America’s Government by Extortion

Exclusive: By forcing a U.S. government shutdown – and threatening a first-ever credit default – Tea Party Republicans are creating a new constitutional system which lets a determined white minority impose its will on the diverse American majority by inflicting so much pain that the extortionists prevail, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

As the Republican-driven U.S. government shutdown careens forward, everyone who’s seen a movie about hostage-taking – “Air Force One,” for instance – knows what happens now. The terrorists press their demands by beginning to shoot hostages.

Arguably, the Tea Party Republicans have already begun to do that by forcing hundreds of thousands of government employees to be furloughed (including intelligence analysts responsible for detecting attacks by actual terrorists), by shutting down cancer-drug trials for children, and by disrupting hundreds of other important federal programs that protect the physical and financial safety of the American people.

Actor Gary Oldman, playing a terrorist in the movie “Air Force One” putting a gun to the head of the President, played by Harrison Ford. (Photo credit: Columbia/TriStar, Claudette Barius)

By Oct. 17 – when the country’s debt ceiling is expected to be breached – the gun will be put to the head of the “full faith and credit of the United States,” possibly inducing a global financial panic that could reverse the hard-won economic gains of the past five years and throw millions of people out of their jobs and out of their homes.

Or as actor Gary Oldman (playing the lead terrorist in “Air Force One”) might put it: Eventually we’ll wreak so much havoc that you, Mr. President, will have to give us what we want, first the surrender of health-care reform, but once we know how to get our way, there will be no limit to what we can dismantle next.

In the case of Oldman’s movie terrorist, the overarching cause was “Mother Russia.” For the Tea Party’s political terrorists, it is their neo-Confederate interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, a document that they claim to carry around everywhere but apparently have never read.

With all the Tea Partiers’ talk about their “originalist” interpretation of the Constitution, they ignore the reality that the Founding document was written primarily by Federalists, such as George Washington, James Madison (who was then Washington’s protégé), Alexander Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris (the chief author of the Preamble).

The Federalists despised the concept of states’ rights (as enshrined in the Articles of Confederation) and believed in centralizing power in the federal government, albeit with a system of checks and balances to restrain ill-advised decision-making, but with few other limits on what elected representatives could do for the nation’s well-being.

That is why – in both the Preamble and in Article I, Section 8 (the so-called “enumerated powers”) – the Framers included language giving Congress the authority to “provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States” and “to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers.”

As historian Jada Thacker has written, “The Constitution was never intended to ‘provide limited government,’ and furthermore it did not do so. … This is not a matter of opinion, but of literacy. If we want to discover the truth about the scope of power granted to the federal government by the Constitution, all we have to do is read what it says.”

Given the malleable phrase “general Welfare” and the so-called “elastic clause” for passing all “necessary and proper” laws, Thacker notes that “the type, breadth and scope of federal legislation became unchained. … Taken together, these clauses – restated in the vernacular – flatly announce that ‘Congress can make any law it feels is necessary to provide for whatever it considers the general welfare of the country.’

“Lately there has been an embarrassingly naïve call from the Tea Party to require Congress to specify in each of its bills the Constitutional authority upon which the bill is grounded. Nothing could be easier: the first and last clauses of Article I, Section 8 gives Congress black-and-white authority to make any law it so desires. Nor was this authority lost on the Founders.”

The Anti-Federalist Lament

Thacker notes that today’s advocates of “limited government” like to cherry-pick a few quotes from The Federalist Papers to lend some credibility to their claims but ignore the Anti-Federalist Papers, essays written by dissident delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. For instance, Thacker cites the dissent of New Yorker Robert Yates written a month after the Constitution was completed:

“This government is to possess absolute and uncontrollable power, legislative, executive and judicial, with respect to every object to which it extends. … The government then, so far as it extends, is a complete one. … It has the authority to make laws which will affect the lives, the liberty, and the property of every man in the United States; nor can the constitution or the laws of any state, in any way prevent or impede the full and complete execution of every power given.”

Thacker adds: “Yates, it must be emphasized, took pains to identify the ‘necessary and proper’ clause as the root of the ‘absolute power’ inherent in the Constitution well over a year before ratification.”

