Mark Levin is a conservative talk radio host with a tradition of writing some of the finest non-fiction books of our time. Following in the footsteps of his best-sellers “Liberty and Tyranny” and “Ameritopia” comes “The Liberty Amendments,” a serious proposal to bring America back to its constitutional roots and away from the statism that progressives have created in the past hundred years.
Mark is a dear friend of the Media Research Center’s, and we welcome him once again to NewsBusters (video follows with transcript):
MARK LEVIN: Noel, how are you my friend?
NEWSBUSTERS: Good to talk to you sir.
LEVIN: A pleasure.
NEWSBUSTERS: So Mark, when you set out to write this book, what were you trying to accomplish and do you think you were successful?
LEVIN: You know, I actually started thinking about this book while I was in the middle of writing “Ameritopia” because I was laying out the case from a political and philosophical point of view against what I call this utopian statism which is at the heart of what some call modern day liberalism. And also comparing it to and contrasting to conservatism which has as its core our founding principles. And writing “Ameritopia” on the heels of “Liberty and Tyranny” I just started to think “What do we do about all this?” And many of my callers have said over the years, “Okay, what do we do about all of this?” And so while writing “Ameritopia,” that was in the back of my mind.
And so when I finished “Ameritopia,” and took a rest, because researching your own book, writing it and editing it, is an exhausting exercise. I jumped into this issue, and I concluded after initial skepticism that the Framers showed us the way. The Framers spoke to us, and if we would just look hard enough, and ignore all the static that goes on today about the government, the federal government, what we can and can't do, and embrace our history and embrace our Constitution, there is recourse, and they provide it. Now, it's not easy. In fact it's daunting. But it's there. And it's in Article V, the Second Amendment process, or the second process for amending the Constitution.
Have I succeeded in getting the message out? I don't think I'll ever completely succeed in getting the message out because it's not just up to me. I'm trying to push an idea that I did not invent, that the Framers instituted, and get as many people to read about it and think about it and talk about it as possible, because I do believe we are in a post-Constitutional period. I believe the government is becoming increasingly powerful and centralized, and the further we move away from our founding principles the more dire the circumstances. And I can think of no other recourse than the recourse that our Framers provided us.
NEWSBUSTERS: Well, is it safe to assume that the mainstream media has not assisted you in getting this message out?
LEVIN: [Laughs] Well, as best as I can remember, the only mainstream media interview I have done actually occurred last Friday on CNN with Jake Tapper. It was a pretty good interview. He was very fair and he let me answer his questions. But that's about it.
The fact of the matter is the mainstream media are a mouthpiece for the state. I refer to them as the Praetorian Guard of the government, and that's exactly what they are.
So, it's not as if the New York Times is going to support or even give an honest assessment of what I've written. So I should complain about the fact that the New York Times hasn't done a book review of it. The New York Times never reviews my books, and I don't really care.
This book, like my other books, like my radio show, is intended to bypass the big media, the big government supporters, and all the obstacles to liberty and Constitutionalism that are out there, and there are many of them, and to speak directly to my audience whether it's my radio audience or the readership or both.
NEWSBUSTERS: Well, let's talk specifically about the book. You write about the Framers being extremely concerned with a more and more powerful federal government taking power away from the states. Why was this such a concern for them 250 years ago and why should we have similar concerns in the year 2013?
LEVIN: Our Founding Fathers were extremely intelligent men, and many of them were highly-schooled on The Enlightenment and philosophy before and after. They were students of history. In fact, when you look at the Declaration of Independence, it expresses a number of the philosophical views that were promoted by among others John Locke.
When you look at the Constitution, the basic construct of Separation of Powers and three branches – a legislature, an executive and a judicial – were the brainchild of among others Charles de Montesquieu. And so the Founders, and later the Framers, they were very cognizant of these men and their writings, and they were also well aware of how societies would collapse. They were well aware of what happened in Athens, in Rome, and so their biggest concern was this concentration of power - which they had just fought a revolution against of the monarchy in Britain – and the centralization of power.
