Cherry-Picking the Constitution

Blue Texan’s post yesterday prompted lots of comment, including several from one "stevepatriquin" who opened with the standard Righty statement that the Constitution "limits the size and powers of the federal govt." Which, to the commenter’s credit, is at least HALF true, making it 50% more true than what others of that ilk generally have to say. (His next two sentences quickly return him to the fold, of course: "It limits the welfare and the taxes. The[y] did not put an income tax in there for a reason.")

stevepatriquin goes on to defend his indefensible comments as puppies pile on, until he finally sees that he’s full of shit and being called on it.

This debate (generously, I’m using that term) occurred in comments following one I had kicked in, alluding to a similar encounter I wrote about at TheMalcontent. Rereading it last night, I thought it might help further illuminate the reasons why, as BT put it, "teabaggers hate the Constitution."

So here it is…

One of the things I do for fun and profit is write a column on business management. I’ve written it for more than fifteen years, close to 200 columns in all, published monthly in a trade magazine that serves a tiny little sliver of what’s left of American manufacturing: Custom woodworking.

I was raised by a tool-and-die maker, and I operated a custom woodworking shop for roughly as long as I’ve written my column. Unlike many custom woodworkers, I did not go into the business because I loved watching thin ribbons of wood curl out of a block plane. No, my interest in woodworking was of a more practical nature: I wanted to make money to support my family.

So while other guys were fancying themselves artists and romancing the spruce, I – after learning the technical side of the business as an apprentice in a cabinet shop – busied myself with analyzing my company’s costs, learning what we did most profitably, and putting food on my family’s table – and paychecks in my employees’ hands.

My magazine column is mostly a recounting of the management techniques I put into practice, and the mistakes I made along the way. A how-to (and how-not-to) of making and ultimately keeping a business profitable. Over the years I’ve covered some damned exciting stuff, like putting together a project portfolio (oooooooh!); interviewing prospective employees (aaaahhhhhhh!); and – a big focus of mine – the importance of cost accounting (gasp!).

Back in July of this year – and for the first time since I began writing the column – I ventured into more political waters, strongly endorsing the Employee Free Choice Act. Specifically, I detailed example objections to the legislation from the left and the right, and said owners and managers who treat their employees fairly have nothing to fear from EFCA. I added that those who are not treating their people right have plenty to fear – and said they deserve whatever they get.

Well, as you might expect, the conservative wingnuts came – pardon the pun – out of the woodwork.

Nonetheless, I responded to each dissenter personally, and it’s funny: All these “the-Constitution-doesn’t-allow-for-it” types (you know the ones, those who whiled away the summer with their teabags and their Obama-as-Hitler posters) actually carry on a pretty civil conversation if you insist on it. Until, that is…

Until you point out a little clause in the 10th Amendment. Most of these erstwhile “patriots” looooove pointing to the 10th Amendment, because it states that powers not granted to the national government, nor prohibited to the states, are reserved to the states or the people. Meaning, they robotically recite, that the Federal Government “has no right” to (1) make it easier for workers to unionize, (2) mandate health insurance, or (3) do pretty much anything else.

The problem is simple: Such claims are a steaming pile of horseshit, as that aforementioned little clause makes clear. Popularly known as the “Commerce Clause,” it states that Congress has the power to regulate commerce (1) with foreign nations, (2) among the states (my emphasis), and (3) with Native American tribes.

Something else these wingnuts like to throw around – in order to sound like they have some notion of what they are talking about – is the phrase “enumerated powers.” Highfalutin, yet with just the proper dash of anti-intellectual moxie, this phrase refers to the specific responsibilities of Congress called out in the Constitution (Article 1, Section 8), all of which – the wingnuts say – they fully respect and support, and to which they will gladly be held accountable.

Care to guess whether Congress’s power to regulate commerce, laid out in the Commerce Clause, is one of those enumerated powers? (Hint: Say no, and you’ll be wrong.)

Righties, as a group, like to strut about and say they are strict Constitutional constructionists, always at the ready with an amendment that supposedly supports their constant bleating of another phrase: “illegal government control.” But how quickly they disengage when a further examination of that very Constitution puts the lie to their rhetoric!

A suggestion, my progressive friends: Follow the example of the esteemed Senator from West Virginia, Robert Byrd, and arm yourself with a concealed weapon: a pocket copy of the Constitution. Against sanctimonious, intimidating, plausible-sounding Righty bluster, it is the great equalizer.

The Constitution is not a cherry tree – and among those on the modern-day Right, you won’t be finding any George Washingtons.

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