Green Room

The Consent of the Governed

posted at 2:21 am on November 29, 2009 by

Jonah Goldberg of National Review recently wrote about the high-stakes political battle over health care reform:

Some moderate Democrats are making a side bet that they can vote for it out of solidarity and then run back to the center come the 2010 elections.

Well, I say let it ride. And just to make it more interesting, Republicans should promise to repeal “ObamaCare” if they get a congressional majority in 2010. As National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru argues, that way moderate Democrats won’t be able to run away from their votes come 2010. They’ll be on notice that this will be the campaign issue of the election. And moderate Republicans will be on notice to resist the temptation to tinker with Obamacare rather than defenestrate it once it’s passed.

Sure, I’d rather see this health-care proposal die stillborn (and that’s still quite possible). But if it passes, the upside is that Americans will finally be given a stark philosophical choice on a fundamental issue. That’s much rarer than you might think (recall that the Iraq War and the bailouts were bipartisan affairs). 

Earlier in the article, Goldberg complains that “the quest for the middle ground usually rewards the worst kinds of politicians — those devoid of any core convictions and only concerned with feathering their own nests — and yields the worst kinds of policies.” The health-care debate presents the kind of sharp ideological contrast that makes it hard for unprincipled politicians to seek shelter in the mushy bog of the middle ground. Over the weekend, the libertarian Cato Institute calculated that the true cost of ObamaCare would exceed $6 trillion, after the various deceits used to make it seem close to revenue-neutral are stripped away. How much does real estate in the “middle ground” of such outrageous spending cost? Three trillion? When a radical program of such massive size is proposed, anything less than determined opposition is equivalent to submission.

I appreciate Goldberg’s point about the kind of muddled, confusing, and ultimately ineffective legislation produced by the quest for the middle ground. However, I wonder how truly desirable these uncompromising contests between capitalism and socialism are. Aren’t elected officials, especially Congress and the President, supposed to represent all of their constituents? Wouldn’t that mean listening to the concerns of both liberals and conservatives, and trying to craft legislation that satisfies both sides to some degree? Are the members of a winning political coalition supposed to have absolute power to do whatever they want, even if they won with only about half the popular vote, while the other side sits in obedient silence until their next chance at the ballot box?

In the course of endorsing a Dick Cheney run for the Presidency in 2012, Jon Meacham of Newsweek writes:

One of the problems with governance since the election of Bill Clinton has been the resolute refusal of the opposition party (the GOP from 1993 to 2001, the Democrats from 2001 to 2009, and now the GOP again in the Obama years) to concede that the president, by virtue of his victory, has a mandate to take the country in a given direction.

I don’t think most Americans are under the impression they’re voting for a dictator every four years. Bill Clinton won the Presidency with a mere 43% of the popular vote. What sort of “mandate” did that give him to “take the country in a given direction?”

Of course, we cannot parcel out presidential powers based on the scale of the candidate’s electoral victory. The proper functioning of our government, and the harmony of our democracy, demand that we acknowledge the full legitimacy of the man or woman who sits in the Oval Office. The Left did their country no favors by bitterly dragging the 2000 elections out until 2008. The complementary aspect of this principle is that strong electoral victories cannot logically yield enhanced “mandates” to take the country in various radical directions. If close elections don’t produce miniature Presidents who just keep the seat warm until the next election, then landslide victories don’t produce super-Presidents with turbocharged authority. A President who carries 49 states, and wins 70% of the popular vote, is not entitled to stuff the opposing 30% of the electorate in the trunk and take America out for a joy ride.

The Declaration of Independence states that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The American understanding of democracy does not envision voters as slaves who enjoy the privilege of voting for a new master every few years. When the Declaration speaks of the right – and, later the duty – of the people to abolish tyrannical governments, it renders the notion of “mandates” to impose radical change on unwilling citizens absurd.

