Skip to comments.None Dare Call It Dictatorship
Posted on 03/18/2002 8:18:37 PM PST by hellonewman
A few years ago, I wrote a letter to the editor about a woman who ran afoul of the authorities when she refused to rent a room to a couple who were shacking up out of wedlock. She was charged with discrimination, and had appealed the decision to the level of a federal circuit court. When the circuit court ruled against her, she appealed to the Supreme Court, which decided not to take the case.
I sent the letter to my e-mail list, and got the following response from a recipient: "What kind of government would do something as outrageous as this?"
I replied, "A dictatorship would do this."
Such was my reaction this past week when President Bush announced a decision to impose a 30 percent tariff on imported steel. Did anyone notice how president simply imposed a tariff without a vote by Congress? There was no debate, no nothing. The president simply raised taxes. What kind of president would do something as outrageous as this?
A dictator would. Can you imagine the sound and fury from Republicans had a president Al Gore done something like this? A special interest group feels the economic pinch and tightens the screws on the president to grant them a favor and to win votes for him and his party in places such as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Gary, Indiana. The president, without batting an eye, grants them their wish by unilaterally imposing a new tax.
At least if a president Al Gore had done this, there would have been vehement Republican opposition. There would have been some check on such an arbitrary and capricious act of tyranny. (If this is not taxation without representation, what is?) But if a Republican president does this, Republicans say nothing.
Time and again, they tell me that, by supporting the Libertarian Party, I take votes from the Republicans and pave the way for Democratic victories. Does it really matter anymore? At least when Clinton raised taxes, he did so with prior congressional approval.
Let's admit it: we live under a dictatorship. Oh sure, we have elections. And, oh sure, I can write this column without fear of imprisonment on the North Slope of Alaska. But we have moved so far from what could be described as a free country that most Americans would not recognize freedom if it landed on their head in the form of a 16-ton weight. Indeed, how many Americans even care about freedom anymore?
What was Bush's source of authority for imposing such a tax increase? Who knows? But even assuming that federal law (maybe it was one of those newfangled "free trade" agreements) permitted it still does not justify such an act. The law permits plenty of objectionable things. Abortion, pornography, joining the Ku Klux Klan, and public flag desecration are cases in point. What happened at Auschwitz was permitted under the laws of the Third Reich. That which is legal and that which is desirable are often very different.
The Declaration of Independence speaks of, "a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, (evincing) a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism." The always-quotable Joseph Sobran once said that the size and intrusiveness of our current form of government makes the "Train" of King George III resemble a caboose.
All the fiery rhetoric of the Founders was directed at a "tyrant" who taxed his subjects at a rate of about three percent. Today, we in "the land of the free" are taxed at about 50 percent when you add federal, state, and local taxes. What kind of government would do this?
A dictatorship would.
The Declaration of Independence lists among the grievances against King George III, "imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:" Only dictators govern in such a manner. Not only do we have one-party government any longer, we have one branch of government. The Founders gave us three branches of government so that, when one branch stepped out of line, another branch could say, "We don't think so." Thus far, only the venerable Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) has criticized President Bush's naked act of tyranny. There has been no other challenge from Congress or the Courts. Nor will there likely be one.
The Founders also took King George III to task for "(erecting) a Multitude of new Offices, and (sending) hither Swarms of Officers to harass our People, and eat out their Substance." Consider the IRS, DEA, FDA, DOE, DOT, BATF, EPA, OSHA, and all the other unconstitutional alphabet soup agencies that infest our landscape. (Look how President Bush created the cabinet level Office of Homeland Security by executive fiat, again, without congressional approval.) Once instituted, these agencies never go away. The only debate is over how best to run them. What kind of government would micromanage our lives like this?
A dictatorship would.
King George III was a lot of bad things, but he never insisted that we educate our children in his schools. Indeed, there is no biblical mention of the Romans forcing Christians to educate their children in imperial schools. And yet the conservative establishment never questions the institution of state education. They simply think that if they put Bill Bennett or someone like that in charge everything will be fine. There is no biblical or constitutional basis for state education. State education is a policy prescription of the Communist Manifesto.
