What ‘constitutional conservatism’ means to me

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I am a constitutional conservative. So what does that mean? I’ve earned a couple of law degrees, but defining “constitutional conservatism” shouldn’t require a legal scholar. Let me start by pointing out that the conservative movement, as Ronald Reagan believed, is a three-legged stool. One leg consists of peace-through-strength conservatives, another of fiscal and economic conservatives, and the third of social conservatives — the values voters.

Constitutional conservatism includes all three of those legs. My candidacy is based on the unity of the conservative movement — because each leg of the stool is vital.

I believe our founders knew what they were doing when they designed a limited government with specific, enumerated powers. I’m also convinced that many of our problems result from the federal government’s insatiable — and unconstitutional — grab for power and money. On issues ranging from light bulbs to bailouts, to the Dodd-Frank banking legislation, Washington has been on a destructive spree of bureaucratic empire-building. It’s time for that to stop.

Moreover, I believe in the unjustly neglected Tenth Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Instead of piling more costly mandates on the states and intrusive laws on the people, our federal government should respect all of the resources and responsibilities that properly belong to the states, to local governments, to private industry and, most of all, to the people.

James Madison cautioned that for a “government to control the governed” it must be obliged “to control itself.” A government that fails to exercise self-control and respect its own boundaries is a threat to the rights and liberties of its citizens. Among those rights is the right to life. I believe we must restore and respect the dignity of life for all, the born and unborn. As we read in the Declaration of Independence, we are endowed by our Creator with rights, starting with the right to life.

Another essential right is embodied in the Second Amendment: the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms. Whether for self-defense, hunting or recreation, this right must be protected.

And of course, we must repeal Obamacare. We must pull it up by its roots for many good reasons, including the fact that the so-called personal mandate is unconstitutional.

In addition to individual rights, the Constitution establishes vital checks and balances among the branches of government. As Montesquieu argued, the separation of governmental powers stands as a roadblock to tyranny. We’ve seen President Obama stretch that separation with his unjustified military action in Libya.

As commander in chief, I’ll make sure that America will lead from the front, not “lead from behind.” If we do go to war, we will fight with the resources we need to succeed. I will listen to my generals and admirals, not my pollsters. I will safeguard American sovereignty and I will protect our borders. But from the beginning, I will think always of — and abide always by — the United States Constitution.

Finally, let’s consider perhaps the most pressing current issue of all: the proposed increase in the national debt ceiling. I will vote against any increase in the debt ceiling because there needs to be a fundamental restructuring in how Washington spends taxpayer dollars. Unfortunately, the Obama administration didn’t seem eager recently to quash the notion that the congressional power of the purse, as enumerated in Article One of the Constitution, is merely a detail that can be pettifogged away by sharp lawyers. On this issue, I stand with the clear thinking of former federal judge Michael McConnell, who wrote recently, “Section Four of the Fourteenth Amendment does not create a back-door method for the Administration to borrow more money without congressional authorization.” It’s that philosophy — a strict construction of the Constitution — that I will look for in judicial appointees and that I will bring back to the executive branch.

In the meantime, I will continue to oppose any increase in the debt limit; I will oppose the budgetary shenanigans aimed at persuading Americans that phony spending cuts are somehow real. Constitutional conservatives, and all conservatives, should draw a firm line here.

It is time to put an end to government power grabs. It is time to restore constitutional government.

Rep. Michele Bachmann represents the Sixth District of Minnesota and is a candidate for President of the United States.