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Saturday, September 17, 2005
By Steven L. Taylor

I often state that blogging is “a rough draft of my thoughts” and I have personally noticed that it sometimes takes a couple of posts to clarify those thoughts, so here’s another “Constitution Day” post (partially in response to Matthew Shugart’s response to my post yesterday, as well as to Scott Gosnell’s and various comments–if anything, the inter-connectivity of the Blogosphere and its capacity to generate interesting interchanges is confirmed).

Back to our story…

My ultimate point in regards to this particular event is that if Congress had simply issued a declaration that the 17th of September be “Constitution Day� henceforth, that such a declaration would have been largely ignored. It was the linkage to federal education funds that got everyone’s attention.

As such, the outpouring of love for the Constitution is tainted in my mind because it was coerced. I find this a shame, because I do think that the basic idea of a day extolling and studying the Constitution is a good one (although I think what has probably happened in many schools has been a more generic patriotic presentations than actual Constitution related activities–such was the case at my sons’ elementary school).

I will confess that the democrat and libertarian in me (note the small letters) has a visceral reaction to coercion, although generically the pragmatist and political scientist in me knows that coercion is an essential element of government. Of course, the nature of a given government is marked, at least in part, by the way in which is chooses to coerce. (Boy, I sure can make something like “Constitution Day” overly complicated, now can’t I?)

At a more fundamental level, I think that the entire situation underscores an element of the evolution of our system that is poorly taught and generally misunderstood in the United States: and that is that the Congress has obtained more and more power since the 1930s not because of specific changes to the Constitution, but because of the growth in the federal budget. It is impossible to read Article I, Section 8 and state that Congress has any authority whatsoever over education (or, for that matter, for Social Security, Food Stamps, or Regulating Speed Limits). I am not arguing that Congress has no right to do what it does, but rather that the only way for it to have done so is to raise tax revenues and then spend them in a way that incentivizes state compliance. There is no doubt that this is a significant alteration from the constitutional order that the Founders created. The empowerment of the central government via fiscal policy has been quite profound, and it is not one that is frequently explored or discussed.

As such, Byrd has provided a lesson for Constitution Day, just not the one he wanted to provide (or so I would argue).

And, by way of clarification, to some specific issues:

1) I don’t object to the concept of “Constitution Day� per se.

2) I don’t object to string being attached to federal dollars given to states, per se.

3) I question the expansion of the power of the central government solely via fiscal means, although also accept it as established process.

4) Ultimately, I think that the way Byrd did what he did actually violated the spirit of the Constitution rather profoundly. It did not come about as the result of any enumerated or implied power in the Constitution and nor did it come about as the result of open debate in the Congress. You throw in the fiscal coercion and you get the taint.

But then again, maybe I am just being a contrarian.

(and somehow, I feel as if this isn’t the last post on this particular topic…)

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One Response to “Third Time the Charm?”

  1. A Knight's Blog Says:

    Happy Constitution Day — Again

    Notwithstanding my post of yesterday, today, September 17th, is actually Constitution Day. Because it fell on a Saturday this year, we celebrated it yesterday — because otherwise the schools could not have special programs and teach special cur…


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