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Jewish World Review /Feb. 17, 1999 / 1 Adar, 5759

Walter Williams

Congressional contempt

(JWR) ----(http://www.jewishworldreview.com) CLINTON'S IMPEACHMENT has produced something wonderful --- politicians, political pundits and legal "scholars" are discussing our Constitution, making references to the "Federalist Papers" and quoting the Constitution's Framers.

I'd like to see this healthy turn of events continue. You can bet it won't because most senators and representatives have broad contempt for our Constitution and the principles of liberty it represents. They have only a selective respect, as they seek protection for a president who's violated his oath of office, lied to the American people and disgraced his office.

"Williams, you've gone too far," you say, "Explain yourself." OK, I'll try. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., a member of the House Judiciary Committee, insisted we are not free to read into the Constitution's "high crimes and misdemeanors" anything we wish. She said she reached this conclusion by reading the words of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and George Mason, and the "Federalist Papers."

As a result of Lofgren's studying our Founders, she concluded that Congress is "constrained by what the law is, what the Constitution says. If we're just going to do whatever we think, then we're not going to have a constitutional form of government."

For Lofgren to make such a comment represents shameless deceit -- but she's by no means alone. Most of her colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans would spit on most constitutional constraints and most of the ideas expressed by its Framers. They get away with their shameless sham because most Americans are ignorant or also have contempt for the Constitution.

Try this: Ask one of these Constitution-talking politicians how much respect we should have for the 10th Amendment, which reads, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution ... are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

The 10th Amendment simply and clearly says if the Constitution does not permit the federal government to do something, then the federal government doesn't have the right to do it. You tell me where in the Constitution is there delegated authority for federal involvement in education, retirement, health, housing, transportation, handouts and other activities representing more than three-quarters of federal spending.

You say: "Williams, lighten up. Congress gets authority to control our lives through the "general welfare" clause of the Constitution."

Here's what James Madison, the acknowledged father of our Constitution, had to say: "With respect to the 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, always fearful of the perversion of the general welfare clause, wrote, "Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated."

In 1794, Madison wrote disapprovingly of an appropriation to assist French refugees, "I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents."

If Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were around today, their enunciation of constitutional principles would be greeted with derision and contempt by no less than 520 of the 535 members of the House and the Senate.

I hope it's our ignorance that allows Congress to trash our Constitution, and that Jefferson was right when he said, "Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day." But I fear the possibility that most Americans share Congress' constitutional contempt.


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