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September 07, 2002


I don't know how TBP has time to write so much, but I'm glad he does because a lot of it is very provocative. For example, last Thursday he wrote:

I always chuckle at the global frustration with America over our unwillingness to sign onto global organizations that have any real power over the United States.... .... I'd love to sit people down and explain, "look, it's nothing against these organizations, but we're a federalist republic." By that, I mean that we simply cannot join any group that has power over the nation without them being from within the nation. We are Constitutionally prohibited from doing so. The second we allowed such power, we are denying the voters the representative democracy guaranteed to them within the U.S. Constitution.

The reason this really grabbed me is that it's so closely related to the whole "we are all interdependent" thing that is leading me toward law (explained below). As I read it, TPB's reasoning sounds good, but only in theory. Setting aside for a moment NAFTA (1), it seems absurd to say that the U.S. Constitution prohibits the U.S. from signing international treaties or joining international bodies with real power. If the U.S. is such a representative democracy, then if the majority of voters support these treaties and organizations (i.e., the World Court or the Kyoto environmental protocol), then the U.S. government has a constitutional obligation to sign or participate in them. (2) But aside from the issue of constitutionality, it's also absurd to assert or imply that the U.S. has the right or even the ability to conduct its domestic or foreign affairs however it sees fit, even when U.S. conduct conflicts with international opinion or law.(3)
We may be the world's only superpower, we may have vast resources, a huge economy, the most and biggest guns; however, none of these things changes the fact that our actions have consequences. When we refuse to sign international environmental protection agreements because they might be expensive (Kyoto), we continue destroying the environment for everyone on the planet. Do we have a right to do that? Is such arrogance and selfish disregard for the planet guaranteed by the Constitution?

The point is, the individual ethos of America is a nice ideal, but it has real and unbreakable limits, both on the micro and macro level. Whether we like it or not, the U.S. is a member of a global community; we can't change that fact. If we continue trying to pretend otherwise, we will, eventually, pay the price. Unfortunately, the rest of the world might pay even more. In light of our interdependence, do we really want to interpret the Constitution as preventing us from participating in international treaties or organizations?

(1) NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, seems to directly contradict TPB's claim that the U.S. can't join "any group that has power over the nation without them being from within the nation." See in particular Chapter 11, which apparently allows for secret, closed-door hearings in which corporations (foreign and domestic) can force the U.S. to pay damages to corporate interests that are "harmed" (even in theory) by such things as U.S. environmental protections. The transcript of the Bill Moyers PBS special on this topic from last February explains in more detail; however, what NAFTA suggests is that the U.S. government ignores the supposed Constitutional prohibition against joining groups that have power over the nation when that power serves the interests of business. At least that's what it looks like to me.
(2) Perhaps the fact that American voters seem largely excluded from these decisions is a comment on the efficacy of our representative democracy. How different is our system from the E.U.'s "patriarchical think tank form of government," really?
(3) The issue of the Bush Administration's creation of an entirely new species of being—the "enemy combatant"—flouts not only international, but U.S. law as well. What does our Constitution say about calling people different things in order to put them outside of all law? By what authority are people being deprived of internationally agreed-upon rights?

Posted September 7, 2002 11:43 AM | general politics

Scouts honor, I will reply, because this is good stuff. However, you're going to have to give us the juice as to what's holding you back from going down the road toward law....

Posted by: TPB, Esq. at September 9, 2002 05:43 PM

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