Easily explainable, but impossible

Michael Gerson challenges not only libertarianism (which I’ve never been able to embrace), but constitutional conservatism, which I have embraced:

The Tea Party movement, being resistant to systemization, is resistant to characterization. But in its simplest form (and there seems to be no other form), it might be called “constitutional conservatism.” It adopts a rigorous hermeneutic: If the Constitution does not specifically mention it, the federal government isn’t allowed to do it. This represents a kind of 10th Amendment fundamentalism — a muscular form of states’ rights that would undo much of the federal role since Franklin Roosevelt, perhaps since Abraham Lincoln.

This philosophy has the virtue of being easily explainable — and the drawback of being impossible. The current federal role did not grow primarily because of the statist ambitions of liberals; it grew in response to democratic choices and global challenges. Federal power advanced to rescue the elderly from penury, to enforce civil rights laws, to establish a stable regulatory framework for a modern economy, to conduct a global Cold War. The “establishment” that advanced and maintained this federal role included Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. In many areas, the federal government has gone too far, becoming bloated and burdensome. But the federal role cannot be abandoned.

So I guess the principle is “if it’s ‘necessary,’ tough luck that the constitution doesn’t allow it.”

Easily explainable, possible – and to my ears, still intolerable.

It puts us in permanent servility to court judgments of whether something “goes too far” or is “bloated and burdensome.” I’d really like a brighter line than that.