Robert Parry: The Founders’ ‘Musket Mandate’





Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

If Fox News and Antonin Scalia were around in 1792 when James Madison and George Washington helped push through the Militia Acts requiring citizens to buy muskets and other military supplies, those Founders likely would have heard complaints like: “What else will the federal government do? Make us buy broccoli?”

Okay, broccoli wasn’t really grown in the United States at the time, arriving in the next century with waves of Italian immigrants. But the distinction between the founding era and today is illustrative of how the seriousness of American politics has eroded.

In 1792, just four years after ratification of the U.S. Constitution, Madison and Washington – two key Framers of the document – saw nothing wrong with mandating Americans to buy certain products in the private market. It was simply a practical way for the government to arm militias to put down insurrections and defend against foreign enemies.

Last week, however, the Republican majority on the U.S. Supreme Court behaved like Fox News pundits, offering goofy hypothetical possibilities about what Congress might mandate if the Affordable Care Act’s requirement to buy health insurance stands. We heard lots about required purchases of broccoli, burial insurance, cars, cell phones, etc.

The debate also was influenced by the false assertion that never before in U.S. history had the federal government required Americans to buy a private product. For “originalists” – like Justice Scalia – that was particularly important because he claims to believe that only actions reflective of the Framers’ original vision can be constitutional....



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