Saturday, June 16, 2012

We Are All Egyptians Now

I have commented recently about the upcoming elections in Egypt, and the realization by the population there that they are being handed a choice of the lessor of two evils.  It seems the god of democracy is being exposed everywhere as a false god. 

Today, I see Voice of America (VOA) recognizes the concerns of many Egyptians regarding the situation and status of their revolution:

Egyptians go to the polls Saturday and Sunday in a polarizing presidential race already fraught by controversial court decisions.  Whoever wins the runoff will preside over a country with neither a constitution defining his powers, nor an effective legislative branch to act as a check.

If only VOA expressed the same concerns about democracy in America.

While there is a constitution in America defining the powers of the government or president, it hasn’t been effective in limiting those powers to the stated purposes almost since the day the ink dried.  I have previously written about a book entitled “The Founding Fathers' Guide to the Constitution”, by Brion McClanahan.  The reviews can be found here and in greater detail here.  In the book, the author demonstrates, through the debates of the founding generation, the intent behind the various clauses of the Constitution – especially based on the positions taken by the supporters of the document. 

There are several clauses in the US Constitution whose meanings have been stretched far beyond anything the original supporters suggested, and in ways the detractors predicted. 

One such clause is the General Welfare Clause:

Apparently there was little debate about this clause because the meaning was quite clear to the Founders. It was lifted from and directly tied to language in the Articles of Confederation.

It was clear to those who signed the Articles and served in the first Congresses of the United States that the “general welfare” meant legislation that benefitted each State and defended the liberties, “religion, sovereignty, [and] trade” of the several States.

Another is known as the Necessary and Proper Clause:

Opponents argued, and often rightly so, that the [Necessary and Proper] clause would be used to expand the powers of the general government beyond those enumerated or delegated in Article I, Section 8. Alexander Hamilton did just that in 1791 by defending the incorporation of a central banking system.

John Marshall followed up in 1819 by defending Hamilton’s so-called “loose construction” theory in the McCullough v. Maryland decision. To paraphrase, Marshall argued that as long as the ends justified the means, and the law was within the letter and the spirit of the Constitution, the general government could do virtually anything it pleased….but such language was rejected during the debates leading to the ratification in 1787 and 1788.

Supporters today of a strict constructionist view of the Constitution point to the Marshall court as the source of many decisions that turned governance of the United States in a wrong direction. Certainly, decisions by this court have been used to expand power in the general government.

These are just two examples of the many ways that the checks and balances in the original Constitution have been rendered useless – as some would say, that was perhaps the intent all along.

Now the Egyptians are worried about not having a constitution to define the powers of the people they will elect today.  Not to worry, the United States has demonstrated that even having a document is of little use if even the founding generation shows little desire to defend it.  Take Jefferson, for example:

Jefferson …did nothing to erase what has since proved to be the fatal precedent established by Marbury, that the Supreme Court had the authority to strike down a state or federal law whose constitutionality it disputed. Jefferson could have asked Congress for an amendment to reverse Marshall's opinion in Marbury and formally declare that the Supreme Court did not have the power of judicial review.

With three strong Republican appointments, Jefferson could have reduced Marshall's majority to a bare 4–3 by 1807. With just one more solid appointment in 1811, Jefferson's hand-picked successor, Madison, could have ended the Marshall Court and begun a Jeffersonian Court with strict constructionist, states'-rights jurists in the majority.

To the Egyptians I say, take heart.  Not having a constitution will save you from the false hope that your leaders will have power checked by a document.  They won’t.  Better to not get worked up about this false hope in the first place.

Further, VOA suggests that there will also not be an effective legislative branch to check the executive.  It is good the Egyptians understand this plainly, because it is also one other road where America has already walked. 

Consider something as direct in the U.S. Constitution as the authority to declare war.  The US Constitution makes clear that this is completely the prerogative of the legislature and not the president.  Yet, Congress has walked away from its authority here.  It is popularly said (in the alternative community) that the US has not had a properly declared war since World War II.  Not Korea, not Viet Nam, not in the Baltics, not Iraq I, not Iraq II, and not the dozens of lessor military actions sprinkled in between. 

This should be enough to destroy the idea of a legislative check on executive power, even before noting that Roosevelt started World War II months if not years before the Congressional declarations on December 8 and December 11.  From my series in which I review "Freedom Betrayed", by Herbert Hoover:

Roosevelt took many actions against Germany prior to December 11, 1941. Hoover outlines and documents many of these, even stating that these actions were taken for the purpose of bringing about an attack against the U.S. such that Congressional and popular support would swing toward direct U.S. involvement in the war. Looking backwards from today’s perspective, some of these actions seem trivial when compared to the gross abuses of Presidential power regarding military action. However, in 1941, there were many (including Hoover) who felt the President had gone far beyond his constitutional authority.

Roosevelt’s actions were numerous and deliberate.  Some of these are reviewed in the above-mentioned commentary.

Back to Egypt and the VOA article: it would be nice to have the Voice of America also be the Voice OVER America if we could count on such objective reporting regarding the same governmental abuses that are such cause for concern in Egypt.  Alas, I don’t think this will ever be the case. 

As of now, it certainly seems the Egyptians have much to learn about the disappointments that come from praying to the false god of democracy.  Unlike in the U.S., I don’t imagine the Egyptians will still be worshipping this false god 200 years after its inception.

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