Interview with Brion McClanahan (author of Forgotten Conservatives in American History)
Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – “Let’s talk about the Abbeville Institute for a moment or two. I discussed a little bit of a recent essay that you posted up there at The Abbeville Review, which is AbbevilleInstitute.org, “Democracy, Liberty, Equality: Lincoln’s American Revolution.” The subject that’s covered here — we’re talking about the expansive power of the president when it comes to the VA. Much of this expansion of power can be traced back to when the old confederation.” Check out today’s transcript for the rest…
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: Let me ask you, you probably heard my little opinion or rant on who hit is that’s responsible for the VA mess. Am I reading Article I, Section 8 correctly?
Brion McClanahan: Absolutely. We have a problem in the United States of thinking that the president does everything. Just look at what people ask on the campaign trail: Mr. President, what are you going to do about education? Mr. President, what are you going to do about my mortgage? Mr. President, what are you going to do about gas prices? All this stuff goes back to Congress. You’re absolutely right, the care and support of the troops goes back to what Congress appropriates. Of course, we forget that. The real problem is, though, socialized medicine. My gosh, this has been an issue for years. The VA is a mess. Before we had Obamacare and all this terrible legislation that’s now trying to bring this to the entire population of the United States, we should have looked at the VA and said: This is what happens when you have socialized medicine.
We already have it in the United States. We don’t want this stuff. This is a mess. Congress is as much to blame as the president.
Mike: Not only are they to blame, but, as I said, they are the ones that are supposed to appropriate the money, and they would then write the rules. For all the hysteria over — I don’t want to absolve anyone that has been appointed as a head of the VA. If John Boehner and Eric Cantor want to get together and do something about this — let’s just make this our final statement on the matter — they certainly have the constitutional authority to do so, correct?
McClanahan: Absolutely. Of course, Ron Paul, for years, was trying to push a proposal where you would basically give veterans vouchers that they could go use at any private hospital they wanted. That legislation was always defeated because, for some reason, the Congress wants these people in government-run healthcare. It’s just a travesty in many ways.
Mike: There’s another irony there, too. The same Republicans that jump up and down and scream about socialized medicine, [mocking] “You keep your hands off my healthcare,” are perfectly willing for the government to have their hands all over the healthcare of veterans.
McClanahan: It’s laughable.
Mike: Let’s talk about the Abbeville Institute for a moment or two. I discussed a little bit of a recent essay that you posted up there at The Abbeville Review, which is AbbevilleInstitute.org, “Democracy, Liberty, Equality: Lincoln’s American Revolution.” The subject that’s covered here — we’re talking about the expansive power of the president when it comes to the VA. Much of this expansion of power can be traced back to when the old confederation — I don’t mean the Confederacy but the old confederation of states, which basically operated under the Constitution of 1787, when that ended and gave way to the post-War of Northern Aggression or a post-Civil War era where we had an expanding legislative sphere. Unfortunately, we also had an expanded set of powers for the presidency. Is it fair to say that this is the genesis point for where most of this stuff began?
McClanahan: I don’t know if you can say it’s the genesis because you can go back to someone like Andrew Jackson and his abuse of the executive branch. Heck, even George Washington marching into Pennsylvania without any authorization from the state. It really is a watershed point in American history because I think it’s the first time that you have a blatant, outright abuse of the Constitution, shredding it. They didn’t even care. You had not only Lincoln but the Congress and his proponents outside of Congress just openly violating the Constitution. The people who were calling them on this were just shouted down. In some cases they were booted out of Congress: You’re not allowed here anymore because you’re not supporting the administration. This was a flagrant abuse of the executive and congressional power. The central government was running roughshod over everything.
I think that’s where you can really say the Constitution changed. We went from, as Clyde Wilson actually famously said, from a union to an empire. It’s all been downhill from there. Of course, Lincoln is often seen as the conservative, the guy that’s pulling the reins back on this stuff. In many ways he was the catalyst for this because privately he agreed with much of the things that were going on here. Publicly he tried to portray an image of: I don’t really want to do this but I’m just going to do it because this is what the people want. He wasn’t really conservative. He’s not conserving anything of the old republic. This is something entirely new. I think that’s what we should get out of that war.
