma does not mean that the United States should pursue a policy of isolationism. There are plenty of ways in which our foreign involvement does benefit the United States. We promote economic growth in countries that either manufacture goods for export or purchase American products, and we ensure stability in regions that are crucial to our national security and economic interests. The extent of this involvement, however, should be a pragmatic one. The pursuit of international law and order, as we can see with Syria, is not a pursuit in and of itself that benefits the United States. We must be aware, however, that our leaders should be looking out for our interests, not those of the UN Security Council.

The debate over Syria should be a wakeup call to America. It teaches us that our foreign entanglements have reached such a point where we can no longer be the sole judges of our national policy. By refusing foreign involvement in Syria, we can start a precedent that the United States is no longer the world’s policeman. We must demand that our leaders uphold our laws and our interests, not those of the international community.

Thomas Jefferson painting 518

A Well Regulated Militia

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With the recent resurgence of President Obama’s push for gun control, it is important to critically examine the meaning of the Second Amendment. This word “critically” is crucial here. It is often argued by proponents of gun control that the Second Amendment does not protect the individual right to own guns but instead protects the rights of the states (or the federal government) to maintain militias. It is true that the reason for which the “right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged” is that “a well regulated militia being necessary for the security of a free state”. Such an interpretation of the amendment, however, does not take into account the original context of the words and the intent of the “well regulated militia” clause.

In order to understand the original understanding of this clause, this article will critically examine two primary sources from the Founding era which served as the backdrop to the ratification of the Second Amendment.

As we all know, in 1776 British oppression had reached a breaking point in the American colonies. One of the primary examples of this oppression was the abuse perpetuated by British standing armies on American liberties. Virginia, specifically, had faced these difficulties with exceptional intensity. By June 1776, Lord Dunmore, colonial governor of Virginia, had threatened martial law, engaged in conflict with American rebels, and burned the city of Norfolk. Elsewhere in the colonies conflict with the British troops had reached the point of open rebellion and many Virginians were particularly outraged by the military rule that was imposed upon Boston at this time.

With this historical background, we can better understand the emphasis in favor of the right to bear arms and the fear of standing armies in Virginia in 1776.

On June 12, 1776 the Virginia Constitutional Convention adopted the Virginia Declaration of Rights, written by George Mason. This Declaration was influential on Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence and often regarded as a blueprint for the eventual United States Bill of Rights as a perusal of the document implies.

Section 13 of this document states: “That a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural and safe defense of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power”.

Let us take a moment to break this down. First, it is clear that standing armies ought to be avoided. This is not a declaration in support of simply having standing state militias. Whatever we are to glean from the rest of the statement must preclude an endorsement of standing militias. Second, we have a definition for a “well-regulated militia”, specifically that it is composed of “the people”. This wording certainly differentiates it from a standing army of government troops.  From these deductions, it can be concluded that the Virginia Declaration of Rights sought to protect the people’s ability to be trained in arms, rather than to support a standing government militia.

Let us continue our examination to another document, this time written by Thomas Jefferson himself: his draft of the Virginia state constitution. While this draft was not adopted by the state of Virginia it is an important insight into Jefferson’s own conception of rights. Jefferson was one of the most influential politicians in attempting to include a Bill of Rights into the Constitution, so his vision of rights gives a strong indication into the intent of the Bill of Rights.

Jefferson is unequivocal in his fear of a standing army: “There shall be no standing army but in time of actual war”. I have difficulty imagining another logical interpretation of this sentence. Furthermore, he is equally explicit in supporting a personal right to arms: “No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms [within his own lands]”.

A clever and perhaps skeptical reader will immediately latch onto both exceptions to a right to bear arms in this provision. More interestingly is his allowance that a freeman may be debarred the use of arms outside of his own lands. A compelling but irrelevant argument may be made that Jefferson allowed for instances where the use of weapons in public spaces may be prohibited.

Exceptions aside, Jefferson’s draft clearly protects the right of citizens to keep weapons in their homes, as he specifies the rights of arms within one’s own lands. Juxtaposed with such a fear of standing armies, we can deduce intent similar to that in Mason’s Declaration of Rights: that the possession of arms is a necessary check on the power of a standing army.

In the modern era we have a powerful standing army that stretches across the world. There is, of course, no provision in our Constitution against the existence of such an army, but there are a few major checks on the power of the military, such as the Third Amendment. The Second Amendment, taken nearly verbatim from the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and advocated for by Jefferson, whom we know to have supported the personal right to bear arms and opposed a standing militia, can now be understood better according to its original intention.

The “well regulated militia” clause can certainly not be construed as endorsing standing militias. Instead the Second Amendment ought to protect the freedom of an armed populace with the right to bear arms as a check on the military authority of a standing army.

Lexington Minuteman

Obamacare doesn’t have to be our burden!

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In November 2012, Speaker John Boehner announced that Obamacare was the “law of the land” and that he would not seek to repeal it. His statement was criticized by many as a capitulation to this massive government expansion, implying that the House of Representatives would cease attempting to block its implementation.

More recently, as you may have heard, a group of Republican senators have spearheaded a movement to urge Boehner’s house to defund Obamacare. Establishment Republicans (and of course liberals!) balked. The Senate would block any repeal act, they said. President Obama would veto anything that doesn’t fund Obamacare. The American people will call us obstructionist!

When the Founding Fathers formulated our two houses of legislature, they worried that the long terms of senators would result in an aristocracy with no regard for the public. As a concession to these fears, the Founders gave the House of Representatives the ‘power of the purse’.

When specifying the roles of both houses of the legislature, the Founders had to balance the desire to have a relatively stable house, whose members could more properly understand the intricacies of the government, and a more democratic house that would stay close to the interests of the people. In some ways the Senate has more power than the House: it can confirm appointments to the Executive Branch, for example, and is generally regarded as the more powerful of the houses. Hamilton, writing in Federalist 66, compares the House to the Senate and states that “[the Constitution] has provided in [the House’s] favor several important counterpoises to the additional authorities to be conferred upon the Senate.” He then states that one of these powers is the “exclusive power of originating money bills”.

Our situation today is a realization of this decision. In response to Obamacare, the 2010 election saw a takeover of the House by opponents of the law. In 2012, the people saw fit to return these same opponents to the House! The Founders clearly put a great deal of emphasis on the House’s power of the purse, and they would not have included this provision if they thought it ought not to be used.

You are now asking, of course, what you can do. How can you change the minds of such a large establishment of Republicans? It seems that the greatest fear of the Republican establishment is that they will be blamed by the public for a government shutdown, assuming Obama vetoes a plan to defund the law. It is, therefore, the public which has a key role in determining the ramifications of such an action.

We must then demonstrate that the public opposes Obamacare.

It has always been a cliché to call or write to one’s representatives. But with social media, we can do much more! Senators Cruz, Paul, and Lee all have Facebook and Twitter accounts advocating this plan. Furthermore, here is a handy list of House Republicans who support defunding and here is a list of like-minded Senators. Millions of people, all of whom will face the negative effects of Obamacare, have social media accounts. It is therefore our duty to spread the message via social media, both by posting about the dangers of Obamacare and by sharing the message of those who are actually representing our interests on this issue.

With today’s technology we can do more than just call our representatives. We can spread awareness to urge others to do the same. If it becomes clear that we as the public support this plan, how can Boehner and his establishment fear the public’s response to standing up and fighting? Even if our calls go unheeded, we must make a stand and demonstrate our opposition to massive government expansion into our healthcare with the same provisions that our Constitution enshrines.

Thomas Jefferson resolute