Mike Lee and the Constitution

I have been having a hard time getting the time to read and write here as much as I would like. Things are very busy at work, a bit crazy at home, and I am spending more time with offline political activities in preparation for the upcoming legislative session and this election cycle. The result is that I need to readjust my expectations here. I’ll try to put short posts up with some regularity, but not likely as much as has previously been the case. Hopefully this is only temporary.

Because of the recent discussion here about Mike Lee’s stance on the Constitution and his call for a couple of amendments I thought it would be appropriate to share Mike’s post – Why I Focus on the Constitution. I figure it’s always best to let people speak for themselves so here is what I see as the heart of what he wrote:

We must analyze the country’s current challenges and Congress’s proposed solutions through the lens of the Constitution. With such a view, we can accurately determine if the proposed solution incorporates and supports the proper role of government. We must also hold our elected officials accountable to the solemn oaths they have taken to support and defend this document. . . With truly committed constitutional leaders at the helm, we can shift away from a perpetually growing government and the corresponding loss of personal liberty, and instead preserve our freedoms and enjoy the prosperity our great nation affords.

I recommend that anyone who wants to understand Mike and his position in more detail should go read his whole post before trying to engage me in the topic because I don’t claim to know any more about Mike’s position than what he wrote.

17 comments for “Mike Lee and the Constitution

  1. January 13, 2010 at 12:00 am

    I am pleased to see a candidate with a chance to win who is so committed to constitutional principles.

  2. January 13, 2010 at 12:00 am

    Same here. Mark Shurtleff talked about the Constitution as part of his campaign while he was running, but it never seemed quite so ingrained in him as it does in Mike Lee.

  3. Charles D
    January 14, 2010 at 7:42 am

    Sorry, but Mike’s post strikes me as a bit disingenuous. This is rather like a Christian who tells you about how scripture must be the sole arbiter of truth and action – they aren’t really referring to the Bible but to their particular interpretation of it. Mike Lee has a political agenda for the nation and is using the Constitution (or to be precise, his interpretation of it) as a symbol for that agenda. While obviously politicians who swear to uphold and defend the Constitution should actually do so, Lee’s focus seems to be “the proper role of government”.

    When I compare this essay to Lee’s stances on the issues (from his web site) the disconnect becomes clearer. First he wants to end deficit spending and acknowledges that the Constitution doesn’t speak on this issue by demanding an amendment to support his position. He wants to reform the tax code in order to prevent or dissuade Congress from exercising its Constitutional prerogative to enact or fund programs with which he disagrees. He wants to reduce government regulation (no quibbles about its Constitutionality appear) in order to give corporations more power over the economy and the people – hardly a position the Founders would support. Lastly he supports term limits, a concept that the Founders saw fit to eschew when they created the Constitution and for which, again, an amendment would be required.

    While one can choose to support or oppose Lee’s positions on individual issues on any number of grounds, invoking the Constitution is irrelevant at best.

    • January 14, 2010 at 8:54 am

      I don’t think it is “irrelevant at best” to invoke the Constitution. Obviously each person will have their own interpretation of the Constitution (or scripture in your example) but we will be able to have a much more constructive debate, despite different interpretations, if we are first able to agree on a concrete foundation for the debate. We may have different interpretations of the Constitution, but if we agree that the Constitution forms the basis of our government in this country and we each try to support our interpretations by appealing to the Constitution we will be able to have a more enlightened debate.

      No matter what our interpretations are the words are the same if we can agree on that common document. You and I may view the meaning of “provide for the general defense and common welfare of the United States” differently but our discussion will have a much higher chance of success if we stay anchored to that phrase than if one or both of us says “who cares what it says there – this is what I want to do.” In addition to that, there are phrases that we do not agree on, but there are many more where we all agree on the meaning of the words.

  4. Charles D
    January 14, 2010 at 9:18 am

    I agree with you in principle that as long as we believe that the government has not progressed beyond the point where it no longer derives its powers from the consent of the governed and thus should be altered or abolished, then we must require our government to operate within the framework of the Constitution. Obviously there is plenty of room to disagree about what is and is not within that framework, so the Constitution is not a political prescription. It is fair to say that the Constitution bans specific government actions, but the list is not as long as some libertarians might prefer.

    Personally, I do not believe we live under a government that derives its power from the consent of the governed. To the contrary, it is clear that it studiously ignores the will of the people along with their rights and takes its orders from the corporate interests that have effectively purchased our political system. While I enjoy academic discussions about the Constitution, it is evident to me that the system of government it established is irreparably broken and that there are no Constitutional means available and politically viable to mend it.