What kind of government would impose such a system on its subjects, and still force them to pay for it even if they decided to educate their children elsewhere?
A dictatorship would.
In the last two years I have had three relapses of an old back injury. This has complicated my life severely. There may well be either surgical procedures or muscle relaxing medications that could help me, and that are doing great things for people overseas, but that are not approved by the FDA. (There are medications of many kinds that are working quite successfully overseas that are verboten by the FDA.) What kind of government would make you a criminal for ingesting beneficial substances into your body?
You guessed it: a dictatorship.
But don't we have representative government and doesn't the majority elect our officials? Well, yes, but your right to vote does not imply a right to violate my rights. Someone far wittier than I once quipped that a democracy is where two wolves and a sheep take a majority vote on what's for supper. Another wit followed up on this saying that a constitutional republic exists when the wolves are forbidden on voting on what's for supper and the sheep are well armed.
(I hope by now that you have figured out what kind of government would disarm innocent law-abiding citizens.)
We have a Constitution that sets clear, defined limits on what the federal government can and cannot do. Just because something sounds good, or just because voting for something makes you feel good, does not authorize the government to violate someone else's rights. Indeed, our current philosophy of government may be summarized in six words: If it sounds good do it.
We have not even talked about the War on Drugs or the president's post-9/11 domestic agenda. I know they sound good to a lot of people and I know they make a lot of people who support them feel all tingly inside. However, they are both excuses to tyrannize America even further. They are just two more examples of government run amok, which is just another way of saying dictatorship.
Toward the end of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote that, "A Prince, whose Character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the Ruler of a free People." Most conservatives would have no problem applying these last nine words to Bill Clinton. Yet when George W. Bush tyrannizes this country to a greater degree than Bill Clinton did, they are strangely silent. Why do they not subject Dubya to the same scrutiny as his predecessor?
Freely Speaking: Speeches and Essays by Doug Newman
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Still the trickle down is irrelevant. I'm persoanlly not that thrilled with the tariff but the intention is to force domestic buyers to buy domestically. The trickle down effect applies there as well. What effect is greater depends upon which economist you talk to.
Go re-read that Constitution .... tarriffs are taxes.
That's why I'm not too thrilled about it. My main objection was the emotional appeal of the article.
"However proper or safe it may be in governments where the executive magistrate is an hereditary monarch, to commit to him the entire power of making treaties, it would be utterly unsafe and improper to intrust that power to an elective magistrate of four years' duration." - Federalist #75
"He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties..." - U.S. Constitution - Article II, Section 2
"First. That the supremacy of the national power in the general field of foreign affairs, including power over immigration, naturalization and deportation, is made clear by the Constitution was pointed out by authors of The Federalist in 1787,9 and has since been given continuous recognition by this Court." - U.S. Supreme Court, HINES v. DAVIDOWITZ
Since at least as early as the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act of 1934, which was passed by Congress and signed into law, the President has had the power to control tariffs in one form or another. Subsequent laws further defined and expanded the President's power to control tariffs, including extensions of the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act in 1951, 1955, and 1958; the original General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) of 1947 (which Truman committed the U.S. to without congressional approval, by the way) which later blossomed into the 1994 GATT that spawned the WTO; the Trade Expansion Act of 1962; the Trade Act of 1974 and the Trade and Tariff Act of 1984.
I am not a student of U.S trade policy history. I found this information quickly and easily by searching the 'Net, which I routinely do when I want to get some background on an issue. In this case, I discovered that Mr. Newman's emotional outcry over this supposed presidential "dictatorship" is founded in ignorance, if not outright stupidity.
President Bush is acting under legal authority granted to him under laws passed by Congress. That is neither usurpation nor abuse. Unless his authority is successfully challenged in court, he, and future presidents, will continue to have the power to control tariffs. That is exactly how the U.S Constitution works.
