More Fantasies From Claremont

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The Claremont Institute has joined with Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Nancy Pelosi, and the rest of the far left of American politics in demonizing Senator Trent Lott for the "sin" of trying to say something nice about a hundred-year-old man, Senator Strom Thurmond, upon his retirement from the Senate. (It’s too bad he wasn’t elected president in 1948, Senator Lott said to his aged and ailing, wheelchair-bound colleague).

In a snotty article in the Institute’s December 12 weekly newsletter one Ken Masugi describes Senator Lott as "vacant," "rapacious," "twisted," "failed," "stupid," "mean spirited," "silly," and "lost," and joins the "Reverend" Sharpton and other enemies of the Republican Party in calling for Senator Lott to resign.

Sometimes it seems that everything to come out of the Claremont Institute is a fabrication or a fantasy. For example, the very first sentence of Masugi’s tirade (his specialty) is: "The Founders’ purpose in establishing the United States Senate was to elevate the characters of its members so that, following deliberation, it could act on behalf of the whole nation. This is the real, constitutional issue in the furor concerning would-be Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott." And this statement is a pure fabrication.

Masugi has his American history exactly backwards. When the founding fathers created the U.S. Senate in the Constitution they provided that senators were to be elected by state legislatures, not by popular vote. It wasn’t until the Seventeenth Amendment was passed in 1913 that U.S. senators were popularly elected.

The reason for this was that the election of senators by their own state legislatures was seen to be one of the bedrocks of states’ rights. Senators were expected to defend and promote the rights of the citizens of their own states and protect them from encroachments by the federal government — just the opposite of Masugi’s theory. This was seen as an important roadblock to the growth of any welfare/redistributionist state. By answering only to their own state legislature, senators were placed above national special-interest groups, the media, and even political parties. Since each piece of legislation, all judicial appointees, and all top executive appointments had to be approved by the senate, senators were effectively given the power to veto all three branches of the federal government. Each senator had a hand in federal affairs, and was held accountable by the people of his own state. This was all lost with the Seventeenth Amendment, though, so that today senators are pressured primarily by big campaign donors, the (liberal) media, special-interest groups, and opinion polls. The adoption of the Seventeenth Amendment was another nail in the coffin of states’ rights that led to the explosion of governmental power that has occurred ever since.

Masugi invokes the name of James Madison to support his a-historical theory, but Madison’s own words clearly repudiate the Masugi/Claremont position. In Federalist #39 the Father of the Constitution wrote that the establishment of the constitutional order was to come from the assent of the people "not as individuals composing one entire nation, but as composing the distinct and independent States to which they respectively belong." The "whole nation" theory of constitutionalism is a myth that has been perpetrated by many decades in order to rationalize the centralization of governmental power. The Claremont Institute is a shameless promoter of this myth, and of the bloated federal leviathan that the myth serves to prop up.

It was the election of U.S. senators by the state legislatures that benefited the "whole nation" by placing an important restraint on the powers of the central government. The whole purpose of the Constitution, Madison wrote in Federalist #10, was to restrain "the violence of faction," and this was best achieved by limiting the powers of the central state in this and numerous other ways.

Masugi seems to have a naïve, child’s view of government as he drones on about how politicians are expected to act in a "public-spirited" manner and enact policies that are "good for the nation as a whole" as they serve the "public interest." As I said, nearly everything to come out of the Claremont Institute seems to be a fantasy or fabrication.

Several hundred years ago state tyranny was rationalized by court historians who waxed eloquently about the "divine right of kings." With the advent of democracy "the public interest" replaced the "divine right of kings" as the supposed justification for state tyranny. Claremont’s court historians tirelessly promote this childish but dangerous view of government.

Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is the author of the LRC #1 bestseller, The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War (Forum/Random House, 2002) and professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland.

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