Lowry takes a Madisonian approach to the ObamaCare mandate

Rich Lowry‘s latest National Review Online column discusses the impact of the federal health care reform law’s individual mandate on our carefully constructed constitutional system.

If the mandate stands, it will be the latest blow to Madison’s scheme, which is the best architecture for self-government yet devised by man, but has been steadily worn down over time. It is a damning indictment of contemporary Washington that, overall, it is so hostile to the Madisonian ethos. He is a most inconvenient Founding Father since he tells us: No, the federal government can’t do whatever it wants; no, we can’t just all get along; no, we can’t rush to pass whatever legislation is deemed a “can’t wait” priority by the president. Now, grow up.

In the mind of contemporary progressivism, these words of Madison from the Federalist Papers simply don’t compute: “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.” They are an antiquated 18th-century sentiment unsuited to our more complex and more sophisticated time, to be ignored when not actively scorned.

But Madison thought this division of power so important for a reason: “In the compound republic of America, the power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments, and then the portion allotted to each subdivided among distinct and separate departments. Hence a double security arises to the rights of the people. The different governments will control each other, at the same time that each will be controlled by itself.”

The entire system is meant to maximize accountability and competition in the belief that the undue accumulation of power in any one source is, in Madison’s words, “the very definition of tyranny.”

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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