On the “General Welfare” Clause

AFLC Advisory Board Member Andrew C. McCarthy weighed in on today’s historic Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare by taking issue with the progressive interpretation of the Constitution’s General Welfare clause. While Mr. McCarthy’s focus is correct (i.e., the destructive nature of the progressive premise), the fact is that the court has long applied “general welfare” to be more than the general welfare allowed under specific enumerated powers (i.e., national defense).  According to the dissent (sounds like mostly Kennedy’s work):

As for the constitutional power to tax and spend for the general welfare: The Court has long since expanded that beyond (what Madison thought it meant) taxing and spending for those aspects of the general welfare that were within the Federal Government’s enumerated powers, see United States v. Butler, 297 U. S. 1, 65–66 (1936). Thus, we now have sizable federal Departments devoted to subjects not mentioned among Congress’ enumerated powers, and only marginally related to commerce: the De­partment of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The principal practical obstacle that pre­vents Congress from using the tax-and-spend power to assume all the general-welfare responsibilities tradition­ally exercised by the States is the sheer impossibility of managing a Federal Government large enough to adminis­ter such a system.

And, as Mr. McCarthy intimates, the more practical problem we face is the very language the best conservatives use accepts a priori the premise of the progressives. Thus, you’ll hear Rush, Hannity, Levine, NROers, WeeklyStandarders, and Republican politicians all talking about the sanctity of the General Welfare social services “safety net.”  So, if you accept the FDR/Johnson notion of an acceptable societal/constitutional requirement to provide “basic necessities” as a General Welfare “net,” you’ve opened Pandora’s box, because then it is purely a political question as to how far you go, and that political question becomes entirely subjective. One Democrat’s “necessity” is another Republican’s “benefit going too far.” And, if you can get 51% of the population to take advantage of that “net” in some way or another giving them a vested interest in its future survival and growth (or close to that 51%, as we are now and then getting progressive elites to add their vote), you lose and you lose every time.

Now, presumably the solution comes when you have a Greece moment. And, even then, Greece might yet get bailed out by Germany; but eventually, the Greece moment will become the European Union moment and the Stockton, California moment will become the California moment, which will become the United States moment. That is, we can indeed successfully kick this can down the road, but sometime down that road, the game will come to a halt.

And, notwithstanding the visceral reaction by Middle America such as the Tea Party, this momentum, given our choice of Romney, has faded.

We’re optimists, though, and charismatic leaders like an Allen West might somehow rally us down the road, so I hold out hope. But, that hope will need a clear-minded and reasoned basis upon which our political order is founded. That talk is not yet within earshot because the only difference between the vast majority of Republicans and Democrats is an artificial line drawing.