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30 October 2012

Pondering the Debates (part 6)

Here I go again...

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

I'm working toward the bottom of the 6th page of the transcript today, still on debate #1. But hey, at least it's the second half of the first debate. And, surprisingly enough, I'm finding that I'm really enjoying going through and really examining closely what the candidates have to say. Twisted? Maybe. But I'm learning quite a bit, and that's a good thing. The parts of the Constitution pertaining to Congress have been where my understanding is the strongest; I've done the most study there. Doing these debates and the reading that I've been doing in that America's Constitution book has made me look more closely at the Presidency. I might even (someday) figure out what the Founders were aiming for when they created the Electoral College, and what sort of changes have been made since then. Figuring that out would be cool! But in the mean time, looking closely at the Presidency is pretty interesting, and this has been an instructional exercise for me.

Obama: Social Security is structurally sound.

Good grief. Really? Does he really expect that anyone will believe this? Why would you even say it, when it's a regular feature of the news that Social Security is under water, they've been taking from the trust funds, and the money's going to dry up? I certainly have no expectation that I'll ever receive a red cent. Social Security is a tax, not an insurance fund. It is important to note that the Supreme Court decision Helvering v. Davis(1937) held that Social Security is Constitutional only because the funds go into the general fund, like income taxes do, and are not earmarked in any way, so Social Security, like Obamacare, is [dubiously] Constitutional under Congress's power to tax. So, maybe what Mr. Obama is saying here is that he approves of the use of Social Security for the collection of tax moneys. I don't know. But, if you are playing along with the fiction that Social Security exists to help the poor and the elderly, as sort of a public insurance fund, then this comment makes no sense whatsoever.

Now there is a whole bunch of back and forth about ways that they want to (or don't want to) change Social Security, Medicaid, and how the other guy's going to cause huge expense and loss to a lot of deserving people. The two of them sound very much alike on this topic. They differ on the exact means, and Mr. Romney does seem to support more private involvement than Mr. Obama, but in general, both seem to be saying, "Federal involvement is necessary and here is how I think it should happen." I've already said that I think that Federal involvement is unconstitutional and explained my reasons for that opinion, so I'm pretty much skipping this section, except to say that I realize that fixing our nation so that we both care for our elderly and poor and also obey the highest law of our land isn't easy. And it's probably not something that can be fixed overnight. The New Deal started us on this path 100 years ago; we're not going to be able to turn things around over night. But I think we can - and should - look for ways to do away with government entitlement programs. Private entities, faith groups, and families are those who should be stepping up to this challenge. I think that we will all stand a little taller and be a whole lot more free if we do it. And I believe that we can do as good or better job without the inefficient, wasteful, corrupt government dictating to us what kind of care we are giving and receiving.

So. On to page 7 and a new question.

Question: what is your view about the level of federal regulation of the economy right now? Is there too much? And in your case, Mr. President, is there — should there be more?

Ah, yes, this is a good question. I am of the opinion that a huge portion of our federal government is unconstitutional and, if those things are to be done by government at all, they should be done by the States, in ways that the individual States deem best. Since all federal bills originate in Congress, the first place that I look to see if it's something that ought to be done is Article I Section 8, the Powers of Congress. I quoted it in full in part 5, but Madison summed it up this way:

Madison: The [federal government] will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will for the most part be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects, which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties and properties of the people; and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.

It is useful to understand that the reason we call our states, States, is because that's what they are. At the time of the Declaration of Independence the colonies claimed nationhood. Massachusetts and Virginia and the rest asserted their right to be as independent and sovereign as England, Spain and France. And, although we speak of them as the colonies and then as the beginning of the United States, there was a period where there were thirteen individual nations here on this continent. Which is, as I understand it, why we use the same word for our States as you might use for the State of Uganda: it was the same sort of entity. This was such a revelation to me when I realized it! It changed the whole way that I think about the States that make up our nation. They were independent states which decided to unite together for certain, specific reasons outlined in the Preamble, who very deliberately and specifically retained the right to sovereign internal rule. This idea was so important that two of the amendments in the Bill of Rights deal with it.

Amendment IX: The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people
Amendment X: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it it the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

As free and independent States, each of the States already had the sovereign right to govern themselves - and, according to Madison's quote above, they would largely retain that, yet choose to present a united face to the world under the Constitution. They also agreed to play nicely among themselves. It's my understanding that the reason that the Congress was able to regulate trade among the States that joined the Union was to avoid things like interstate trade wars. Look at the limited nature of the trade authority that the states delegated to the federal government (Article I Section 8) when it was created:

To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes...

Constitutionally, the answer to a question that boils down to, "How big should the government be?" should be very interesting. Let's see what the candidates have to say. Mr. Romney got to go first on this question.

Romney: Regulation is essential. You can't have a free market work if you don't have regulation. As a businessperson, I had to have — I need to know the regulations. I needed them there. You couldn't have people opening up banks in their — in their garage and making loans. I mean, you have to have regulations so that you can have an economy work. Every free economy has good regulation. At the same time, regulation can become excessive.
 Lehrer: Is it excessive now, do you think?
Romney: In some places, yes. Other places, no. ... No, it can become out of date. And what's happened with some of the legislation that's been passed during the president's term, you've seen regulation become excessive, and it's hurt — it's hurt the economy. Let me give you an example.
Dodd-Frank was passed. And it includes within it a number of provisions that I think has some unintended consequences that are harmful to the economy. One is it designates a number of banks as too big to fail, and they're effectively guaranteed by the federal government. This is the biggest kiss that's been given to — to New York banks I've ever seen. This is an enormous boon for them. There've been 122 community and small banks have closed since Dodd- Frank.

Now, banks are not an area where I have much background knowledge. The first thing that I need to know is, "What is Dodd-Frank?" So I'm looking at Wikipedia's entry. Turns out that Dodd-Frank is a major reform to the financial sector, and it arose out of legislation that the Obama Administration recommended to Congress. Mr. Obama intended it to be a "sweeping overhaul of the United States financial regulatory system, a transformation on a scale not seen since the reforms that followed the Great Depression." Wikipedia's entry has a criticism at the top, saying it is too technical, and I found it to be so. Taking Mr. Romney's statement about banks being ruled "too big to fail" and "effectively guaranteed by the federal government" at face value, I'd have to say that I question if those provisions are Constitutional. But his overall point here, illustrated by the specific example of Dodd-Frank, is that while some regulation is needed, too much is damaging. In general, I'd have to agree with that point, and some of that regulation could legitimately take place at the federal level, given how much of finance takes place across State lines, though as I understand it, all activity that takes place exclusively within a State should be the exclusive domain of the State government.

Mr. Obama comments on the Dodd-Frank example, and then he says this:

Obama: And so the question is: Does anybody out there think that the big problem we had is that there was too much oversight and regulation of Wall Street? Because if you do, then Governor Romney is your candidate. But that's not what I believe.

Now, I'll be upfront here: I'm a small government girl. I don't really understand what they're talking about, but I'd rather err on the side of small government. It has been my observation that our government is, generally speaking, many times larger than the Founders intended it to be. Orders of magnitude larger. So my personal bias is to go with the small government option while I learn things; I find that tends to be more in line with the Constitution, once I figure out the question enough to have a fully-formed opinion on the matter.

Next up: Obamacare. I think that one's going to deserve its own post, so I'll end here.

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