If the Supreme Court ruled such control unconstitutional, however, and the President somehow actually managed to illegally control tariffs without being impeached, then we'd be faced with a dictator. It is unlikely that such a thing would happen without a lot of other, much more serious problems occurring first (like martial law).
Personally, I share a lot of Mr. Newman's concerns and am upset about the state of the union. There is way too much federal power, has been since the Civil War, and the trend is toward even more centralization and away from the union of sovereign states described in the Constitution. I am not very comfortable with Congress delegating powers specifically granted to it under the Constitution to the President in the name of expediency. That just sets us up for "limited time only" used-car-sale trade policies when representation, reflection and debate would serve us better.
Unlike Mr. Newman, however, I prefer not to tilt with windmills when there are so many real dragons to fight.
Well, that's what I'm curious about. Congress didn't pass the tariff now. Has Congress passed a bill giving the President blanket authorization to impose a tariff at any future time, and would such an abrogation of responsibility on the part of Congress be Consitutional?
This is an interesting question. Apparently Congress has passed a law giving the President the authority to declare tariffs.
Do you know of any Supreme Court rulings on whether one branch of government can choose to abrogate its responsibilities as enumerated in the Constitution? One might make the legal claim that Congress must approve each bill specifically.
This is especially persuasive in the case of taxes (including tariffs), which are required to originate in the House of Representatives. Did this tariff originate in the House? Maybe the blanket authorization originated in the House (I don't know), but this specific tariff originated in the President's office.
Has Congress passed a bill giving the President blanket authorization to impose a tariff at any future time, and would such an abrogation of responsibility on the part of Congress be Consitutional?
The president's Steel Products Proclamation claims that Congress has delegated to him just such authority in the Trade Act. Following this link to the U.S. Code, you can find the relevant sections of the law.
Do you know if there are any Supreme Court rulings on whether Congress really can give advance approval to a general category of possible actions which would otherwise require specific individual approval? Can the Congress consitutionally delegate its authority under the Constitution to others (and, in particular, to the executive branch)?
Thank you; I appreciate your posting the link.
The principle here seems to be that Congress specified under what circumstances certain tariffs should be imposed and how the rates should be computed, but they left the actual computation and implementation in the hands of the executive branch. This makes the tariff considered in this Supreme Court case akin to a regulation, issued by the executive branch as part of its implementation of a statute passed by Congress.
The current tariff imposition appears to be much more discretionary than the Supreme Court envisioned in the case you cited. I doubt this will be taken to the Supreme Court (and the Court might well rule in favor of the law), but it does appear to be somewhat different from the situation in the ruling. Considering that everybody would concede that Pres. Bush had complete discretion in whether or not to impose the steel tariff, it's hard to phrase his actions as merely computing and implementing a tariff according to the specifications of Congress.
By the way, how did you locate that Supreme Court ruling so quickly? Locating most things on the web is easy, but the normal search engines don't seem all that useful for legal research.
The Supreme Court ruling that a presidential line-item veto power would be unconstitutional is an example that is both contemporary and pertinent. The majority of the Justices found that the line-item veto violated the presentment clause of the Constitution, which states that every bill presented to the President shall be approved or disapproved by him. Particularly noteworthy is a quote from Justice Anthony Kennedy: "Liberty is always at stake when one or more of the branches seek to transgress the separation of powers". I share his opinion.
By granting the President the power to levy and control tariffs, I believe Congress has delegated a power specifically reserved to it under Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. However, I don't know of any clear precedent that establishes this as unconstitutional, since the Executive Branch has historically been granted broad regulatory power over almost everything specifically reserved to Congress. Therein lies the rub.
I found an article regarding the line-item veto debate on PBS.org that includes a good description by John Cooney, former OMB deputy counsel, of the constitutional issues involved in separation of powers cases. Based on that and other sources, I believe the principle of Congress granting the President tariff authority is marginally constitutional, although it could conceivably be struck down by the Supreme Court, nonetheless.
Either way, I think it is exceedingly unwise legislation, and that this particular case is a good example of just how unwise it is.
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