And so when you look at the Constitution, in its entirety, that's what it addresses: the division of power; checks and balances; the enumeration of specific authorities within the branches of government; the Bill of Rights, which was proposed by the First Congress but demanded by the state ratification conventions prior to them ratifying the Constitution and so forth. They were extremely concerned about an all-powerful central government. On the other hand, they understood that there needed to be a central government that was more powerful than that which had been created under the Articles of Confederation.
So, the Constitution provides this blueprint, which is exactly why the utopian statist is endlessly attacking it, because utopianism and Constitutionalism cannot coexist. Utopianism requires a top down authoritarian structure which has as its purpose constantly remaking society, reshaping man, rejecting the notion of God-given natural rights and natural law. And you can see today that the utopian statists, outwardly called liberals, by far have the upper-hand today, and that we are in fact unmoored from the Constitution.
NEWSBUSTERS: Interesting. As a fiscal conservative, I wanted to spend a good amount of time on chapter 5, your spending amendments, because to me, especially with the backdrop of what's going on in Congress and the White House today with the debt ceiling and the Continuing Resolution, this is probably most apropos.
I’m a little concerned that you haven’t input exceptions for war and recessions. You offer a one year exemption if 3/5 of both Houses agree via roll call vote, but that could further politicize a war effort or remedies for a serious recession. In the case of a recession, the mandated decrease to spending to match the recession-induced decrease in tax revenues could cause a spiral that every year adds to recessionary pressures thereby exacerbating the downturn. In the case of a war, we might only have one year to pay for it. That could be very limiting to our ability to win it.
What are your thoughts?
LEVIN: Couple of things. Number one, I say in the first chapter I don't have unassailable knowledge, and I don't know anybody who does. This is the sort of thing that will be fought out at a convention of the states where the state legislatures send their delegates and they can debate these issues.
Number two, I have no concerns about the two issues you raise. If we're at war, 3/5 of Congress would support it. I said at war. If we're involved in various interventions and so forth, 3/5 of Congress may not support it. I would also tell you today, a simple majority of Congress can withhold funds from a war effort if it chose to do so. So I don't see where the 3/5 vote endangers anything in that sense. Even today, a simple majority could, if it wanted to, could deny appropriations or cut appropriations for the Defense Department or any particular military project and so forth. I don't mean to the extent of interfering with the President's commander-in-chief authorities. They can't make specific decisions about military strategy and so forth, but Congress certainly can cut off funding, and in fact Congress did cut off funding, and that's how the Vietnam War ended. They didn't need 3/5 vote to do it. They had a simple majority. That's number one.
Number two, as for recessions, we had recessions and didn't have recessions well before this massive federal leviathan. In fact, we had them well before the Federal Reserve even existed. So I don't accept the notion of all this QE2 or borrowing and so forth to get us out of a recession. As a matter of fact, it's my recollection, early in the Reagan years under Paul Volcker, he tightened up money. It was a very, very difficult period, but it led to 25 years of economic growth and wealth creation like we've never seen in this country, certainly not in the last century.
So, the goal here, just to be very clear about this, is to prevent Congress from destroying our economy and our society, and if you look at events today, this really is what this is all about. It's not simply about increasing the debt ceiling this time around as opposed to last time around. This is about trying to address a $17 trillion fiscal operating debt, a over $90 trillion debt in terms of unfunded liabilities, for which there's not enough money on the planet to address, and the refrain from the government itself, whether it's the General Accountability Office, the Congressional Budget Office, the actuaries and trustees for Social Security and Medicare, that these programs are unsustainable, that this spending is unsustainable. To place Constitutional limits on Congress, that already exist in terms of the subject matter, but they defy it, but to put these financial limits in place, these spending limits in place, these taxing limits in place to try and prevent the nation from going over the cliff financially.
