The ‘Great Generation’?

By Walter Williams

The American generation who suffered through the Great Depression and defeated the tyrannical designs that Adolf Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo Hideki had for the world has often been called “the great generation.” Will history see it that way? Let’s look at it, but first start with a couple of statements from two truly great Americans.

In 1794, Congress appropriated $15,000 for relief of French refugees. James Madison stood on the floor of the House to object, saying, “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” James Madison, you’ll recall, is the acknowledged father of the Constitution, and he couldn’t find constitutional authority for spending “on the objects of benevolence.”

Your congressman might say, “Madison was all wrong; after all, there’s the ‘general welfare’ clause.” Here’s what Madison had to say about that: “With respect to the two words “general welfare,” I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.” Thomas Jefferson echoed similar sentiments saying, “Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated.”

When the great generation was born, Congress spent only three percent of the GDP. Today, as the great generation dies off, Congress spends over a quarter of the GDP. There is no constitutional authority for at least three-quarters of that spending.

Let’s look at the recent election campaign. Whether it was a Democratic or Republican candidate, for the most part, they won votes by promising to spend the money of their constituents “on the objects of benevolence.” They promised to violate the rights of some Americans for the benefit of other Americans. They promised to take money from younger Americans to buy prescription drugs for elderly Americans, take money from non-farmers to give to farmers and take money from wealthier people to give to poorer people. In a word or two, politicians campaigned on an unstated promise to ignore any oath of office to protect and defend the United States Constitution and instead go to work on undermining it.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t blame only politicians. For the most part, they’re only the instruments of a people who have growing contempt for our Constitution. You say, “Hold it, Williams. Now you’ve gone too far!” Check it out. How many votes do you think a James Madison-type senatorial candidate would get if his campaign theme was something like this: “Elect me to office. I will protect and defend the U.S. Constitution. Because there’s no constitutional authority for Congress spending on the objects of benevolence, don’t expect for me to vote for prescription drugs for the elderly, handouts to farmers and food stamps for the poor. Instead, I’ll fight these and other unconstitutional congressional expenditures”? I’ll tell you how many votes he’ll get: It will be Williams’ vote, and that’s it.

The “great” generation has transformed the electoral process from voting for those most likely to protect our God-given rights to liberty and property, to voting for those most likely to violate those rights for the benefit of others. There’s no question that the “great” generation spared the world from external tyranny, but it has outdone any other generation in destroying both the letter and the spirit of our Constitution, and as such produced a form of tyranny for which there’s little defense.