Constitutional Charity

I received feedback on the column I wrote, “Death and Taxes,” in September. Overall the reader agreed with my position, but found herself bothered by my lack of compassion for needy people. In the column I argued we do everything we can to avoid death, but not to avoid taxes. I accept we need to pay taxes to the extent we need to support a civilized society, but I take issue with tax collection for other purposes that are non-essential.

She said we have a duty to “take care of those in need” and this position was prompted by her values. I certainly agree with the desire and need to take care of others, and personally I have given time and money to charitable causes. This issue has always seemed to be a bone of contention between people with one side appearing to lack any compassion and the other giving away everything with no concern for consequences. However, I know I am not without compassion and through my actions I know I help those in need. But, I believe this should be done through charity and is not a role of government.

Fortunately, I believe I found the clarity to express my thoughts better; several weeks ago I read a weekly column by writer Frank Miele of the “Daily Inter Lake” in Kalispell, Montana. In his column, he used the historical example of Davey Crockett, the three-term Congressman from Tennessee in the 1820s who found himself confronted by an angry constituent, Horatio Bunce, about Crockett’s recent vote for a bill to provide $20,000 of federal funds fire victims ravaged and left homeless in nearby Georgetown. Crockett was asked, “Where do you find in the Constitution any authority to give away the public money in charity?” Like most of us, Crockett gave a list of reasons about helping others and doing the right thing, giving charity.

“You gave a vote last winter which shows that either you have not capacity to understand the Constitution, or that you are wanting in the honesty and firmness to be guided by it. In either case you are not the man to represent me,” Bunce said. Upon review, it is obvious, the founding fathers made no accommodation for a constitutional authority of the government to transfer the wealth of one citizen to another through the process of taxation. Modern examples of this would be hurricanes and wildfires. Of course, other more questionable examples abound such as “Cash for Clunkers”, first-time home buyer subsidies, funding shortfalls to the New York unemployment fund, the health insurance reform proposals, and any other federal program providing direct payments and transfers of wealth from one group of citizens to another.

This past summer Tea Parties made headlines, unfortunately they were sensationalized for many wrong reasons. The idea for the Tea Parties was spurned by Rick Santelli on CNBC when he editorialized in outrage over the proposals for government stimulus programs. This outrage was not due to lack of compassion for those in need or lack of concern for America and the economy. It was outrage over the reach of government into individual wealth, no matter how big or small, and the desire to take it and transfer it to others.

Like Davey Crockett I struggle with my personal since of compassion versus constitutional intent. We have a strong document that was meant to create a sound democracy for centuries. Every time it is “interpreted”, ignored, and eroded for social purposes we take away our own liberties and freedoms.

Copyright (c)2009 John R. Nelson. All Rights Reserved.