photo credit: **Anna

This morning, the Sutherland Institute held their monthly blogger briefing. Today’s event was the first debate Jason Chaffetz (R) and Bennion Spencer (D) who are running for Congress in the third congressional district. Notably absent was Jim Noorlander, the Constitution Party candidate for the same office.

Lyall Swim, Sutherland’s Director of Operations, requested that we bloggers submit questions to be asked of the candidates. I was informed this morning that not too many others besides myself had submitted any, and so several of the ones used were mine. For reference, I submitted the following questions:

  1. The Iraq war was authorized by Congress with a transfer of authority to the executive branch, even though the Constitution states that Congress alone has the authority to declare war. If faced with a similar vote in the future, say, with respect to Iran, would you attempt to defer your authority as a congressman to the executive branch to make war?
  2. Our country has many welfare-like programs to help the poor and needy (medicare, medicaid, social security, food stamps, etc.). Do you believe that the federal government has the Constitutional authority to provide such programs?
  3. Please explain your understanding of the general welfare clause in the Constitution.
  4. If elected, you will take an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution from both foreign and domestic enemies. Please list at least three current domestic enemies of the Constitution, and what you would do as congressman to defend the Constitution from them.
  5. Are Americans taxed too much? If you believe they are, what taxes would you work to eliminate? If you believe they are not, what additional taxes would you propose, or which would you increase?
  6. Individuals cannot financially survive through continual borrowing, yet this is what the federal government has been doing for some time. Do you think America is financially solvent? Please describe your understanding of our current debt.
  7. Partisan politics often prevent progress from occurring in all levels of government. What steps will you take to lead, not as a Republican or Democrat, but as an American?
  8. What are the two biggest threats we face as a country today?
  9. In what ways is the Constitution being ignored or sidestepped today?
  10. What steps will you take, if elected, to foster and promote transparency of government in office?

The two candidates were asked questions #7, 8, and 10. Perhaps other questions were selected, but due to a lack of time only a total of six questions were asked. Each candidate was given 15 minutes at the beginning to offer their own remarks. Nothing much interesting happened here, save for the outburst by Chaffetz in demanding an apology from Spencer for allegedly mischaracterizing Chaffetz’s immigration policy.

In Chaffetz’s opening remarks, he discussed a number of issues on his platform, many of which sounded good to a Constitutionalist. However, throughout his remarks when the subject of foreign policy came up, Chaffetz referred to “islamic extremism”, the need for a strong military, and the current impossibility (as he called it) of cutting our defense budget. Such comments lead me to believe that Chaffetz is a neocon-in-waiting, and while quite rock solid on most domestic policy, buys into the interventionist world view. I believe that if your foreign policy is not based in freedom and in harmony with the Constitution, then it doesn’t matter what your domestic policy is. The Patriot Act (and other post-9/11 legislation) demonstrate Benjamin Franklin’s warning that when you give up liberty for security, you end up with neither.

Mr. Spencer used his opening remarks to push a number of issues. First, he argued repeatedly for term limits, stating that if a politician really believed in an issue he would better be able to speak his mind if he wasn’t worried about winning yet another election. He obviously would disagree, then, with my assertion that a true statesman can and will speak his mind, regardless of political points and possible consequences. I believe that term limits are an erroneous attempt at fixing the problem. We the people can elect whomever we please; it is our apathy and laziness that is to blame—not the length of a politician’s term.

Spencer also stated that we have to re-establish America’s place in the world. “We’re number one,” he said, claiming that we have to use our “mantle of leadership” to once again re-assert our place at the top of the global totem pole. The obvious question to ask here is: who says America should be number one? Or perhaps a better question: what once made American “number one” among nations? We didn’t become the beacon of prosperity and liberty by forcing our way to the top. Instead, government (back in the day) stayed out of the way and allowed Americans to prosper and become leaders in economy, academia, science, technology, and other fields. Legislation does not create moral superiority, despite what Spencer may insinuate. We would better spend our time reducing government and re-establishing freedom, rather than trying to use force and law to push our way up the top.

The final note I’ll make is in regard to a question asked of the candidates regarding health care. Each was asked if he considered health care to be a constitution right. This is obviously an issue that confuses many (Congressmen included), and so it was interesting to note the difference in philosophy between the two. Chaffetz’s comments were typical of a fiscal conservative: get the government out of the way, let the states handle it as they please, and transition this issue to the private sector. Spencer’s thoughts, however, were quite disappointing.

Answering the question directly, Mr. Spencer admitted that there is no constitutional right to health care. However, he then proceeded to argue that we have “some kind of a moral obligation” to take care of “a civic community”, to “make sure that everyone has a good standard of living”. Further justifying his position (and perhaps attempting to argue on what authority he might base his position), he argued that “it’s just the right thing to do. Health care is a right.” Note the initial admission that health care is not a constitutional right. Despite that fact, Spencer proposes that some nebulous right exists nonetheless, perhaps implicitly requiring the federal government to act on behalf of this “civic community” and do “the right thing”. This attempt to conjure up some imaginary need (and thus justify government intervention) is part and parcel of what Congress has been doing for the past century.

I worry about both of these candidates in office, and am saddened that Mr. Noorlander was not invited to participate. Chaffetz is clearly the “lesser of two evils” in this case, and most of his stuff sounds good to my ears. I worry about his foreign policy, though, and fear that he’ll vote along with the rest of Congress regarding any military action, especially dealing with Iran. Though his domestic issues are usually spot on, they are of little concern if he’ll simply vote us into continual warfare in the future. Spencer had a hard time giving any direct answers today, let alone justifying what authority he would have as a Congressman to pursue the ideas he promoted. He was short on solutions, and simply used his time to discuss a number of problems. I don’t see anything remarkable about his platform, since it seems to be the status quo and not much else.

Round one was interesting at the very least, and it will be informative to see these two interact down the road as we lead up to election day.

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