Friday, December 16, 2005

Congress overstepping its bounds? It all depends on if you like the result...

One often hears complaints about Congress sticking its nose into areas it has no business... but these complaints usually fall on deaf ears. Liberals usually don't care, as most of the time they are actually in favor of an activist Congress, believing as they do that they exist to solve all of the nation's problems, real or imagined.

And those on the right side (including those who lean libertarian), who in theory ought to be supportive of the idea of reining in Congress (and the courts as well, for that matter), fail to deliver as too often they can be counted on to abandon their principles in favor of both smaller government and in granting to the President the ability to command our troops in time of war in order to support the legislative proposal du jour.... just so long as the bill addresses a subject they personally are in favor of.

And today's example of this can be found in the debate over whether Congress should pass McCain's bill to restrict our nation's ability to wage war against our enemies. Of course, the liberals are all in favor of this, as they can be counted on to support anything that detracts from our ability to protect ourselves against terrorism. But it wouldn't pass without support from the GOP side and where many on the conservative/libertarian side of the blogosphere (such as Glenn Reynolds (I don't mean to single him out as they are others... I'm just too lazy to link them all) are providing cover to the GOP for their unwise support of McCain's latest granstanding gesture.

So let's forget forget about recognizing that Bush is in charge of the war.... forget about the concept of Congress limiting itself to providing funding for the war and getting out of the way.... forget about separation of powers.... forget about supposed opposition to Congressional micro-managing of the Executive branch.... all because they personally object to some of the weapons our side may be using against our enemy....

Years ago, I recognized the true test of standing on principle was whether or not it hurt to do so, whether the advocate suffered in some way as a result. For example, the liberal who wants to raise taxes even though they themselves will pay more is standing on principle, the liberal who wants to raise taxes only on those in higher income brackets than himself is not. A liberal who stands up and defends the process by which we elect our Presidents in the face of criticism that the system must be flawed because it produced a George Bush is standing on principle.

The other benchmark I use is that when two principles seem to clash, the broader must take precedence over the more narrow. For example, belief in federalism keeps one from supporting Congressional efforts to make rape a federal crime (as was done in the Violence against Women legislation a number of years ago), as it would keep someone from supporting a nationwide ban on abortions. Support of the Commerce Clause means the states can't regulate interstate shipment of wine even though one may not like alchohol. Believing in property rights means not supporting efforts to ban smoking in restaurants even though one may hate cigarettes. And believing that we ought to minimize Congressional intrusion into matters not its concern ought to trump whatever dislike one has for the idea of our side torturing someone in order to gain information that would enable our side to keep us safer.

Come to think of it, I guess that's standing on principle... for since our side is unilaterally taking weapons away from our side, a terrorist attack is more likely to succeed than if that weapon were available for use... which means that when that happens, we will all have taken a hit in order to make some people feel a bit better about themselves...