A casual bookstore browser might be forgiven for asking if Americans live in tyranny, although bookstore shelves filled with accusations of "Tyranny!" should be a clue. (Real tyrants don't let citizens publicly accuse them.)
From Thomas Woods to Arthur Brooks, conservative voices decry democracy ... in the name of liberty.
More below the fold....
The Party of Null, Part I - Plutocracy over Democracy
This week Morning Feature considers the modern nullification movement, which claims the Tenth Amendment trumps the rest of the Constitution, at least when they lose federal elections. Today we examine their arguments of government "at war" with "free markets." Tomorrow we look at claims of government "suppressing" religion by not enacting religious doctrine as law. Saturday we consider how progressives can discuss this with Fred, our archetypal median voter.
As the introduction implies, I found this week's topic while browsing the political section at my local bookstore. There I found shelf after shelf of books like Thomas Woods' Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century, and Arthur Brooks' The Battle: How the Fight between Big Government and Free Markets Will Shape America's Future. Both decry "out-of-control government," but upon browsing each I concluded their complaint is that government is out of their control. Rejected by voters in 2006 and 2008, they reject the popular sovereignty of democracy in favor of the private sovereignty of rule by wealth ... or as they call it: "free markets."
Nullification: the Tenth Amendment over everything else.
In Nullification, Libertarian historian Thomas Woods proposes a reading of the Tenth Amendment that quite literally trumps the rest of the Constitution. Dr. Woods - who attended the founding of the neo-Confederate League of the South and has written for their newsletter - argues that each state has a constitutional right to review and reject federal law and must assert that 'right' in the face of today's "federal tyranny." While he briefly mentions populist lures such as marijuana laws, Dr. Woods' chief complaint is clearly health care and other regulatory reforms. (The book's cover photo is of President Obama signing the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.)
Dr. Woods justifies his claim that states can declare such laws unconstitutional - despite the Taxing and Spending and Commerce clauses in Article I, Section 8, and the Supremacy Clause in Article VII - by proposing to overturn 207 years of legal precedent back to Marbury v. Madison. That landmark case established the principle of judicial review: that federal courts determine whether laws violate the U.S. Constitution. Dr. Woods claims the Constitution delegates no such power to the judicial or any other federal branch, and the Tenth Amendment reserves to the states or the people all powers not expressly delegated to the federal government. Thus, he argues, each state may interpret the U.S. Constitution for itself and nullify any law the state feels is unconstitutional.
His historical evidence is a hodge-podge of dissent, from Thomas Jefferson preferring the Articles of Confederation to Senator John Calhoun championing "states rights" in defense of slavery. All are are arguments that lost in their times, presented as if they are the core values of our nation. His ideas would nullify federal government entirely ... and that is his goal, as he believes state governments would better serve the market and free market capitalism is God's divine plan.
The Battle: Plutocracy over Democracy.
Thus we get Arthur Brooks, and his claim that "America faces a new culture war." A fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Brooks believes that free markets - not democracy - are "integral to American culture." Insisting his views are backed by a 70% majority - because that percentage of Americans "agreed that they are better off in a free-market economy" in a March 2009 Pew Poll - Dr. Brooks ignores the rest of that poll, such as the 54% who said government should assert more control over the economy.
Instead he claims that government interference in the housing market rather than unregulated gambling by bankers caused the 2008 collapse, and that the will of the "70% majority" has been trampled by the "30% minority" and "big government." He claims that only "free enterprise brings happiness," because it alone provides "earned success." He cites studies showing that poor people who receive government aid are less happy than poor people who make do on their own, ignoring the fact that those who can make do on their own aren't as poor as those needing assistance.
Like Dr. Woods, he cherry-picks and mischaracterizes history, economics, and contemporary politics, even asserting the Tea Party is a "disorganized, grassroots movement" of disaffected individuals. He conveniently ignores the massive funding provided by corporate lobbying groups and free advertising by Faux Noise. Instead he proposes that government should serve the rich and leave the poor to make do (or not) on their own.
There's a word for the form of government Drs. Woods and Brooks champion, but it isn't democracy. It's plutocracy: government of, by, and for the wealthy.