"We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty or profusion and servitude. If we run into such debt, as that we must be taxed in our meat and in our drink, in our necessaries and our comforts, in our labors and our amusements, for our calling and our creeds...[we will] have no time to think, no means of calling our miss-managers to account but be glad to obtain subsistence by hiring ourselves to rivet their chains on the necks of our fellow-sufferers... And this is the tendency of all human governments. A departure from principle in one instance becomes a precedent for [another ]... till the bulk of society is reduced to be mere automatons of misery... And the fore-horse of this frightful team is public debt. Taxation follows that, and in its train wretchedness and oppression." ~ Thomas Jefferson
Clearing the Throne for a New King
Column by Emmett Harris.
Exclusive to STR
July Fourth represents a day off from work, cookouts in the back yard, singed arm hair from the over exuberant use of lighter fluid, the overindulgence of heady quaffs, and the cause of post traumatic stress in canines everywhere. Oh, and like all other holidays in our brave new America, endless paeans to the military, especially emanating from those who glibly send them off to kill or die in exotic lands. But somewhere beneath the standard three-day weekend fare lurks the remnant of an idea not yet fully extinguished: the idea of independence from tyranny.
One of the definitions of tyranny describes a state where absolute power is wielded by a single person. Circa 1776, King George III personified that characterization for a small but growing number of colonists. They tired of his abuses. His powers were arbitrary and unlimited and had become intolerable enough to spur an attempt to cast them off. The Declaration of Independence was the first philosophical salvo, which listed those grievances for the world to see and judge. While the immediate battle was against the king, the ideal was universal. Therefore, independence from tyranny is, or ought to be, at the heart of all July Fourth celebrations.
Fast forward to today. The power concentrated in Washington, D.C. is every bit as onerous as any edict issued from King George. In many ways, the federal government--I refuse to say our government because I certainly don’t sanction it--is worse. Distance and more limited eavesdropping abilities saved the colonists from the added intrusions modern Americans must endure. The legalized theft we call taxation was also but a fraction of its current burden. By these limited criteria alone, if King George was a tyrant, then what can be said about our position under tyranny today?
Despotism need not be concentrated in a single ruler. It does, however, help the cause. Thus we have witnessed the gradual transfer of powers from the bickering bevy of micro-Caesars in Congress to the unitary executive of the President. This trend has experienced periods of gradual and rapid transference, but the trend has been relentless in its trajectory -- always moving towards the presidency.
The one area Congress has kept is the power of the purse. This is perhaps the last remaining check on a president’s supremacy. A president may resemble a tyrant in all other respects; yet, if he lacks the ability to fund his desires, he must still negotiate with Congress. Though tenuous, this provides some means for citizens to influence how much the central government can get away with. All governments are wealth-devouring beasts, and the surest way to control them is to starve them. This last is what Sen. Chuck Schumer hopes to circumvent.
Senator Schumer represents the Democrat and liberal academic view that holds President Obama may issue new debt regardless of congressional approval. The legal justification is taken from Section 4 of the 14th Amendment, which in part states “[t]he validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law… shall not be questioned.” Apparently he reasons the current Congress must perpetually pay debts accumulated by prior Congresses because not doing so would question the validity of the debt. Furthermore, if the current Congress does not acquiesce to raise the debt ceiling, it would be in violation of the Constitution (a document of convenience only for Schumer) and would open the door for a president to continue spending regardless of Congress’s consent. The logic is dubious; the implications are frightening.
Schumer must have a good sense of irony. Why else choose a point so close to the Fourth of July for his tyrannical trial balloon? By giving a president the power to spend with or without congressional say-so, presidents will inevitably opt for the latter. This will truly create the dictator the country has been flirting to establish for years. President Obama, or whoever it happens to be at the time, will then have the guns and the money. And the nation will have come full circle from renouncing a king to enthroning one.