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Crisis not solved by abandoning Constitution

By W. James Antle III
web posted October 15, 2001

Crises tend to cloud judgment and impair rational thought. While the United States has generally responded with an admirable combination of restraint and resolve to unprecedented terrorist attacks on its shores, it is important to remain impervious to the voices of hysteria that inevitably can be heard during such times.

Whether one hears peace protesters reciting recycled '60s antiwar slogans like old Janis Joplin lyrics, or the "kill 'em all" response from armchair warriors this so frequently engenders, perspective is important. It has become increasingly common to refer to the terrorist attacks that provoked our current military campaign against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan as an event that changed America forever. The old order of the republic is now considered outmoded and obsolete. Life will never be the same goes the refrain.

They are right, life will never be the same
They are right, life will never be the same

In a sense, this is true. Six thousand fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, friends and loved ones lost their lives. Each one represents an irreplaceable, incalculable loss, creating a void in perhaps millions more lives. For many of us, life will never be the same.

Yet while it seemed unthinkable that something of this nature would occur here in the United States of all places, and on such a large scale at that, horror and loss of life has been a constant in the human experience. Call it a symptom of human fallibility recognized by philosophers for centuries, or the fallen nature of man described in the Bible. Tragedy has always been a part of life and an indelible part of every human civilization. The circumstances of the various bloody battles of the Civil War, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and September 11, 2001 were each unique, but the horror, pain and loss of human life each represented are of the same kind.

This does not mean that we do not respond to such events. Ways to make our airports and commercial air traffic more secure should be explored and implemented. Improvements to our military preparedness and intelligence infrastructure are needed. More and better security may well be beneficial in public places. The US military efforts in Afghanistan are just.
But some would like to see fundamental changes to our national character. Whether it is derogatory references to "rugged individualism" or concrete public policy proposals like the national ID card, there are those who advocate changing important aspects of American life and our perception of who we are as a nation. While it is becoming a cliché to suggest that this is surrendering to terrorism by accomplishing the terrorists' goals for them, in large part this is true.

Examples abound of people reacting to our current national security and economic problems by in effect calling for end to our constitutional system of government. Many are advocating greater centralization of power in the hands of the federal government at the expense of federalism and diminished constitutional liberties in defiance of the Bill of Rights.

The constitutional republic of our Founding Father is not an anachronism. If the federal government were to abstain from the activities not authorized by the Constitution and rededicate itself to its constitutionally delegated functions, we would in fact be more secure and more able to respond to this national campaign of terror.

The primary obligation of the federal government under the Constitution is to provide for the common defense. This is why the Framers empowered Congress to raise up armies and naval forces, rather than armies of welfare state bureaucrats. Yet in recent years, federal military expenditures have represented the smallest share of the national economy since before Pearl Harbor. Defense accounts for only 15 percent of federal spending. While the constitutional responsibility to defend our people and our borders from invasions and aggression has not changed, the threats to our republic are vastly different than George Washington faced. With a globe populated by so many rogue states and international terrorist organizations, our cities should not be left vulnerable to a missile attack, necessitating a comprehensive missile defense program.

The Constitution also charged the federal government with control of the borders, setting rules for immigration and naturalization. At least 16 of the 19 hijackers could have possibly been stopped if adequately punished for their violations of visa and immigration laws. With 6 to 10 million illegal immigrants living in the United States and consular offices granting 80 percent of the 8 million visa applications annually, even non-citizens who share the hostile intentions of terrorist cells linger within our borders undetected.

The same federal government that was not fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities for national defense, federal law enforcement and border controls was actively subverting the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. But what purpose did this serve? Terrorists wielding only box cutters were able to subdue unarmed Americans. Attacks on our constitutional right to self-defense have arguably made us more vulnerable rather than more secure.

This federal government is also spending hundreds of billions of dollars propping up a constitutionally dubious welfare state that is a constant drag on our economy. Defenders of these programs can only pretend these expenditures are somehow justified by the "general welfare" or "interstate commerce clause," in direct contradiction of the statements of such Framers as James Madison on the topic of "benevolent expenditures." As economic growth slows to a crawl, taxes, spending and regulation need to be reduced or else the economy will buckle under this strain.

Americans should be free to defend themselves and build nest eggs for the future with the wealth they create. Rather than hitting them with new taxation and legislation, the government should do its duty and target terrorists and aggressors foreign and domestic.

The fact of the matter is we do not need to dismantle our federal constitutional republic and replace it with a highly centralized fortress. The solutions to our economic and national security problems lie in the government dispensing with the unconstitutional nonsense it is involved in and focusing on what the Constitution mandates it do.

W. James Antle III is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right and can be reached at

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