Don't Blame the Constitution

Posted on: Fri, 09/16/2005 - 11:11 By: Tom Swiss

Letter to the Editor, Baltimore Sun:

I'm somewhat mystified by Evan P. Schultz's labeling of the Commerce Clause and the Tenth and Eleventh Amendments of the Constitution as "archaic". ("Blame the Constitution", September 15, 2005). If last part of the Bill of Rights, and an Amendment passed after it, are "archaic", what are we to make of the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments? If the Commerce Clause is "archaic", what is to be done about the rest of Article I, Section 8, which lays out the powers of Congress? Is the federal authority to issue currency "archaic"?

The problem is not the Constitution, the problem is the way in which ideologues promote federalism when it suits them (as a poor excuse for inaction in New Orleans) then promptly drop it when it doesn't (right to die, medical cannabis clubs, gay marriage...the list is lengthy).

Federalism is no excuse for the mess in New Orleans, and Michael Chertoff should be strongly castigated for attempting to use it as one. The city's vulnerability to flooding was to a large degree the result of federal actions taken to promote interstate commerce and keep the Mississippi navigable, and there's plenty of historical precedent for understanding disaster relief as part of the federal government's Constitutional mission to provide for the common defense.

Federalism is not a right-wing idea; progressives like the Green Party are pushing for more local control and a "bottom up" approach to government that is exactly consistent with the vision laid out in the Constitution. Maybe we ought to give it a try.