    • January 14, 2010 at 9:33 am

      How exactly would you propose that we once again bind our government down to only powers which are derived from the consent of the governed?

  5. Charles D
    January 14, 2010 at 10:06 am

    The great riddle of our time to which I do not have an answer. All the methods I have considered have one key flaw: there’s no realistic set of circumstances under which they could happen.

    • January 14, 2010 at 11:39 am

      Why do you reject the possibility that the answer is to have we the people insist on our elected officials being bound down by the chains of the Constitution to powers enumerated therein? That’s easy to say or type, but I accept that it will be exceptionally hard to to implement throughout the nation. As hard as it is, and as long as it may take I don’t see any way that we could do that without resulting in the government being bound down to the powers derived from the consent of the governed.

  6. Curt
    January 16, 2010 at 9:47 am

    Well, this is what I’ve gained from listening to Mike Lee:

    (1) The revolution was as much about localizing government (today, read: federalism) as anything else.
    (2) The Constitution contains a blueprint for effective local government
    (3) Adherence to the principles of localized government as set out in the Constitution is the best way to American security and prosperity.

    Mike puts a little of a twist on the conventional conservative platform of limited government. Local government is different than limited government . . . and, whether it’s limited or not, local government is in most ways (though not all) better, or at least more effective, responsive, and tailored, than national government.

    I like that idea. It makes sense, and, besides, it’s pretty uniquely American. To the extent Mike wants to use the Constitution as a proxy for his federalist campaign, I’m fine with it.

  7. Charles D
    January 17, 2010 at 7:33 am

    David, insisting that officials be bound by the limitations on federal power in the Constitution presupposes that a) there is real agreement in the nation about what those limitations are or should be, and b) that the corporate powers who own our Congress and our electoral process will permit change that would negatively impact their profitability. I believe both assumptions are incorrect. I also believe that the limitations of government to which the governed of today would consent (assuming they were informed enough to form an opinion) would differ greatly from those devised by the upper middle-class landowners and shopkeepers of the late 18th Century.

    Localization, decentralization or federalism would merely result in myriad government competing with one another, a chaotic morass of conflicting laws and regulations, and an expensive duplication of services and administration. We are engaged in a fight for control of our government between unorganized, misinformed and distracted citizens with wildly disparate political views and large multinational corporations and banks who are united in their desire to make ever more profit, and who are well organized, well informed, and clear about their goals. Reducing the power of the federal government only plays into their hands because they will be careful to insure that any such reduction aligns with their interests, not ours.

    • January 18, 2010 at 8:39 am

      Actually, it does not presuppose that there is a real agreement about what the limitations of Congress are according to the Constitution, it merely insists upon openly debating those differences by returning to the undisputed text of the Constitution (undisputed unless you know of an alternate text that I have never seen) in arguing about what those limitations are. Mostly we just ignore the text while trying to convince others that what we want to do is allowed and what we want to stop is forbidden.

      Like you I believe that the limitations of government to which the governed of today would consent would differ greatly from those devised by the upper middle-class landowners and shopkeepers of the late 18th Century. The problem is that we never even ask them to consent in the way that was specified in our founding document. Does the Constitution have authority today or is it simply a historical relic that provided the structural framework for our current government?

      I don’t see the chaotic mess that you envision. The federal government would have authority over a more limited scope of policies. Each state would have less-fettered authority over a broader scope of policies, and municipalities etc. would be free, within the frameworks set by the federal and state governments, to set the policies deemed most beneficial by the residents of the individual locations. Yes, they would compete with each other, and in the process there would develop an equilibrium between different places as each tries to maximize their own potential based on the desires of their own populations. Neighboring governments would be free to band together as appropriate to reduce “expensive duplication of services” but there need not be conflicting laws between different levels of government because each level would have primacy in different areas of policy rather than our current situation where the higher levels of government feel free to come step on local government toes on any issue where they are inclined to legislate after the fact.

      I think you have identified the real problem here:

      We are engaged in a fight for control of our government between unorganized, misinformed and distracted citizens with wildly disparate political views and large multinational corporations and banks who are united in their desire to make ever more profit, and who are well organized, well informed, and clear about their goals.

      What we need to realize is that the conglomerate entities can’t win a political fight against the individuals if the individuals will get engaged, informed, and motivated and be united only their opposition to corporate control of the political process. I realize that is a tall order, but it is not quite so desperate or impossible as it might seem at first.

  8. Ronald D. Hunt
    January 17, 2010 at 1:02 pm


    Your Making a lot of sense to me at least. Their are a few theory’s about where we are State monopoly capitalism being one that comes to mind.

