Different century, same story

This item via Kevin Drum caught my eye. Tells the story of Hammer v Dagenhart, an early 20th century case that went to the Supreme Court:

The parallels between the child labor issue and the health care issue are remarkable. In both cases, the legislation in question was the product of a decades-long struggle….Only the federal government could address the issue, since no state would act on its own….Both then and now, challengers to the statutes had to propose that the Supreme Court invent new constitutional rules in order to strike them down. At the time it considered the issue in 1918, there was nothing in the Supreme Court’s case law that suggested any limit on Congress’s authority over what crossed state lines. On the contrary, the Court had upheld bans on interstate transportation of lottery tickets, contaminated food and drugs, prostitutes, and alcoholic beverages.

That’s why the Supreme Court’s invalidation of the law in 1918 astounded even those who had most strenuously opposed enactment. Hammer v. Dagenhart declared — in tones reminiscent of the Broccoli Objection to Obamacare — that if it upheld the law “all freedom of commerce will be at an end, and the power of the States over local matters may be eliminated, and, thus, our system of government be practically destroyed.” Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, dissenting, wondered how it could make sense for congressional regulation to be “permissible as against strong drink but not as against the product of ruined lives.” The Court responded that unlike all the contraband that it had permitted Congress to block, the products of child labor “are of themselves harmless.” This meant a completely novel constitutional doctrine: The Court took unto itself the power to decide which harms Congress was permitted to consider when it regulated commerce.

As Drum notes, bears some resemblance to the health care issue that the Supreme Court just decided, doesn’t it?

That reminded me of a book I read which discusses the political factions and their clashes right after the U.S. was founded. Lotsa stuff about Jefferson and Hamilton. One of the things that truly amused me was the rhetoric that the two sides used. Democratic Republicans decried the Federalists ‘monarchists’ while the Federalists slimed the Jeffersonians as ‘Jacobins.’ Now, ‘monarchist’ doesn’t have much of a contemporary, but the way that Hamilton’s crew threw around ‘Jacobin’ is pretty much exactly how wingers use the term ‘socialist’ today. Some 200 some odd years later, the rhetoric hasn’t changed a whit.

Or, for a more recent example, look at the political rhetoric during the 1930s and 40s. Business leaders from then could fit right in with our butthurt Galtian Overlords of today, railing about FDR’s socialism and communism and lack of deference. Times may change, but people, and the arguments they use, really don’t.


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