While the media focuses its attention on the political aspects of the Supreme Court’s looming decision on Obamacare and others zero in on its impact on health care reform, the National Review’s Rich Lowry argues that what is really at stake is the principle of federalism.
It is the system of limited and carefully divided government powers that he had a large hand in crafting — and defended so ably in the Federalist Papers — that is at stake in the contest over the constitutionality of the individual mandate.
If the mandate stands, it will be the latest blow to Madison’s scheme, which is the best architecture for self-government yet devised by man, but has been steadily worn down over time. It is a damning indictment of contemporary Washington that, overall, it is so hostile to the Madisonian ethos. He is a most inconvenient Founding Father since he tells us: No, the federal government can’t do whatever it wants; no, we can’t just all get along; no, we can’t rush to pass whatever legislation is deemed a “can’t wait” priority by the president. Now, grow up.
Lowry points out that Madison intended the legislative process to be cumbersome so that we would not be overcome by our passions and rush toward making decisions that most likely would lead to tyranny:
Madison concerned himself with limits on government because “there is a degree of depravity in mankind, which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust.” So, as he famously wrote, “ambition must be made to counteract ambition.”
He would have no patience for gooey discussions on the Sunday shows about the divisiveness of our political life. “The latent causes of faction,” for Madison, “are sown in the nature of man.” In his marvelous new biography of Madison, Richard Brookhiser calls him not just the Father of the Constitution but the Father of Politics because he was a pioneer in fighting the sort of partisan battles we now look down upon and rue.
These are considerations that some of our political leaders should pay more heed to in their rush to get beyond the perceived partisanship and pass something. Slowing the process down was intended to allow cooler heads to prevail. It is too bad that such a process of slowing thing down is not happening here in Vermont.