The vital role of consent in the structure of a just government is one of the most powerful ideas ever advanced by the human race. On the other hand, the belief that consent can be manufactured by democratic majorities is one of the most cherished illusions of activist government. The dissent of a minority is not rendered irrelevant by victory in a popular vote… but the health-care debate in the Senate proceeds on the assumption that victory in a parliamentary struggle between a hundred elected officials will compel the consent of the millions of citizens – now a sizable majority of the population, based on the latest polls – who strenuously object to ObamaCare. If Senate Democrats win this debate, huge amounts of your liberty will be destroyed, and vast sums of money will be seized from taxpayers… and you will not be allowed to object. Any attempt to withhold your consent from this economy-shattering, life-changing radical legislation will end with you sitting in a prison cell.

The consent of the governed cannot be expressed solely through a semi-annual vote for elected representatives. It can only be respected by placing strict limits on what those representatives can vote for. Some would argue that requiring the consent of the entire population to authorize massive government programs would effectively render those programs impossible, because 100% agreement is virtually impossible to achieve. Exactly. The entire apparatus of socialist government is a Constitutional violation that would never receive the total support of those who are controlled by its regulations, or compelled to pay for its agenda. For this reason, its agenda should never even reach the serious discussion stage, never mind legislative implementation.

Americans concerned about the size of their government should not be forced into a permanent defensive posture against an endless series of aggressive initiatives. If the needs and desires of some can transcend the liberty of others, then liberty itself is a meaningless concept. Freedom is not what you have left after everyone else is finished making demands of you. The need for your consent is not respected when your only hope of withholding it lies in historic midterm electoral victories and the rapid construction of huge Congressional majorities. The patriots who declared their independence from England perceived an essential truth about the nature of just government, which we have become almost afraid to contemplate.

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Comment pages: 1 2

Then why isnt the repeal of social security and medicare/medicaid the number one agenda item for ‘constitutionalists’?

ernesto on November 29, 2009 at 1:30 PM

It should be. If I had it my way, we’d parcel Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid out to the states along with their revenues. Even if it took twenty years to straighten it all out, in the end, we’d have 50 innovative microcosms, each competing for citizens and businesses.

Doctor Zero is absolutely correct when he tells us that regardless of whatever “mandate” any given administration feels it has, it can’t just stuff the opposition “in the trunk and take America out for a joy ride”. By design, we citizens were supposed to have the choices and competition that local and state governance provide. There was no Constitutional authority to hold citizens as hostages to some great, tyrannical, central government.

It’s a weak mind which craves the uniformity of cookie-cutter government. And when we look closely at the policies of Democrats, we see that despite their rhetoric about “tolerance”, they really can’t tolerate the differences that Liberty demands.

To embrace true freedom is to embrace the chaotic nature of the world. The U.S. Constitution provides order to chaos by setting the simple parameter that even as we pursue our own happiness we draw the line at impeding our brethren from doing the same. We do this by holding the unalienable rights of each citizen as sacrosanct.

God, Himself, has graced us with Free Will. So… who are Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Barack Obama to say otherwise?
The policies of this administration will make economic SLAVES of our children and their children after them. We are on a course that will demand 799 Billion ANNUALLY just on the interest payments of our debt. And that is before we add Obamacare and whatever other additional spending these miscreants have in mind.

Democrats appear to believe that the only law is the Mob-Rule of Democracy, the majority “mandate”. But no stretching, pulling, or twisting of the U.S. Constitution will change the meaning, the very spirit, of our legal contract with Government.

Democracy is just “two wolves and a lamb deciding what to have for lunch”. That’s why our founders chose to design a Republican system, grounded in Law.

Murf76 on November 30, 2009 at 8:40 AM

THis is the reason why the founding fathers envisioned a govt that was extremely limited in scope, had few powers.
They knew that whatever govt did, it would be doing over the objections of many of the governed. So it was best that govt do as little as possible. Govt should only do those things which the private sector is incapable of doing.

This list is pretty much limited to police powers and defense. And even the police powers themselves should be limited to only those things in which actual rights of citizens are being trampled on. No putting people in jail becuase their actions offend someone else.

MarkTheGreat on November 30, 2009 at 8:45 AM

Then why isnt the repeal of social security and medicare/medicaid the number one agenda item for ‘constitutionalists’?

ernesto on November 29, 2009 at 1:30 PM

No need, they’ll both go bankrupt in a few years.

