The Air Force is clearly unconstitutional.
Article One, Section Eight of the United States Constitution gives the United States the power to “To provide and maintain a Navy” and to “To raise and support Armies.” The Marine Corps and the Coast Guard might be able to be justified as extensions of the Navy, but there’s nothing in the Constitution about an Air Force. Not a word. It’s clearly a socialist plot, no? Top Gun is obviously a Soviet propaganda film, and the fact that Tom Cruise is a Scientologist is just icing on the cake.
Of course, common sense would dictate that since 18th Century aerial combat would likely have involved dropping big rocks from hot air balloons, there was really no constitutional consideration to provide for Top Gun-style combat. It’s very unlikely that the framers had any intention of limiting the technological avenues of our military. Consequently, lawmakers have felt little or no pressure to amend the Constitution in order to grant themselves the power to pay military pilots to fly in F-14s.
But if you’re a Tea Partier, you have to recognize the intellectual contradictions that your worship of “original intent” is bound to create.
Case in point: the recent health care reform law is coming under fire for being “unconstitutional.” Why? Well, it includes a mandate that everyone purchase health insurance or face government penalties. According to the Tea Party, nowhere in Article 1, Section 8 is there a provision allowing the Federal Government to force you to purchase “a product you don’t want,” to quote Tea Party darling and Senator-elect Mike Lee of Utah.
A product you don’t want. Swell.
So what can the government do, then? Well, according to the 16th Amendment, they can “lay and collect taxes,” which they can use, with their Article 1, Section 8 authority, to “regulate Commerce” and do all that is “necessary and proper” to do so. Given that health care is an international business and constitutes one-seventh of all of our economic commerce, it’s pretty hard to argue that the commerce clause gives the government no power to intervene. (That’s still what the Tea Partiers argue, but over a century of precedent makes their case untenable.)
So rather than force you to purchase “a product you don’t want,” despite the fact that everyone, everywhere, will require health care, the Feds can simply enact a massive single-payer system with your tax dollars that will remove your choices, raise overall costs, and create a bureaucracy and federal ownership that would dwarf the current obligations created by the most recent legislation.
That would be a crappy-yet-constitutional solution.
The Tea Party is looking for an intellectual silver bullet; an easy way out, a shortcut to bypass hard choices. So they dangle the Constitution in everyone’s face and presume that it has all the answers, when, in fact, it doesn’t. It doesn’t claim to have them, and it’s folly to pretend otherwise. What’s more, worship of that inspired document doesn’t provide the political will to enact policy, especially when the policy is controversial.
Consider, for instance, the push for a Balanced Budget Amendment. Senator-elect Lee has been insistent that the way to fiscal discipline is to mandate such discipline constitutionally.
Neat. Except a Balanced Budget Amendment doesn’t actually balance the budget. You still have to make the hard choices to do that.
Right now, doing that overnight would require gruesome cuts that would likely double the unemployment rate overnight, gut Social Security and Medicare, and cripple defense spending. It could also result in massive, judicially mandated tax increases. Won’t that be delightful to have the Supreme Court diddling with the Tax Code in order to satisfy the constitutional requirement for a balanced budget? Whether you’re a fan of Clarence Thomas or Ruth Bader Ginsburg, do you really want either one of them tinkering with tax policy?
The more likely outcome, however, is that you would create a Congress of scofflaws, just like California has done on a statewide level with their own superfluous state balanced budget amendment.
Notice that California has a rigorous balanced budget amendment – but no balanced budget. Every time they pass a budget, they simply ignore the law.
Tea Party Mormons, notably Glenn Beck, are particularly egregious in terms of their Constitution worship, because they cite a dubious Mormon prophecy to justify their contention that the Constitution is “hanging by a thread,” which is simply untrue. All the fundamental provisions of the Constitution remain firmly in place. What they’re trying to do is cloak their own policy preferences in highminded Constitutional language, but their interpretation of the Constitution is no less singular – or valid – than Barack Obama’s.
To quote Antonin Scalia, “You can be stupid and Constitutional at the same time.”
It’s time we stop pretending that there are any easy answers. We’re not going to solve our nation’s problems by wearing tri-cornered hats and quoting Patrick Henry with loud, angry voices. (Incidentally, Patrick Henry refused to attend the Constitutional Convention and was adamantly opposed thereto.) We have to use the inspired, brilliant 18th Century constitutional procedures, which remain firmly in place, to find 21st Century solutions.
Either that, or we need to scrap the Air Force.