President Obama has made his disdain for the United States Constitution well known. He complained before his first term as United States President in an interview on Chicago’s public radio station WBEZ FM in 2001 that the United States “Constitution is a charter of negative liberties” and not of positive liberties. He further explained that the Constitution “says what the states can’t do to you. Says what the federal government can’t do to you, but doesn’t say what the federal government or state government must do on your behalf.” Keep in mind that this interpretation comes from a man who as a Professor taught courses in Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago, so he presumably knew what he was talking about and understood the reasons the Constitution was crafted in the manner of limiting government. Apparently Professor Obama, and we can assume President Obama, vehemently disagree with the founding fathers and their vision of limited government allowing for maximum freedoms and liberties for the people. So, perhaps we should look into the consequences of President Obama’s view of positive liberties against the founder’s ideals of negative liberties, or more accurately compare President Obama’s view of empowering government against the founder’s ideas of empowering the people.
First we will summarize the philosophies behind the founding fathers Constitutional limitations on government and how that impacts the people. The founders were strong believers in the ability of man’s capability for self-rule without having to rely on having to be ruled by their supposed betters. They were also mostly strongly religious and this enhanced their view as mankind as a noble being different from the animals and having a divine spark, a divine spirit. They believed that the Creator gave man life and with life certain rights which could not be denied by government or other men if society was to be free and have maximum liberty. As such they placed mankind above government and judged government as being a necessary evil which was best when kept as powerless as possible. Government was to only be permitted to wield those powers requested and permitted by the people. Even then, the layers of government were to have limited power by making each layer removed from the people dependent on the next closer level for its powers. Thus the people requested and allowed a set of powers to be transferred to government at the most local level which then assumed these powers and would also be tasked with adjudicating differences between contesting individuals. This local level of government would in turn permit some of these powers which were beyond their capabilities to be granted to the next level of government along with the adjudication of differences between any competing local governments. This level of the government then passed along those powers beyond their scope to the next level which also adjudicated any contentions of the lower governments. This continued until the least amount of power would be vested in the Federal Government which also adjudicated between the State Governments. Any adjudication could potentially have a judgment appealed to the next higher authority until reaching the final level of adjudications, the Supreme Court. The founders believed that all power comes from the Creator and the most powerful entity was the individual. This also implied that the individual along with the most freedoms and liberties also carried the most responsibilities. Thus, the higher up the government tree one climbs, the lesser powers relegated to each governmental level until reaching the Federal Government which would have the least power and the greatest restrictions on its powers and responsibilities of adjudication. Thus, under the United States Constitution the people are to be vested with maximum powers being permitted all responsibilities, abilities, powers and decisions with the minimal exception as listed within the Constitution. The best description was probably framed within the Bill of Rights, more specifically the Tenth Amendment. The Tenth Amendment reads:
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
President Obama does not believe that the government should be limited in its powers but instead believes that the government should dole out limited powers, responsibilities and options to the people while retaining maximum control at the highest levels. President Obama believes that the Constitution should empower government and dictate what it is that the government is required to perform for the people. This results in the government deciding what rights it is willing to remit to the people and what privileges it will grant to the people. As a result, the people only receive the privileges which the government determines they may be allowed and any power thus vested with the people may also be taken back by the government at their slightest whim. In President Obama’s world, the people are only granted the rights and responsibilities which the government determines or believes they are capable of while the remainder of power is retained by the government. Furthermore, the Federal Government also determines what responsibilities and powers the States are permitted who in turn decide the same for local government with the final determination of what the people are allowed granted at the local level. Since government passes down the powers, rights, responsibilities and all functions in life with strict limitations retaining the bulk of available oversights and control with itself at every level, the people are basically power starved.
The difference between the United States Constitution and President Obama’s ideas of governance are stark and somewhat counter-intuitive. When President Obama speaks about his disdain for the limitations of the constitution, he speaks that he believes that people would have more power if instead of limiting government the constitution should insist that government perform expressed function for the people. Despite intuition might have one believing that if government is commanded to provide enumerated functions for the people that the people will have more privileges and rights, the United States Constitution actually grants the people far greater flexibility, rights, powers, liberties, and responsibilities. Where President Obama’s idea of government permitting certain services to the people as demanded does allow for the people not to have to assume many, if any, responsibilities as that remains with the government as they are granting items while retaining the real control. With the Constitution written by the founding fathers begins by leaving all responsibilities with the people and as such also gives all powers, freedoms, liberties, and abilities also with the people and the people decide that which they will permit the government to possess. So, if you desire to be responsible for your own actions and taking care of your own needs and expressing yourself however you please while standing by your words, then the United States Constitution was designed for such as you. But if you wish to have all decisions and consequences taken care of by a greater power that gives you that which it decides is in your best interest and requires minimal responsibilities or efforts from you, then you would love President Obama’s world of unlimited government granting you, the people, what is best for you, well, actually granting you what is best for government.
Beyond the Cusp