Cato's ad, appearing in newspapers, such as The Washington Post, says that citing the Constitution is important, but understanding it is "critical." It then provides a page of text that, as Wydra points, makes clear that Cato, a self-described libertarian group, has missed the boat on understanding.
As Wydra points out, the Cato ad takes aim at constitutional powers of Congress, specifically its powers to tax, to regulate commerce and its broad power to enact laws "necessary and proper" to carry out its constitutional duties. Cato claims that Congress's powers have "since the New Deal been read as authorizing Congress to do far more than was ever imagined by those who wrote the Constitution," leading to an out-of-control federal government.
Cato's wrong, Wydra says. She writes:
Undeterred by the actual text and history of our Constitution, Cato joins an impressive array of forces that have been doing everything they can to convince Americans that our Constitution somehow establishes a weak central government incapable of acting to address national issues like health care reform, environmental protection, and financial system reform.
This is nothing less than a concerted campaign to plant in Americans' heads the ideas that the federal government has transgressed the bounds of our Nation's charter and dangerously overreached.
The problem is that the Tea Party and their allies are seeking to return to a different founding document than our actual U.S. Constitution - what they really want is a return to the failed Articles of Confederation. As my colleague David Gans and I explained in Constitutional Accountability Center's Issue Brief entitled Setting the Record Straight: the Tea Party and the Constitutional Powers of the Federal Government, the Articles of Confederation established the weak central government apparently so beloved by Cato and the Tea Party. But the Articles' experiment in weak central government was a complete failure, which is why it was jettisoned, as the Founders came together to craft a ‘more perfect union' that expressly vested the federal government with enumerated but significant powers to act in the Nation's interest. Cato's ad today pretends that the Articles were never discarded, and that the idea of a hobbled, weak central government is not a historical loser.
Yesterday, ACS published an Issue Brief by Simon Lazarus who says the forces behind the legal theories aimed at bringing down the landmark health care law are similarly looking for a return to a time when the Constitution was understood as sharply limiting the federal government's ability to address nation issues.
"If successful," Lazarus writes, "the challenges would be a major step toward reinstating a web of tight constitutional constraints on congressional authority that conservative Supreme Court majorities repeatedly invoked during the first third of the 20th century to strike down economic regulatory laws. In the late 1930s and thereafter, the Supreme Court jettisoned this conservative activist jurisprudence, replacing it with constitutional interpretations supporting Progressive Era, New Deal, Great Society, and kindred reforms."