And Yates was far from alone in both his reading of the unbounded powers of the Constitution and in his first-hand understanding of what the Framers were thinking. For instance, dissenting delegates from Pennsylvania wrote:

“We dissent … because the powers vested in Congress by this constitution, must necessarily annihilate and absorb the legislative, executive, and judicial powers of the several states, and produce from their ruins one consolidated government. …

“The new government will not be a confederacy of states, as it ought, but one consolidated government, founded upon the destruction of the several governments of the states. … The powers of Congress under the new constitution, are complete and unlimited over the purse and the sword, and are perfectly independent of, and supreme over, the state governments; whose intervention in these great points is entirely destroyed.”

The Pennsylvania dissenters noted that the state sovereignty language from the Articles of Confederation was stripped out of the Constitution and that national sovereignty was implicitly transferred to “We the People of the United States” in the Preamble. They pointed out that the Constitution’s Article Six made federal statutes and treaties “the supreme law of the land.”

“The legislative power vested in Congress … is so unlimited in its nature; may be so comprehensive and boundless [in] its exercise, that this alone would be amply sufficient to annihilate the state governments, and swallow them up in the grand vortex of general empire,” the dissenters declared.

Fearing for Slavery

Southern Anti-Federalists – the likes of Virginia’s Patrick Henry and George Mason – saw the Constitution as an eventual death knell for slavery, despite the success of southern delegates to insert clauses that implicitly accepted the continuation of slavery.

But Henry and Mason argued that the rights of white slaveholders to own blacks would eventually be challenged by the North as its industries made it more populous and more powerful than the agrarian South. “They’ll free your niggers!” Patrick Henry warned his fellow slave-owning Virginians.

As historians Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg wrote in their 2010 book, Madison and Jefferson, Henry and Mason argued that “slavery, the source of Virginia’s tremendous wealth, lay politically unprotected.” Besides the worry about how the federal government might tax slave-ownership, there was the fear that the President – as commander in chief – might “federalize” the state militias and emancipate the slaves.

Though losing the struggle to block ratification, the Anti-Federalists and their concerns did not disappear. Instead, they organized a powerful political faction behind the charismatic figure of slaveholder Thomas Jefferson, who – after returning from France in 1789 – sought to alter the original interpretation of the Constitution into something much narrower, a vision that would protect the interests of “farmers” and would leave plantation slavery untouched.

Jefferson’s ruthless political tactics and Federalist missteps in the complex job of forming the new government combined to help Jefferson defeat President John Adams, a Federalist, in 1800 (with Jefferson’s winning margin coming from the South’s ability to count slaves as three-fifths of a human being for the purpose of representation).

As president, Jefferson rhetorically asserted his “strict construction” view of the Constitution, but in practice he embraced the “originalist” interpretation of the Federalists when it suited his needs, such as when he had the opportunity to buy the Louisiana Territories from France and saw nothing specific in the Constitution to say that he could. With the support of Congress, he simply did so anyway.

As for Madison – after collaborating with George Washington on the Constitution and working with Alexander Hamilton to win ratification – the slightly built Virginian aristocrat gradually slid back into the swamp of Virginia’s slave-owning politics. A major slaveholder himself and representing other slaveholders, Madison shifted his allegiance to the Jeffersonian camp and succeeded Jefferson as president in 1809.

However, after the debacle of the War of 1812 when an underfunded federal government could not defend Washington D.C. from British destruction, Madison reversed direction again, ignoring Jefferson’s “strict construction” principles to support the creation of the Second Bank of the United States in 1817.

In the ensuing decades, the back-and-forth struggle over the scope of federal power continued as the South insisted that Jefferson’s pseudo-constitutional inventions, such as a state’s right to “nullify” federal law, prevented the national government from imposing restrictions on the institution of slavery as it spread to new states in the west.

Finally, with the election of anti-slavery President Abraham Lincoln in 1860, the southern slave states seceded from the Union, drafting their own constitution that explicitly enshrined slavery as a permanent fixture. The bloody Civil War finally ended slavery in 1865 and forced the South back into the Union, but white southern resistance continued to federal laws demanding equal rights for blacks.

