Tuesday, April 10, 2007

State of Affairs

[posted by Callimachus]

Here's what we bicker about these days:

Gun control:

Attorneys for the District sought yesterday to preserve the city's gun-control law, asking a federal appeals court to reconsider a recent decision that called some restrictions unconstitutional.

The District urged the full appeals court to review the ruling made last month by a three-judge panel. The 2 to 1 decision declared that the Second Amendment grants a person the right to possess firearms and struck down a part of the D.C. law that bars people from keeping handguns in homes.

Congressional funding of the military:

President Bush on Tuesday invited lawmakers of both parties to the White House to discuss the impasse on funding the Iraq war, as neither side showed signs of backing down.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters next week's talks would be discussions and "not a negotiation," while Democratic House and Senate leaders demanded a meeting without "preconditions."

During remarks to members of the American Legion, Bush repeated his threat to veto any bill that includes a timeline for U.S. troops to leave Iraq. He said time is running out.

And even the recurring debate over the electoral college:

Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) signed a bill into law today that makes Maryland the first state in the nation to join a movement to bypass the Electoral College and elect U.S. presidents by national popular vote.

The bill, passed in a session of the General Assembly that concluded yesterday, would award the state's 10 electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the most votes nationwide -- not statewide. The agreement would not take effect until states that cumulatively hold 270 electoral votes -- the number needed to win a presidential election -- sign on.

Yes, these are the kind of shouting matches you have when you try to drive a car after you've taken the brakes off it. They're all arguments that echo in the void in our government where state power used to sit. It doesn't matter to me whether you blame the Southern hotheads or the conniving Northern Republicans or Lincoln's necessary deals with the devil. The states are gone. They once were the balance to the federal government. Now nothing is.

Here, among many other places, the Federalist Papers explaines how it ought to work:

The legislature of the United States will be OBLIGED, by this provision, once at least in every two years, to deliberate upon the propriety of keeping a military force on foot; to come to a new resolution on the point; and to declare their sense of the matter, by a formal vote in the face of their constituents. They are not AT LIBERTY to vest in the executive department permanent funds for the support of an army, if they were even incautious enough to be willing to repose in it so improper a confidence.

As the spirit of party, in different degrees, must be expected to infect all political bodies, there will be, no doubt, persons in the national legislature willing enough to arraign the measures and criminate the views of the majority. The provision for the support of a military force will always be a favorable topic for declamation. As often as the question comes forward, the public attention will be roused and attracted to the subject, by the party in opposition; and if the majority should be really disposed to exceed the proper limits, the community will be warned of the danger, and will have an opportunity of taking measures to guard against it.

Independent of parties in the national legislature itself, as often as the period of discussion arrived, the State legislatures, who will always be not only vigilant but suspicious and jealous guardians of the rights of the citizens against encroachments from the federal government, will constantly have their attention awake to the conduct of the national rulers, and will be ready enough, if any thing improper appears, to sound the alarm to the people, and not only to be the VOICE, but, if necessary, the ARM of their discontent.

Schemes to subvert the liberties of a great community REQUIRE TIME to mature them for execution. An army, so large as seriously to menace those liberties, could only be formed by progressive augmentations; which would suppose, not merely a temporary combination between the legislature and executive, but a continued conspiracy for a series of time.

The Second Amendment springs from this issue. The electoral college was meant to lubricate and protect a system where states were the seats and vehicles of real popular power.

Take out that element -- "who will always be not only vigilant but suspicious and jealous guardians of the rights of the citizens against encroachments from the federal government" -- and what do you have left? What we have now. Where we argue the two-dimensional matter of which part of the federal government ought to be at the wheel of the unstoppable car.