Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University and the author of The American Bible: How Our Words United, Divide, and Define a Nation, has written “James Madison vs. Norquist” for USA Today. The “Norquist” refers to Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform. It was Norquist who worked with congressmen to pledge not to raise taxes.
The article begins well but ends poorly.
Professor Prothero points out that the Founders rejected the idea of extra-constitutional pledges. Even the practice of “instructing” members of Congress on how to vote on certain policy issues was rejected.
“Defenders of instructions saw this tradition as an affirmation of popular sovereignty and a much-needed check on representative power. But Madison, an author of the Federalist Papers and the principal architect of the Constitution, disagreed. Representative power is checked by frequent elections, he argued. Any instructions states might offer to their federal representatives should be seen as merely advisory. ‘That instructions are binding on the representatives,’ he concluded ‘is of a doubtful, if not of a dangerous, nature.’”
I have to agree, as long as the elected representatives are keeping their oath to uphold the Constitution. Professor Prothero never mentions this aspect of “instructing.” An elected official isn’t free to follow what he thinks is the right thing to do; he is bound to follow what the Constitution gives him the authority to do and nothing more.
The First Amendment that the people have a right to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Near the end of his article, Professor Prothero writes that “conservatives today need to follow . . . the examples of Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., and others who have indicated that they will disregard their anti-tax increase pledges if the good of the country demands it.”
I noticed that he didn’t say a thing about cutting spending and revamping so-called “entitlement programs.” It’s always the anti-tax people who are opposing the “good of the country.”
The “good of the country” isn’t a constitutional issue. Who’s to say what’s good for the country? In fact, decades of “good for the country” legislation has gotten the country deep in debt, so deep in fact, that the only remedy may be to default.