Rewriting the Constitution

The relevance of this history to the present is not only that the ideological descendants of the Confederacy are now up in arms over the election and reelection of the first African-American president but that they are insisting on the slaveholders’ distortion of the Constitution, over its truly “originalist” interpretation and the plain reading of its words.

The overwhelmingly white Tea Party, with its foothold in the overwhelmingly white Republican Party, has now developed a new variation on the theory of “nullification,” asserting that the Tea Party’s Confederate-style interpretation of the Constitution must be accepted by the rest of the nation or the country will face endless political extortion.

Like Gary Oldman’s team of Russian ultranationalists in “Air Force One,” the Tea Partiers have maneuvered themselves into a position where they can extort concessions from the President. All they have to do is keep shooting hostages until the price becomes so high that the U.S. government acquiesces to their demands.

Then, in effect, the United States will have adopted a new constitutional system in which white neo-Confederates, calling themselves the Tea Party, can extract whatever political outcome they want. They will have done away with not only the Framers’ original intent – that the federal government should do what’s necessary to provide for the general welfare of the American people – but of democratic majority rule, period.

Ironically, the first electoral test of the Tea Party’s neo-Confederate strategy will come in the fight for the Virginia statehouse in Richmond, which once was home to the Confederacy’s capital. The November election of a new governor pits centrist Democrat Terry McAuliffe against Tea Party favorite, Republican Ken Cuccinelli.

Northern Virginia is being especially hard hit by the government shutdown but much of Virginia is considered prime Tea Party territory. So, the Nov. 5 election should be a good measuring stick for whether the Tea Party’s new politics of hostage-taking will succeed, whether the United States will see a new dawn of extremism, a government of, by and for political extortionists.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

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10 comments on “America’s Government by Extortion

  1. incontinent reader on said:

    Obama, as did First Lady Hillary Clinton two decades ago, offered a health care bill that excluded any consideration of a single payer plan- something people were already used to with Medicare- and instead opted for a plan that would be satisfactory to the insurance company lobby. It did not help that the plan was so complicated and its legislation so lengthy that no Senator or Representative could have read it carefully, if at all, in the time they had available before voting on it. Nonetheless, it was an improvement over what so many American people had- namely nothing- whether or not it included a mandate, and regardless of whether the mandate was a tax, as the Supreme Court held as the law of the land, or an ‘unconstitutional’ economic penalty which the naysayers still maintain.

    Now, given where we are, it is foolhardy not to test the plan for at least a year or two without being obstructed by the Tea Party or anyone else, and from what we already know, there is strong reason to believe that most people will be much better off, as against a few who may pay more for the same coverage. In the meantime, if the President had any guts he would take Ted Cruz and company to the mat, just as JFK did early in his Presidency with US Steel and the other major steel companies when he faced them down for violating their agreement not to raise prices after the steel workers union had made wage concessions. Obama, might, for example, threaten and then suspend or cancel some or all federal procurement contracts in the respective districts of those representatives voting to close down the government, and through the media let the workers in those districts who are furloughed or laid off know why he has ‘been forced to do so’, in order to put the pressure on their representatives. It’s called patronage, jawboning, political hardball, and the economic consequences of a government shutdown, and he could do it if he had the cajones.

    He could also risk the wrath of the insurance companies and finally propose changing Obamacare to a single payer plan, and be able to sell it as an extension of Medicare, a program with which the nation has had experience and is comfortable with.

    As for the allegations that a single payer plan would cause long queues, the country could invest in:
    1) more medical and nursing schools;
    2) more doctors and nurses; and
    3) more clinics and hospitals and public health services;
    and by doing so increase their supply to shorten wait times and bring down prices and fees to be absorbed by the Government without imposing an artificial reimbursement schedule, and, by the way, investing in the type of needed infrastructure that would help stimulate the economy and employment. The Government could also subsidize medical school tuition and malpractice insurance for doctors starting their practice, in exchange for working in underserved communities- for example, one year of service for each year of subsidized tuition. (Indeed, they could do it for all college and post graduate students to spread affordable education and skills throughout American society. Now that would energize and strengthen education and American competitiveness, even if the owners of charter schools who have profited from the privatizing of public education would disagree.

