Thursday, January 19, 2012

Land of the used-to-be-free

Stereotypes have notoriously bad PR. We tend to think of stereotypes negatively, but they’re useful mental shortcuts that are often accurate and without malice.

For example, politically conservative individuals favor strong national defense, small government, and a return to constitutional values.

It was no surprise to me, then, that the Supreme Court chose to hear an appeal to the constitutionality of the recent health care reform act.

At the heart of the challenge is whether the interstate commerce clause, which gives Congress the right “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States,” grants the federal government enough power to mandate individual health care.

Traditionally this clause has been broadly interpreted to centralize power within the federal government. Personally, I think that is typically a responsible interpretation. The founders believed the Articles of Confederation too weak to hold the states together and the Civil War outcome set a pretty clear precedent that federal authority trumped that of individual states.

Moreover, I think it’s important to consider what the framers could have reasonably anticipated when delegating state and federal power. In the 18th and 19th centuries, rule under smaller principalities would likely have been more efficient, but with modern advancements in communication and transportation infrastructures, strong, centralized governance over a country as large as the United States is much more feasible.

Still, I admit that such an interpretation is clearly arguable. What I find interesting, however, is that for all the clamoring about an overreaching government trampling the constitution over health care reform – most of which seems to come from those who know little or nothing about “Obamacare,” let alone its actual name (it’s the Affordable Care Act by the way) – little has been said about the recently signed National Defense Authorization Act.

A defense appropriations bill is passed each year to set annual defense budgets. The president is pressed to sign this legislation, particularly during election years, lest he seem weak. That’s why earmarks that typically would not pass on their own merits are often attached to this legislation.

The controversial caveat this year is the “legalization” of indefinite military detention of suspected terrorist without trial, which may include American citizens arrested on American soil.

This bill is a gross overstepping of constitutional privilege. Article One, Section Nine expressly forbids unlawful detention except in cases of “invasion or rebellion,” which, however devastating, a handful of terrorist attacks does not constitute. Also, there’s the Sixth Amendment to consider, which guarantees the right to a speedy and public trial by jury as well as proper legal counsel.

So far this bill has been largely unchallenged though legal channels.

Obama did issue a signing statement in which he said he approved the act “because it authorizes funding for the defense of the United States and its interests abroad, crucial services for service members and their families, and vital national security programs that must be renewed.”

Still, if defending our nation and our interests means sacrificing the very rights and principles we claim to defend, it’s hard to see the point in it all.

In all likelihood the defense act will go unchallenged and there’s a damn good chance that the Affordable Care Act will be repealed or overhauled to the point of ineffectiveness, all in a hypocritical defense of the Constitution.

What’s ironic is, if I’m right about the fate of these two laws, suspected terrorists under indefinite military detention will likely have better access to health care than many free Americans. Fewer freedoms to hate us for I suppose.