Now, you might ask me, “Well, what's to tell Congress to comply with this particular amendment when it's not complying with the rest of the Constitution?” The beauty of this I think, in “The Liberty Amendments,” is at bottom, I am moving ultimate decision-making authority where possible or rational away from the federal government, or, at least, empowering the states, and specifically the state legislatures, to share in some of that authority.
So, when you have what I believe is a runaway, rogue federal government that is caught in its own spider web, and it can't seem to get out, doesn't even want to get out, there has to be a way for the people, not through majoritarianism or populism, but through representative government to address it, and that would be through the state legislatures which, by the way, would have to propose and ratify this particular reform amendment.
NEWSBUSTERS: Right. Well, the other thing that I would conceivably want to see in that spending amendment is eliminating the unified budget. As you know, prior to FY 1969, the actual revenues and expenditures of the federal government were separate from Medicare, Social Security, and the railroad pension. And in 1968, Johnson's people said, “If we were to unify all of this, you'd have the first surplus since Eisenhower.” And he was looking for a win after Vietnam turning so badly.
It seems to me that this unification has clearly added to the federal government's ability to spend significantly more than the tax revenues, and any amendment associated with spending should definitely strip and de-unify us again so that the actual expenditures and the revenues are one budget, Social Security is another budget, Medicare is another budget, especially as we move into the next ten or twenty years when Social Security and Medicare spending will explode. It seems imperative for us as fiscal conservatives to want that all to be separate.
What are your thoughts?
LEVIN: I haven't given that enough thought. It seems very rational to me. But under section five of the reform amendment that I propose, it states total receipts shall include all receipts of the United States government, but shall not include those from borrowing. So, in other words, they can't get around the limit. Total outlays should include outlays of the United States government except those in repayment of debt principal.
So you see, this issue you raised would have to be resolved, wouldn't it one way or another, because the question would be, “Are the entitlements to be included in that sum or not?” And I purposely didn't address that because I think that is something that is worthy of a national debate.
NEWSBUSTERS: Interesting. Sounds good. You cited John Adams in your amendment to protect private property, and I want to read part of his quote, because I want folks to hear it, because it's so powerful, and then I want you to comment:
"Suppose a nation, rich and poor, high and low, ten millions in number, all assembled together. Not more than one or two millions will have lands, houses, or any personal property. A great majority of every nation is wholly destitute of property, except a small quantity of clothes, and a few trifles of other movables. If all were to be decided by vote of the majority, would [they] not think of usurping over the rights of the one or two millions who have? Perhaps at first prejudice, habit, shame or fear, principle or religion, would restrain the poor from attacking the rich, and the idle from usurping on the industrious. But the time would not be long before courage and enterprise would come, and pretexts be invented by degrees, to countenance the majority in dividing all the property among them, or at least in sharing it equally with its possessors. Debts would be abolished first; taxes laid heavy on the rich, and not at all on the others, and, at last a downright equal division of everything be demanded and voted."
How could Adams have been so prescient? It's extraordinary how that relates to exactly what's occurring today.
LEVIN: You know, Locke and Hume, Smith, so many of the great philosophers, and you mentioned Adams, but also Madison and Jefferson and Franklin and really all the Framers, and then subsequently de Tocqueville, they all feared democracy little “d”. They all feared that a majority or a faction might seize control and then destroy this whole notion of property rights.
And what really are we talking about? When we talk about property rights, we're talking about liberty. And by that, what's meant is you have a limited time on this earth, and you spend a significant percentage of the time you have on this earth working, investing, whether it's physical labor or intellectual labor. And maybe you spend a third of your time, maybe you spend 60 percent of your time, whatever it is.
And so if the government steps in and seizes it directly or indirectly distributes it and gives it to somebody else, they're actually seizing and redistributing your liberty - the finite time you have on this earth that you spent on this earth pursuing whatever your interests are to accumulate whatever it is that you're accumulating.
So if you start from that basis, which Adams did and some of the others did, yes, what you see happening today is really an abomination, and this is why property rights were considered so important at the time because any government that has the power to confiscate property, essentially willy nilly, or interfere with it, or give it to somebody else, is by definition a tyranny.
