Stanford Progressive

Letter from the Editor

By Ross Raffin, published May, 2010


In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was reported out of a Congressional sub-committee and presented to a group of five Congressmen. After “refinement” and approval, the Declaration was then sent to the Continental Congress for further “refinements” such as taking out a paragraph attributing the slave trade to King George III. After a prompt vote, Congress adopted the Declaration as a legal document. The Constitution as envisioned by American founders such as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton changed even more dramatically during the constitutional convention.

This process of compromise and concession is at the core of America’s founding documents. It is at the core of democratic lawmaking. Recently, it has also been glaringly revealed at the core of the new healthcare bill. In most cases, Americans are only interested in the end product of Congress: a finalized bill. However, when the national spotlight does focus on a drawn-out committee process and other Congressional procedures, we are forced to confront how much must be sacrificed in order for any piece of legislation to pass.

Both domestic and international progress cannot occur within or between democracies without some sacrifice on either side. Michael Albada’s article on Greece demonstrates, for instance, how some governments will even sacrifice the welfare of their own citizens in order to keep the country running. Colin Gray’s look at the economics of the Mexican cocaine trade reveals a largely ignored cost that accompanies “winning” the drug war in Mexico. Another article urges that gun control advocates concede that there is an individual right to bear arms without abandoning all rights of regulation.

One place where concessions will be unnecessary is in the upcoming lawsuits concerning the Constitutionality of the new healthcare bill. Most legal experts agree that these challenges will fail miserably. This is because while many people may entirely discard precedent and interpret the Constitution as narrowly as possible, that is not how the Supreme Court works. Less than a decade ago, the Supreme Court conservatives argued that the commerce clause combined with the necessary and proper clause includes powers such as the federal government’s ability to regulate marijuana even if it is grown and consumed within the same state. Half a century before that, the Supreme Court said the Federal government could even regulate how much extra wheat farmers can grow for their own consumption. The Supreme Court itself has claimed on multiple occasions that James Madison’s strict understanding of the necessary and proper clause has been subsumed by Chief Justice John Marshall’s more permissive views. The quasi-monarchist Alexander Hamilton, not Thomas Jefferson, pervades the modern constitutional system. In reality, healthcare does not expand federal powers past any previous precedent.

For instance, take the claim that healthcare is unconstitutional because it “mandates” buying insurance. Democrats specifically drafted the bill so that the power falls under the taxation clause combined with the necessary and proper clause. No one is “forced” to buy insurance; they will be fined or convicted of tax-related causes. No new powers are necessary.

Consider Medicare, which is a single-payer system in which the government “mandates” that all seniors must participate in a specific government program. Compared to even the public option, Medicare is constitutionally draconian. Yet for all the controversy, no one expects the Supreme Court to say Medicare is unconstitutional.

The complaint that the law unnecessarily burdens the states with new debt also fails. States voluntarily enter the Medicare and Medicaid program and are free to reject funds at any time. This is similar to how states “volunteered” to change their drinking ages or else lose federal highway funding. Regardless of the ethical implications, this strategy of leveraging grant money is constitutionally permissible.

Since the judicial as well as the executive and legislative hurdles have been cleared for this healthcare bill, it is time for Obama to change his strategy. Shadi Bushra’s article debates how Obama should reallocate his remaining political capital among domestic and foreign issues. Katherine Heflin takes an empirical look at the upcoming California propositions. Nikola Milanovic relates a new perspective on how to approach the problem of poverty.

The Stanford Progressive hopes to further this kind of dialogue within Stanford. While our magazine issues may not have many articles, we believe in quality of discourse as opposed to quantity of text.


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