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Jewish World Review
March 11, 2009 / 15 Adar 5769
During winter months, I work out 10 minutes on the treadmill and
lift weights at seven stations four mornings a week. Over the years, during
the spring through fall months, I racked up about 2,000 miles on my road
bike. This level of exercise helps account for why, at 73 years, I'm in such
good health and physical fitness. So my question to you is whether you think
regular exercise is a good idea. I think the answer is definitely yes, if
nothing other than its beneficial effects on health care costs. Since
exercise is a good idea, would you support a congressional mandate that all
Americans engage in regular exercise?
Instead of simply saying, "Williams, you're a lunatic!" and
rejecting such a congressional mandate out of hand, let's ask why it should
be rejected. We should keep in mind that there's precedent for
congressionally mandated measures to protect our health and safety. Seatbelt
and helmet laws are examples. If you're in an accident and wind up a
vegetable, you will be a burden on taxpayers; therefore, it's argued,
Congress has a right to mandate seatbelt and helmet usage. Wouldn't the same
reasoning apply to people who might burden our health care system because of
obesity or sedentary lifestyles? If it is a good idea for Congress to force
us to buckle up and wear a helmet on a motorcycle, isn't it also a good idea
to force us to regularly exercise?
There is only one question to ask were there to be a debate
whether Congress should mandate regular exercise. Whether regular exercise
is a good idea or a bad idea is entirely irrelevant. The only relevant
question is: Is it permissible under the Constitution? That means we must
examine the Constitution to see whether it authorizes Congress to mandate
exercise. From my reading, the Constitution grants no such authority.
You say, "Aha, Williams, you've blown it this time. What about
Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which says Congress shall provide
for the 'general welfare of the United States.'? Surely, healthy Americans
contribute to the nation's general welfare." That's precisely the response
I'd expect from your average law professor, congressman or derelict U.S.
Supreme Court justice. Let's look at what the men who wrote the Constitution
had to say about its general welfare clause. In a letter to Edmund
Pendleton, James Madison, the father of the Constitution, said, "If Congress
can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote
the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing
enumerated powers, but an indefinite one ..." Madison also said, "With
respect to the two words "general welfare," I have always regarded them as
qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a
literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution
into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its
creators." Thomas Jefferson said, "Congress has not unlimited powers to
provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated."
If you compare the vision of our nation's founders to the
behavior of today's Congress, White House and U.S. Supreme Court, you would
have to conclude that there is no longer rule of law where there is a set of
general rules applicable to all persons. Today, we are commanded by
legislative thugs who, with Supreme Court sanction, issue orders commanding
particular people to do particular things. Most Americans neither understand
nor appreciate the spirit and letter of the Constitution and accept
Congress' arbitrary orders and privileges based upon status.
What to do? Thomas Jefferson advised, "Whensoever the General
(federal) Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are
unauthoritative, void, and of no force." That bit of Jeffersonian advice is
dangerous. While Congress does not have constitutional authority for most of
what it does, it does have police and military power to inflict great pain
and punishment for disobedience.
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