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Why I'm a con-con

By Robert S. Sargent, Jr.
web posted May 26, 2003

Last week, Jim Antle III, Senior Editor for Enter Stage Right, lamented the fact that there is every kind of conservative around except constitutional conservatives (con-cons), that is, those whose central task is "…conserving the constitutional republic of our Founding Fathers." There are neocons, paleocons, compassionate-cons, but where are the con-cons? He wrote: "To be sure, the language of constitutionalism is still used in the service of specific agendas….(but) The broad idea that the federal government's powers are limited to those assigned by the Constitution, however, does not have much of a consistent following in contemporary politics." Why? "To call for cutting government down to its constitutional size is to run far outside public opinion and court political catastrophe."

Unfortunately, we look to the federal government to solve our problems. Whether it's race, poverty, education, crime, the promises of federal politicians seem to give us hope. We can't imagine a federal politician saying, "There's not a whole lot that the federal government can do to improve education. We're eliminating the Dept. of Education, and from now on, you're on your own." What hope does a con-con have? I think it's obvious that a government formed strictly on our Constitution is better for conservatives: as Mr. Antle points out, "A tax cut far larger than the one proposed by President Bush…would be easily affordable. There would likely be no budget deficit. Private property would be more secure and the government meddling in the economy would be reduced to a minimum," etc. But I would argue, this would also be better for liberals.

With the growth of the federal government since the New Deal, big government has meant furthering the liberal agenda. Democrats held congress and dominated the Supreme Court for decades. What today's conservatives are realizing is that, if they gain a dominant control of congress, and can get conservative Justices confirmed, they too can impose their agenda on the whole country. And Democrats are beginning to see the writing on the wall, demonstrated by their desperate tactics to block conservative judges. The stakes are high: control of the whole national agenda. Constitutional conservatives see a whole different world.

The Constitution gives power to the Federal government, and takes away power from the states. The powers given to the Federal government are limited, and what's not given is not theirs to take. The powers taken away from the states are few, and what's not taken away is theirs to take. The Constitution gives enormous power to the states. The liberal's huge distaste for this power, I believe, started with segregation and the south's call for "state's rights." They have forever lost confidence in the various state's ability to enact good policy. So why should liberals (and conservatives) support the world that the Constitution envisions?

It is an imperfect world indeed. It is a world where each state decides all the rules for their day-to-day existence, where each state decides its own morals and rights. Each state decides whether it will accept or outlaw abortion, school prayer, and the regulation of firearms. Some conservatives will have to accept that there will be many states that legalize abortion, outlaw school prayer, and legalize gay marriages and doctor assisted suicides. Many states will allow the legalization of drugs. So why should conservatives support this view?

While it guarantees that some states will support a liberal agenda, it also guarantees that the liberal agenda imposed on all of America the past 75 years will never happen again. For liberals, their agenda managed from the centralized federal government has worked for decades, so why should they support a strict interpretation of our Constitution? Because I can guarantee that a more right wing view will someday dominate. This means that there will be national laws making abortion a federal crime. It will mean there will be federal laws upholding a broad range of the right wing agenda. The Constitutional system on the other hand, guarantees that the right-wing issues anathema to liberals will never be imposed on the whole country.

I am willing to accept a wide diversity of political views in the different states because I firmly believe that in the federal system envisioned by our Constitution, people would be happier. They would have more of a say in their everyday lives. Things would be democratically decided, and when people feel they have participated in the democratic process, I think they are happier. The bitterness and violence over abortion, for example, has only come about since the Supreme Court imposed its views on the whole country in 1972. And as a last resort, if you live in a state that you feel is too extreme, you can move. After all, when an agenda is imposed on the whole country, where can you go?

So what hope does a constitutional-conservative have? Not much, I think. I hope I'm wrong and that Mr. Antle's holding out some hope for "…a reawakening of the conservatism's constitutionalist principles" as a "beginning" gives some room for optimism.

Robert S. Sargent, Jr. can be reached at rssjr@citcom.net.

Other related stories: (open in a new window)

  • Calling all con-cons: Revive constitutional conservatism by W. James Antle III (May 19, 2003)
    There are a thousand flavors of conservatives, writes W. James Antle III, and people are proud of their labels. The problem? He wants to know where the constitutional conservatives are
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