  9. Charles D
    January 18, 2010 at 9:21 am

    First of all, I think we both might agree that the trend toward centralized federal government control of policy and process is a result of the increasing power of corporations. Corporations don’t want 50 different sets of policies, procedures and regulations when they can have one – particularly when they have the power to see that the single federal regulatory process is run for their benefit. Also, I think you might agree that the lower the level of government, the more resistant it will be to new taxes. That results in a stunted ability to regulate so that even if the law is sufficient to hold corporations responsible for their actions, there will be inadequate resources to enforce the law. If we moved today from our current regulatory structure to one dominated by state and local governments, it would be corporate interests determining what the new structures would be and how much money would be available to implement them.

    What is the likelihood that citizens would become engaged, informed, motivated and united in their opposition to corporate control of the political process? The corporate media will not inform them, much less motivate them and in fact will work to ignore, belittle and ostracize anyone who tries to do so. Any attempt to engage and unite people will be sidetracked by well-funded, highly organized groups intent on sowing division and misinformation (tea party, anyone?). To say it’s an uphill battle is like telling Sisyphus he has a tough job to do.

    • January 19, 2010 at 7:59 am

      I can’t say that I agree that the trend toward more centralized federal government control is a result of the increasing power of corporations. I’m not ruling it out, but I’m not confident that ever more powerful corporations are the driving force behind our ever more powerful federal government. What I’m sure we both agree on is that ever more powerful centralized federal government control is highly beneficial to large corporations.

      I fail to follow the logic that lower taxes results in a stunted ability to regulate – perhaps that explains why we don’t see eye to eye on the solution. If corporations don’t want 50 different sets of policies, procedures and regulations and we want to cut he corporations down to size then it seems that giving them 50 different sets of policies is exactly the medicine we need to administer. You are arguing that corporations want more powerful, unified government control of policy and yet you argue that corporations will be more powerful if we decentralize – that’s either a catch-22 or bad logic. If it’s a catch-22 then there is no solution (the definition of a catch-22) but if its bad logic we need to fix the logic before we can expect to find the right solution.

      What is the likelihood that citizens would become engaged, informed, motivated and united in their opposition to corporate control of the political process?

      Not very high, but it is the only solution. We who are engaged, informed, and motivated must spend as much effort as possible reaching out to others and inviting them to become engaged and informed (I think that motivation will follow engaged and informed in cases where it did not precede them) and do so in a way that does not belittle those who do not come to the same conclusions that we have arrived at. Count me is as one who is willing to tell Sisyphus he has a tough job to do.

  10. Ronald D. Hunt
    January 18, 2010 at 11:18 pm

    Yea I agree with those points, given I am from the opposite side of the aisle. I hope that a consensus between the right and left on these issues can be formed.

    The supreme court is getting ready to rule on limitations placed on political donations by corporations, it is very likely that the supreme court will rule in the favor of the corporations. so clearly it is going to get worse for a few more years still.

  11. Charles D
    January 19, 2010 at 10:01 am

    What I’m trying to say about government decentralization is twofold: 1) corporations have almost as much power in statehouses as they do in Washington; and 2) a state government that manages to pass strong regulatory standards is unlikely to be able to put enough investigators in the field and lawyers in the office to actually enforce their laws. While a plethora of confusing regulations would hamstring some corporations, it is just the sort of government interference in the marketplace that conservatives always oppose. Perhaps you are the exception.

    We have two choices: optimism or pessimism. I agree that we can and must do all we can to inform, engage and motivate our fellow citizens, but I have no illusions about the difficulty of arriving at critical mass. On both sides of the aisle, there are many citizens who have strong feelings about a wide variety of issues. Is it possible to draw up a short list of goals on which we could agree and demand that everyone shut up about those on which we disagree? No, we are a nation of individualists who aren’t about to sacrifice our pet political ideas to achieve someone else’s priorities. We used to have a bit better understanding of community in the decades after the great War, but that is long gone today.

    • January 19, 2010 at 10:19 am

      A better understanding of community and learning to work with those who often disagree with on those areas where we agree are two skills that would serve this country very well if they could become widely adopted once again.

      I may or may not be the exception among conservatives, but I do believe in the need for government regulation in the marketplace, I simply believe that many of the regulations proposed by progressives are either counterproductive, ineffective, or misguided (depending on which particular proposal we are disagreeing on). I believe that proper government regulation is relatively straightforward and require common sense to implement, unlike the complex and burdensome regulations that we regularly get saddled with (which are supposed to be ironclad and enforced with a zero tolerance approach). Those regulations then get poorly implemented with exceptions and lack of oversight in precisely the places where regulation should have been enforced.

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