    Moreover, many legal experts believe Obama already has the power under Article II, Section 3 (i.e., to take care that the laws of the United States are faithfully executed) to exceed the debt ceiling without Congressional authority. So, he should just get on with it and exercise his Constitutional authority, instead of playing footsie with the Tea Party. Not to do so, when he has claimed the sovereign right to determine who should and should not be assassinated without any judicial or meaningful Congressional oversight makes a mockery of his reticence to deal boldly with the ‘crisis’.

    While the Tea Party may be looking to create some type of “State’s rights”, they are pissing in the wind with this President and those legislators in the mainstream of the Republican and Democratic party. What they really don’t understand is that there is a very real risk of a breakdown and transfer of both federal AND state and local power to the multinational banks and corporations, especially given the number of State and local defaults, and even more so, if the Trans Pacific Partnership treaty and US-EU Trade Agreement were signed and ratified. These treaties have been part of a stealth movement by the multinational banks and other corporations to assert financial, economic and political hegemony over nation-states, under the pretext of protecting the dollar, and the Administration has been complicit in the process and kept it secret from the American people from Day One.

    Finally, if Obama really wants to sell his budget position, he should take positive steps to stop funding this ‘endless cold war’ economy- e.g., with the Government’s purchases of multi-million dollar drones (remember the $185 million drone that crashed in a Maryland swamp in June or July, 2012?), or its trillion dollar program for the F-35 fighter jet that still can’t fly safely, or 20 or 30 or more other major procurements that are unnecessary and have contributed to our national insecurity, while breaking the fisc- and instead shift to an expanding peacetime economy. (See for example, Melvin Goodman’s March 4, 2013 article in Consortium News (http://consortiumnews.com/2013/03/04/what-has-us-militarism-wrought/ ) and his book, “National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism”.) And how about getting out of the more than 50 hotspots that we are mired in and stopping the funding of jihadist terrorists all over the world. It is absolute geopolitical and economic lunacy to keep spending on it or facilitating it.

    • Candide on said:

      I beg to disagree,during a similar moral crisis on the part of congress during the previous administration, I voiced my opinion saying that it was a wonderful and blessed oportunity to allow such dysfunction to play to its full extent.Today such an oportunity presents itself again. The purpose being that in 2014 the American people will be voting for an encore election of the same corrupt and sold out crowd to “represent” their voice in running the country. I feel that a collapse of the system through the economy or any other mayor area of concern, is the only way that hopefully will wake up the brainwashed masses to the real world of American politics.Many people share the view that only an event of cataclysmic proportions will acomplish that goal. That of course will specially and also affect presidential elections which only ensure the survival of a deeply flawed system running against the common good. Therefore do not condemn a blessing in desguise and let it play to the end because is good, very good.

      • Frances in California on said:

        Easy for you to say, Mr. Trapeze-Artist-Who-Never-Has-to-Do-This-Without-a-Net.

  2. F. G. Sanford on said:

    AMENDMENT XIV SECTION 4:
The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.

    There are currently 50 million people in the United states who cannot adequately feed themselves. If fifty million “minimum wage” jobs were made immediately available, this picture would change very little. You can’t live on those wages. Our Congress is largely populated by the adult children of wealthy parasites who have lived for generations on government largesse. Contrary to the welfare mythology motivating these vultures, they have become fabulously wealthy manipulating federal spending and finance laws to feather their own nests. Many of them have NEVER HAD real jobs. They live on welfare for the rich. I can think of a key government official who has never had to make a payroll, hire or fire anyone, walk to work or take the bus, spend a night in the emergency room with a sick kid, risk driving with no insurance, miss a rent or mortgage payment, stand in an unemployment line, change his own tire, choose between groceries or overdue bills, work for minimum wages, or buy clothes in a thrift shop. These are people who don’t know how the “other half” lives. But, they claim to be making these bold overtures on behalf of the American way of life.

