Jonah Goldberg

But abdication of constitutional responsibilities is the order of the day. State attorneys general, led by New York's Elliot Spitzer, form unconstitutional compacts between the states without the required consent of Congress. Congress passes laws without a moment's concern about their constitutionality, on the novel but deeply held popular conviction that if the Supreme Court doesn't object, it must be OK. Once upon a time, whole bills were thrown out because some senator or congressmen objected that the proposed legislation, however well-intentioned, simply exceeded constitutional authority. Today we legislate by curveball, write whatever laws we like in the hope that the squinty-eyed umpires of the court don't call a strike.

Presidents have been just as bad, including George W. Bush. He campaigned against the proposed McCain-Feingold campaign finance "reform" in the 2000 election. At the time Bush argued, rightly, that the legislation violated numerous constitutional principles. When the bill wound up his desk, however, in a more egregious form than the earlier versions, Bush signed it. If his erstwhile "serious constitutional concerns" had been justified, the president explained, then, heck, "the courts will resolve these legitimate legal questions." But when the law went before the Supreme Court, Bush's Justice Department defended it and the justices in turn upheld it, out of deference to the "government." It's all so tawdry.

There's a great deal more worth reading in DeMuth's blessedly nonpartisan primer on unlimited government, including the observation that today's heated partisanship probably has a lot to do with the fact that the government tries to do everything. This creates the sense that all that's wrong in the country is due to the other side's obstruction, and it makes both sides feel like the stakes in every election are enormous - which, increasingly, is true.

But the importance of DeMuth's message for conservatives cannot be overlooked. In recent years AEI has garnered the reputation as the president's Brain Trust. In conservative circles these days, that's not an unmitigated compliment. Too many in the GOP have felt the rush that comes with giving out other people's money, and as a result the party has become "worldly," as Martin Luther might put it, selling favors like indulgences of yore. We have confused "low taxes" - which we all like - with limited government, which we don't have. We expect Democrats to want the government to do everything, but at least they have the consistency to raise taxes in order to pay for it. Republicans lack similar convictions. Which is why they need to be born again.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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