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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Till The Frail And Tottering Edifice Seems Ready To Crush Us Beneath Its Ruins

The confederation appears to me to be little more than a shadow without the substance.

 - Geo Washington, 1785


Our first president delicately told James Warren that the Articles of Confederation--first draft authored by one of my favorite Founders, John Dickinson--fundamentally sucked.  But hey, I'll cut them some slack since everybody was involved in fighting for their lives and a little leery of any central government at the time.  The defects were fairly pronounced, however, and quite obvious almost for the git go, so when the dust settled and realities of governance became clearer, the revolutionaries turned once more to the question of how best to establish a union of new states.

James Madison, Father of the Constitution, noted the Articles suffered from a "want of concert in matters where common interest requires it."  And Alexander Hamilton observed in Federalist 21:

The inordinate pride of State importance has suggested to some minds an objection to the principle of a guaranty in the federal government, as involving an officious interference in the domestic concerns of the members. A scruple of this kind would deprive us of one of the principal advantages to be expected from union, and can only flow from a misapprehension of the nature of the provision itself. 

Sadly, it seems a lot of Tea Partiers and other self-proclaimed constitutionalists have forgotten that our current frame of government was created to in Order to form a more perfect Union in the wake of State failure to deal with crisis when an energetic, coordinated effort was required.  Ron Paul, for example:

"There's no magic about FEMA. They're a great contribution to deficit financing and quite frankly they don't have a penny in the bank. We should be coordinated but coordinated voluntarily with the states," Paul told NBC News. "A state can decide. We don't need somebody in Washington."

I'm sure he hates Hamilton anyway (what with his zeal for a central bank), but Paul should consider Federalist 23:

IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO FORESEE OR DEFINE THE EXTENT AND VARIETY OF NATIONAL EXIGENCIES, OR THE CORRESPONDENT EXTENT AND VARIETY OF THE MEANS WHICH MAY BE NECESSARY TO SATISFY THEM. The circumstances that endanger the safety of nations are infinite, and for this reason no constitutional shackles can wisely be imposed on the power to which the care of it is committed. This power ought to be coextensive with all the possible combinations of such circumstances; and ought to be under the direction of the same councils which are appointed to preside over the common defense.

When Paul says this:

“The whole idea of FEMA is a gross distortion of insurance”, Paul argued. “It’s so far removed from the market and what insurance should be about.”

He not only grossly distorts what insurance is about--hello, spreading risk--but also what our constitutional, central government is about, how it came about, and why it came about.  Now Paul won't be impressed by the effective Federal response to Irene, but I hope others reading Dana Milbank will be.  I just take issue with one thing he said:

Don’t expect anybody to throw a tea party, but Big Government finally got one right.

I wouldn't call this Big Goverment.  Rather, let's borrow from Hamilton's title of Fed 21: Irene has demonstrated The Necessity of a Government as Energetic as the One Proposed to the Preservation of the Union.

Now it's great that small Vermont communities like Rochester and Pittsfield have pulled together in the way that Paul and Marco Rubio wax nostalgiac for, but energetic government is essential to overcome this kind of devastation.  Concert in matters where common interest requires it is the raison d'être of government--a larger community to work on larger matters.

Anyway, what Milbank calls Katrina Government--which is more government than Paul, et al, dream of--and Irene Government is really the difference between bad/big government and effective/energetic government.  It's the difference between shadow and substance.  I prefer the latter to being crushed beneath the ruins of the former.


August 31, 2011 | Permalink


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