    Apparently, one of these people with “nothing to lose” just “lost it”. I am in transit, so I only caught a blurb. Apparently, the mother of a small child just went on a shooting spree outside the U.S. Senate. No doubt this will heighten the case for increased surveillance, enhanced law enforcement, fortified vigilance and more aggressive policing. None of which, unfortunately, will address the root causes of these incidents.

    We are technically in a state of war, as the AUMF is still in effect. A case could be made that the Tea Party obstructionism now occurring amounts to treason and a conspiracy to subvert the U.S. Constitution. The legitimacy of the sequester is based NOT on law, but on a legal opinion from Benjamin Civiletti, Carter’s Attorney General. The controlling legal standard is the 14th Amendment, and it could be enforced by Executive Order. Having changed a few tires, washed a few dishes and worked in a few sweat-shops, I’d have no trouble finding the courage to make that call. Rumor has it that Jesse Ventura and Howard Stern may run on an independent ticket. How much worse could they be than what we have now? The alternatives may be Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. As things stand right now, Jesse’s got my vote. God Save America!

    • henry lester on said:

      Scotty,Sir, Slavery was abolished by Presideent Lincoln with the Emancipation proclamation:it is no longer legal.Everything else is an imitation.Certainly in a sense I can see the validity in your statement I am not alien to hyperbole but there are limits and encouraging strong feeling is only one part of things I chose your comment to respond to because it was nice and short all the others could use a bit of work.I would submit that if we accept each of us having slightly different viewpoints we could nonetheless build up a whole that would certainly offer substantial connections as yourself and the original author observe to wit that the spiritual wrongs in slavery and the manifestations in terms or wrongheadedness are perpetuated even today in different guise.thats an important point and I know You know that My point is that we have to work all together and appreciate our enemies views.”if you don’t understand your opponents viewpoint you don’t truly understand your own.”
      In other words somehow or other those who oppose slavery have done so in a manner that has left scars and keep twisting the knife trying to make it better .of course I don’t want to ignore or forget the slaves view but neither side is going to offer the whole solution.it can’t.

  3. Scotty on said:

    “Southern Anti-Federalists – the likes of Virginia’s Patrick Henry and George Mason – saw the Constitution as an eventual death knell for slavery, despite the success of southern delegates to insert clauses that implicitly accepted the continuation of slavery.”

    mmmm…you mean like the 13th Amendment as read today with its “exception” clause for slavery. Again, slavery was never abolished.

  4. Ben Chifley on said:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/30/business/treasury-auctions-set-for-the-week-of-sept-30.html?src=recg

    So who is fiscally responsible? The government or the bankers. How limited government and years of milton friedman from both republicans and democrats have created a monster.

    The French President Charles De Gaulle warned everybody in 1967. The liberal democrats denounced the treaty of versaille as they saw it as a banker takeover. They are real last 2 examples of last century of any worthy note.

    Terrrible state of affairs for everyone who doesn’t fall for slogans and one liners…

  5. James Fenno on said:

    Lets recognize the lily-white WASP and WASC (C for Catholic) southern obstructionists for what they really are. They are the John Birch Society recently awakened by the presence of an African American in the white house. They are against all people of color and all Jews. The house majority leader is not included in their number. I wonder why.

  6. James Fenno on said:

    Most importantly, besides people of color and Jews, they HATE all LGBT’s.

    • henry lester on said:

      why even bother with such a comment so-and-so hates so-and-so?are we meant to appreciate social gossip alongside the affairs of the nation?maybe they do hate someone maybe they feel they have reason that s a shame but unless you show greater care your not actually helping them.that makes you just as bad given the choice between a crook and a hypocrite most people will take the crook if they can stand them or the hypocrite if they can’t or are too worn out.is that your strategy?.how on God’s still green Earth is it Most important? to you perhaps .ok so say so.and please don’t make big statements .i’m allowed I did the job and the rule is still don’t do it unless your short on time.that is if you don’t have the time before the audience gets too restless to think.oh yeah all is a big word a fair few of them are what you describe.keep going and God bless You with good fortune