And so, we can go back hundreds of years, a thousand years. We can look at the Framers, we can look at some people who speak to this today, and it's exactly right. And yet that's precisely what's happening today.
So, Adams was quite right, and the Constitution was set up to try and prevent this.
This is why, by the way, we are a republic and not a democracy. And when you look at our system of government, or the way it's supposed to function, the House was the only body whose members were directly elected. The president's not directly elected. There's an electoral college. The Senate, state legislatures chose members until 1913 when the progressives succeeded in amending the Constitution.
So, when we talk about unalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence, these are rights that are God-given. They're not up to vote. They're not up to a vote. They're not the subject, or are not supposed to be a majoritarian will. You're born with these rights.
So this is very, very important for people to remember today as we go through all these debates over ObamaCare and the rest of it.
NEWSBUSTERS: Well, isn't it interesting to you? It seems history has depicted, or maybe the history books I've read, have depicted Adams as being, for lack of a better term, liberal. He was not considered one of the conservatives in either of the Conventions. Yet what he's put forth here is clearly not modern liberal views. Is it just that liberalism has changed in the past hundred years?
LEVIN: I would not, see the terms we use today to describe these men may not be accurate. I wouldn't consider Adams a conservative. He supported the revolution. He was on the committee that helped draft the Declaration of Independence. He was at the Constitutional Convention. He was very active in his own state. So he was a revolutionary.
Now, that said, revolutionary back then meant individuals who were trying to promote individual sovereignty, and a stable just government, and rule of law. So, I guess today we could call that conservative. And we could also juxtapose that with the French Revolution which was pretty bloody and evil, and I guess today we would say was really sort of terrorism in many ways.
So I think the great debate at the time, even though the Framers didn't agree with each other on everything, this much is clear, they did have very important, broad, fundamental agreement on the nature of man and the nature of government – that man needed to be protected from government, and yet they needed a just stable government to protect man from each other.
So, that's what they tried to do in the Constitution. You don't see that today. What's happening today is we don't even debate what the Framers intended. They are dismissed. We don't even talk about the philosophy that underlies our founding. That's just not done. And instead we get these discussions about who should give what to whom, and who should make these decisions. It's an absolute mess.
I don't know if this nation's headed toward a more aggressive form of centralized tyranny, or if it's headed toward some form of anarchy. But it scares the hell out of me, and I'm quite worried about what's going to happen 20, 30, 40 years down the road.
NEWSBUSTERS: Well, and you're right. There has been a change. That's kind of interesting, because throughout the book, you talk about how the Framers were cognizant of man’s weaknesses and frailties, and that this is why they didn't want to give them too much power. Yet today's liberal also is concerned about man's frailties and weaknesses, but feels that giving a small number of people in government power is the answer to that.
LEVIN: That is exactly right, and that's happened over and over and over again in human history. So we have the odd argument that many cannot be trusted with making decisions for themselves, but a handful can be trusted with making decisions for the many. And you have to ask yourself, “Well, where do these handful of geniuses come from?” These are what I call governing masterminds. Well, they don't come from anywhere, and they come from everywhere. In other words, they're not governing masterminds. I mockingly call them that. They're just as imperfect as everybody else.
The problem is because we're unmoored from the Constitution, they've been able to continue to seize more and more power from themselves to rule over us.
NEWSBUSTERS: Yep. Anything else you want to tell our readers, Mark?
LEVIN: I want to tell them to, as difficult as these times are, and they are, remain hopeful, and not surrender to this. I hope that “The Liberty Amendments,” among other sources, will give them that hope, and also give them some recourse, because I honestly believe that the Framers gave us a way out of this over time, and at some point we're going to need to turn to it.
NEWSBUSTERS: Indeed. Thank you for your time today, sir. It's greatly appreciated.
LEVIN: Noel, God bless, brother. You take care.
NEWSBUSTERS: Thank you, sir.