I open this commentary with the introduction to my previous commentary, “The Mainstream Smearing of Ayn Rand.” The disparity in subject is not so irrelevant as one might presume, but I won’t dwell on that matter.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi looked like a deer caught in the blinding headlight of an oncoming freight train, her expression frozen in either ignorance or fear. It has always been difficult to distinguish between the two in her. But the malice in her words was palpable.
CNSNews.com: “Madam Speaker, where specifically does the Constitution grant Congress the authority to enact an individual health insurance mandate?”
Pelosi: “Are you serious? Are you serious?”
CNSNews.com: “Yes, yes, I am.”
Pelosi then shook her head before taking a question from another reporter. Her press spokesman, Nadeam Elshami, then told CNSNews.com that asking the speaker of the House where the Constitution authorized Congress to mandate that individual Americans buy health insurance was not a “serious question.”
“You can put this on the record,” said Elshami. “That is not a serious question. That is not a serious question.”
His iterating mockery of the reporter is indeed on the record. Elshami, deputy communications director and senior adviser to Pelosi, later issued a press release stating that Congress was empowered by the commerce clause in the Constitution to mandate individual health insurance. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), however, differed from that dubious specificity, instead likening the power to compel all Americans to buy health insurance to federal authority to impose speed limits on interstate highways (???), adding that “nobody questions” Congress’s authority to impose controls of any kind. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) linked the power to the general welfare clause.
Since that demonstration of Congressional arrogance, the House passed its health-care legislation by a vote of 220 to 215, squeaking through only because of the browbeating of Blue Dog Democrats by the Pelosi gang. Hardly a glittering victory. The bill has been sent to the Senate, which has its own versions of health care legislation to scuffle over. The House bill, remarked Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, soon after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her determined co-conspirators posed with smiles of triumph for photo ops, was “dead on arrival.” In the meantime, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut issued his own warning:
If a government plan is part of the deal, “as a matter of conscience, I will not allow this bill to come to a final vote,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut independent whose vote Democrats need to overcome GOP filibusters.
It seems that some Senators understand the original purpose of the Senate, which is to act as a check on the populist, “democratic,” majority-rule grounded legislation concocted by the House, to better preserve and protect the life, liberty, property and pursuit of happiness of Americans. Unfortunately, only Graham, Lieberman, and a handful of other Senators appreciate that intention. Others have publicly articulated it — but with reservations.
Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) says he is “not aware” of the Constitution giving Congress the authority to make individuals purchase health insurance, as the health care bills in both the House and Senate require.
No, he isn’t aware of the Constitution mandating Congress the power to force Americans to buy health insurance. And that unawareness won’t stop him from advocating such compulsion.
When asked if there was a specific part of the Constitution that gives Congress the authority to make people buy health insurance, Akaka said: “Not in particular with health insurance. It’s not covered in that respect. But in ways to help citizens in our country to live a good life, let me say it that way, is what we’re trying to do, and in this case, we’re trying to help them with their health.”
Both House and Senate health care bills mandate that people buy health insurance, facing a financial penalty if they do not. Akaka said this mandate should not be looked upon as a penalty…“It’s an idea of making it possible for people and this is what it’s all about,” he said. “I don’t look upon that as a penalty but as a way of getting help with health insurance.”
If Akaka had been sharp enough, he might have echoed House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and claimed that “helping people” at the point of a gun to buy health insurance came under the (misunderstood) general welfare clause. But, he was not sharp enough, and that neglect simply added to his ignorance quotient.
Other politicians have been more specific in their opposition to any health care legislation. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah remarked that if the government can force Americans to purchase health insurance, “then there is literally nothing the federal government can’t force us to do.”
Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island is in a dead heat with Senator Akaka in being unaware of any Constitutional mandate to compel Americans to buy health insurance. When asked by a reporter to identify that mandate in the Constitution, Reed answered:
“Let me see,” said Reed. “I would have to check the specific sections, so I’ll have to get back to you on the specific section. But it is not unusual that the Congress has required individuals to do things, like sign up for the draft and do many other things too, which I don’t think are explicitly contained [in the Constitution]. It gives Congress a right to raise an army, but it doesn’t say you can take people and draft them. But since that was something necessary for the functioning of the government over the past several years, the practice on the books, it’s been recognized, the authority to do that.”
The gentleman did not “get back” to the reporter who buttonholed him with that question. He likened the element of compulsion to forcing Americans to register for the military draft. That is okay with him. It is all about duty, and sacrifice, and “giving back” to society. Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska also displayed his ignorance as well as his manners:
“Specifically, where in the Constitution does Congress get its authority to mandate that individuals purchase health insurance?” CNSNews.com asked Nelson.
“Well, you know, I don’t know that I’m a constitutional scholar,” said Nelson. So, I, I’m not going to be able to answer that question.” The senator then turned away to answer another reporter’s question.
If he doesn’t know whether or not he’s a constitutional scholar, then he isn’t one. That answer invites the observation and question: One can expect members of the House of Representatives to be foggy on matters of constitutionality, although their two-year terms ought to allow them to become experts on the subject.
Should Senators come to their jobs as Solons prepared to repel any and all usurpations of the Constitution? Yes. Willing and able to uphold individual rights and the sanctity of private contract? Yes. It is in the nature of the title and the concomitant responsibility of the office. Most senators, however, do not come to the job with anything near a tenuous knowledge of their function. And many of them assume their seats in the Senate with a contempt for the Constitution that may as well be ignorance.
Most Senators complement their ignorance of the Constitution with an indifference to its clearly-worded stipulations, and in this state of mind emulate President Barack Obama, former pseudo-professor of Constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School. Obama is not so much ignorant of that document as hostile to it. It is “deeply flawed,” and a “charter of negative liberties,” which should be amended or rewritten to include the “positive“ liberties of welfare state entitlements and provisions for fiat executive powers. His demonstrated hostility for individual rights and private property is arguably more deep-seated than was FDR’s, whose grasp of the Constitutional limits placed on the executive and legislative branches of government was as blithely disjointed as is Obama’s.
The key to understanding the machinations of Obama, Pelosi, Reid and their allies in Congress is to grasp this: No one can express, as they have, such vehement ignorance without knowing full well what it is they are ignorant of.
It is time Americans called their bluff, as they may well do in the 2010 mid-term elections, or in manners reminiscent of the Tea Parties of 2009, or of the Minute Men of 1775.