MarkTheGreat on November 30, 2009 at 8:46 AM

Throw you in jail for NOT doing something?

Chainsaw56 on November 29, 2009 at 8:47 PM

It’s been done in the past.

MarkTheGreat on November 30, 2009 at 8:47 AM

Doctor Zero, bravo!

I agree wholeheartedly.

btw, I argue with those who pretend that being obedient to the rule of law means “consent” to those governing while abusing/destroying rule of law.

Impeach Corruption

maverick muse on November 30, 2009 at 8:51 AM

Then why isnt the repeal of social security and medicare/medicaid the number one agenda item for ‘constitutionalists’?

ernesto on November 29, 2009 at 1:30 PM

Miracles never cease. Meanwhile, first things first. Kill the wolf pack at the door before going out to deal with the ghost from Christmas Past.

Jonah Goldberg makes a good argument. For his point to get past rhetoric into the realm of a very REAL electoral threat, it requires a roaring unanimity amongst the opposition. Otherwise, financial ruin aside, prepare to be gutted, literally, by Big Brother possessing your DNA while doling-denying medical care according to favoritism.

maverick muse on November 30, 2009 at 9:00 AM

Undoing ObamaCare, if passed, will be unlikely for years, if ever, and the longer it exists as law, the more entrenched in our economy it will be. The Democrats require a 60 vote super majority in the Senate to pass it. The Republicans will require a 60 vote super majority to repeal it. What do you think the chances are that a 60 vote Republican super majority will occur any time soon? The answer is: not a chance.

With that in mind, we must at all costs stop ObamaCare now to save our country from becoming a near irreversible socialist state.

stefano1 on November 30, 2009 at 12:04 AM

Agreed. Although, I understand what Jonah Goldberg is trying to say, that we need to put candidates on the record, the idea that we could simply “repeal” Obamacare is far fetched.

The whole problem with entitlements is that they take on a life of their own, controlling politicians rather than being controlled by them. If we couldn’t get 60 Senate votes before implementation of the program benefits, the likelihood that we’d get it afterwards grows smaller and smaller.

It’s imperative that Obamacare be stopped and stopped now.

Murf76 on November 30, 2009 at 9:01 AM

The entire apparatus of socialist government is a Constitutional violation…

Agreed. Then is Obama’s attempt to re-make the country an impeachable offense?

Thanks for another fine essay, Doc Zero. I may frame that last paragraph and hang it on the wall somewhere.

petefrt on November 30, 2009 at 9:05 AM

they’ll both go bankrupt in a few years.

MarkTheGreat on November 30, 2009 at 8:46 AM

“No problem” ?

The debtors come calling and take possession of collateral.

Don’t forget how Nixon rolled over for Charles de Gaulle, forfeiting our nation’s gold reserve upon his demand to redeem all of France’s American dollars, sending the dollar down the ruin river.

Dubai makes a current example of what might be in store for a bankrupt America.

maverick muse on November 30, 2009 at 9:08 AM

The presidency is charged with running the executive branch and the military, not with changing the country every four years at the whim of its occupant.

Akzed on November 30, 2009 at 9:15 AM

Great article Doc.

Then why isnt the repeal of social security and medicare/medicaid the number one agenda item for ‘constitutionalists’?
ernesto on November 29, 2009 at 1:30 PM

Like so many others have already said, they should be repealed. ‘You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.’ Anyone remember that quote?

But beyond that, there needs to be a way to ascertain whether a proposal is even a right function of the government, and if so, what level of government which it should be proposed at, whether it be local, state, or Federal. Much like a grand jury saying that a case is worthy enough to proceed to trial, there needs to be a body–and not a rubber-stamp body either–that says that the proposed legislation is one that the government has authority to perform if enacted. Ideally, it would not be the same body responsible for deciding what the legislation should be. Equally ideally, this body should not be derived from the same electoral method as the Legislature it is attempting to hold loosely in check (though, naturally, it must have a democratic basis in the consent of the governed through some means, so that the people can keep it in check).

Horatius on November 29, 2009 at 9:38 PM

I understand your point, but I think you overlook the one ingredient that corrupts any system – man. Our republic works, it’s men that corrupt the system and it’s men who will always corrupt the system.