“… Rights reveals a thorough misunderstanding the volatile and varied arguments that occurred throughout the 13 states during the development of the Constitution.” This quote merits a response.
Mike: I normally wouldn’t but this is so jacked up that somebody’s got to respond to it. Where do we start with the response?
McClanahan: It’s so full of holes. First of all, she has little understanding of Burke. The American Burke, which is John Randolph of Roanoke, who Russell Kirk very famously wrote about, both in The Conservative Mind and then also a biography of Randolph. He would have advocated secession. In fact, he at one point said: Nullification is the wrong idea. If we don’t like what the central government is doing, just secede. That’s what we should do. Randolph was a firm proponent of it. Of course, in 1861, the leaders of the Confederate government were just handling Randolph and the principles of ’76 and the principles of ’98. This is what they’re looking at. She has no clue what she’s talking about there. Then, of course, the thorough misunderstanding that I have of the Constitution, this is just preposterous. She doesn’t understand what the ratifiers intended the Constitution to mean, the powers the central government would have, the relation between the states and the central government.
It’s a troubling statement that this is what most Americans think. They think that somehow the central government created the states and that the states are subservient, just mere provinces of the central government. And, of course, everything the states do is under the purview of the central power. It’s the opposite. It’s the other way around. We have to, for education shows like yours and other things, we have to try to get people to understand this. The states really have all the power. If they want to do anything, they can. They just have to be willing to do it and have a backbone. That’s the greatest problem.
Mike: In the last hour we were talking about pipelines. I said before there were pipelines, there were roads. You can go back into the early part of the 20th century. There’s even a wonderful website, especially if you’re into cars and driving and actually touring and enjoying your drive and not just trying to get there as fast as you can. It’s from the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials. They ran and still run, to my knowledge, what is called the US Highway System. You have US-1, US-2, US-11, etc., etc. They did all this, Brion, without Congress. Congress had no say-so in the matter. These roads went thousands of miles, crisscrossed 21 states at a time in some instances. The states were able to work these things out amongst themselves through intrastate compacts and working with the AASHTO. That is federalism, right?
McClanahan: Exactly right. If you talk about the Keystone Pipeline, why don’t the states just start building it? Then when they get to the border, just get in touch with the other state and say: Hey, we’ve got our pipeline right on your border. Will you hook up to it? There you go.
Mike: I made that exact argument. Sure, okay, Congress has a say-so in crossing the border from Canada into Montana or North Dakota. Fine. We’re going to offload all of it here and now it becomes the property of Marathon Oil. Now, where are we going with the pipes? It’s as simple as that.
McClanahan: It’s just silly to think that Congress has this much power. In so many ways, the national government — this is the main problem with nationalism. Some of the ideas that we want from the national government, of course, you and I would support. It would be a good idea. Then the left can say the same thing.
The real problem is, what happens if we’re not in power or the left is not in power? Then our ideas are forced down the throat of the other side or our ideas are forced down their throat. That was the whole point of federalism. If you want to live in the socialist utopia of California, then go live there. You can have all the stuff you want in California, but don’t legislate for me in Alabama. The idea of federalism was to allow people to actually have greater freedom to do what they want in self-government.
I think it’s so sad that we’re in a situation where we have this top-down, one-size-fits-all approach. That’s exactly what the founders didn’t want. New England didn’t want to be governed by the South and vice versa. They understood that in 1788 and 1787. It’s just that we’ve forgotten that now. It’s sad because we have all of these things coming out of the national government that creates this problem where nobody thinks the government really represents them anymore and no side is ever happy with the result. Let’s decentralize. That’s what the founding generation would say. Let’s go back to that. That would work.
End Mike Church Show Transcript