In impassioned oratory that attracted the coat-room habitues to the Senate Chamber and stilled the small talk in the galleries, Sonator Borah, swerving from a discussion of policy concerning the delegation of tariff powers to the President, today became the embattled defender of the Ship of State and the Constitution. Taking his cue from Oliver Wendell Holmes' stirring plea to save the Constitution's sea-going namesake from being ignominiously scuttled, the Senator from Idaho invoked all the sentimental balderdash at his command to keep the leaky old frigate and its battery of muzzle-loaders in the first line of the battle squadron against the iron-clads of despotism. Not one of the time honored bromides concerning the Constitution as the defender of Liberty was overlooked, and the overworked shades of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln were again invoked to bolster his sweeping condemnation of what must happen to the nation if Congress given recognition of an emergency situation by delegating permissive tariff powers to the President.
There is something pathetic in the insistence of the old guard in the sacredness of the Constitution, Like the Washington myth, it dies hard, and becomes an article of faith, not of reason. Seemingly no logic can reveal the Constitution for what is is: a document designed by the Fathers to furnish a working code of government, but which, being framed in an emergency one hundred and fifty years ago, as the Senator himself admits, is admittedly an imperfect instrument and subject, like all the works of man, to the wear and tear of circumstance. Although it may be true that permitting the President to exercise discretionary tariff powers is equivalent to handing him some of the taxing power, as Senator Borah avers, this does not mean, as the Senator further go by the Democracy must forthwith go by the board. In England, where the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility permits the Prime Minister to exercise practically dictatorial powers, no imminent threat of the subjugation of the proletariat threatens.
The Constitution, for all the forensics of Senator Borah, is not the ultimate guardian of liberty; this must rest in the people themselves, and attempts to confine twentieth century policies within the unyielding framework of the Constitution as interpreted by the Borahs can prove but restrictive, not liberating. The only real question is, whether the cold facts of the situation demand permissive powers to be granted to the Executive, and if they do, whether Congress then has the makings of a real watchdog of liberty and not simply those of a canine with a penchant for baying at the moon. WOTAN.