Eventually, righteous men have to stand up to tyranny with force. That’s the bottom line. You can reason about ways to prevent corruption, but you simply cannot ever prevent corruption, because it’s in our nature.

Look at Honduras. Their Constitution spelled out clearly that presidents only serve one term. And that a president could not try to alter that provision. But a man decided he was above that provision and went about trying to alter it. Only force prevented him.

The sooner we realize that the better. I’m not sure what force we Americans will have to use or what will work, but I am sure that force will be necessary if we want to stop this assault on our liberty.

It’s not hard to understand and it’s not hard to see. It’s happened again and again and will happen again in the future.

j_galt on November 30, 2009 at 9:35 AM

Just a reminder that Obama ran as essentially a bipartisan candidate and that was his mandate. He was not elected to be a left wing dictator. He never asked for anything remotely resembling such an agenda. Quite the contrary, he campaigned, however disingenuously or unconvincingly to some, as a moderate, and won on that premise. To the extent that he has deferred unconditionally to Reid and Pelosi or otherwise abandoned his centrist rhetoric, he has violated that mandate.
But there is no remedy, other than elections, court challenges or, presumably , impeachment, for political perfidy. Elections are the mechanism by which consent is granted or withheld. You cannot license armed insurrection on the ground that elections are too distant or their results too unpredictable. You can only justify it if they have been cancelled.
The circumvention of the representative process through bureaucratic aggrandizement has been going on for generations. The only remedy for that is recognition that all government programs, however well-intentioned, are potential cancers. But that vigilance has to be part of civic awareness. And the better that awareness is disseminated, the less likely elections will lose their consensual heart.

Seth Halpern on November 30, 2009 at 9:51 AM

Just a reminder that Obama ran as essentially a bipartisan candidate and that was his mandate. He was not elected to be a left wing dictator. He never asked for anything remotely resembling such an agenda. Quite the contrary, he campaigned, however disingenuously or unconvincingly to some, as a moderate, and won on that premise. To the extent that he has deferred unconditionally to Reid and Pelosi or otherwise abandoned his centrist rhetoric, he has violated that mandate.

Seth Halpern on November 30, 2009 at 9:51 AM

Yes, he won by deception. Fraud pays.

petefrt on November 30, 2009 at 9:59 AM

Throw you in jail for NOT doing something?
Chainsaw56 on November 29, 2009 at 8:47 PM

It’s been done in the past.
MarkTheGreat on November 30, 2009 at 8:47 AM

Yes, the Statists can use the police power of government to do pretty much anything they want.

Which is why, as you stated in another posting, why the founding fathers wanted governmental powers to be limited.

It now appears they are simply ignoring the restraints placed on them, now what do we do?

Somewhere along the way, we went from the consent of the governed to the consent of the Government.

So what do we do now that the government thinks that they no longer need our consent to govern, only the revenue to buy votes?

Chainsaw56 on November 30, 2009 at 12:29 PM

We a now convinced that congress will get us into a new civil war and it will not end well for the people now in power.The center and the libertarians will come to the fore and reestablish a new republic where the consent of the governed is prime.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VP2p91dvm6M

Col.John Wm. Reed on November 29, 2009 at 8:49 PM

When people ask me who I’d like to see on a hypothetical Palin ticket with her, my answer is Col. West.

Perhaps if people see this video and those like it, they’ll understand why.

powerpro on November 30, 2009 at 4:13 PM

We a now convinced that congress will get us into a new civil war and it will not end well for the people now in power.The center and the libertarians will come to the fore and reestablish a new republic where the consent of the governed is prime.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VP2p91dvm6M

Col.John Wm. Reed on November 29, 2009 at 8:49 PM

Looks like the Big Dogs are about to show up for the fight. Go, Col. Reed, Go; and Godspeed.

Robert17 on November 30, 2009 at 8:15 PM

Freedom is not what you have left after everyone else is finished making demands of you.

Once again Doc you’ve hit it out of the park.

Forgive me if inappropriate, but I think we’d all be better off if someone like you – okay, actually you – would run for public office.

Please seriously consider it.

Gilda on November 30, 2009 at 10:16 PM

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