Tuned in to Principle

By Manion, Christopher | The American Conservative, February 23, 2009 | Go to article overview

Tuned in to Principle


Manion, Christopher, The American Conservative


Broadcaster Clarence Manion fought liberals in both parties.

TODAY'S MAJOR RADIO talk shows are ongoing infomercials for political parties, but it hasn't always been that way. The "Manion Forum," a national radio show founded by my father in 1954, took bipartisan aim at whoever was in power - Republican or Democrat - on the basis of solid conservative principles. Those ideals didn't change for the 25 years that the "Forum" was on the air, and they haven't changed since. In fact, the central constitutional issue that gave rise to the "Manion Forum" has played a vital role in American politics since 9/11.

It all started with the Bricker Amendment. On April 6, 1953, my father and Eisenhower's secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, squared off before the Senate Judiciary Committee over an amendment proposed by Ohio senator John Bricker. It was designed to forbid secret "executive compacts" like those FDR and Truman had made with Stalin during World War II. Bricker aimed to restore the constitutional requirement that such agreements be publicly debated as treaties and be consented to by two-thirds of the Senate.

Dulles became irate that day because Dad pointed to Dulles's own endorsement of Bricker, delivered a year earlier when Ike was still running neck and neck with Bob Taft for the GOP nomination. The Bricker Amendment was a key factor in Taft's popularity, so Dulles had to go along. "The treaty-making power is an extraordinary power, liable to abuse," Dulles had railed in April 1952, emphasizing that treaties "can cut across the rights given to the people by their Constitutional Bill of Rights." Not so a year later.

How had my father gotten there that day? A lifelong Democrat, he had just retired from 30 years of teaching constitutional law at Notre Dame, 12 of them as dean. His landmark book, The Key To Peace, had sold over a million copies. This slim tome explained the indispensable relationship between God and limited government, articulated in the Declaration of Independence - themes that motivated the emergence of the Religious Right 30 years later.

Dad was an early Taft supporter, but after the tumultuous 1952 convention he agreed to lead "Democrats for Eisenhower" because Taft supported Eisenhower and Eisenhower supported Bricker. When Ike took office, he appointed Dad to chair a commission to study how to return to the states the powers that the federal government had usurped under FDR and Truman, a task taken seriously by Dad but, in short order, not by Eisenhower.

Limiting government was a major conservative goal in 1953, and so was Bricker. After World War U, public indignation had soared at the revelation of FDR's secret deal with Stalin at Yalta in early 1945. There, Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill had betrayed half of Christian Europe to Soviet domination (for 50 years, as it turned out) and laid the groundwork for the creation of the United Nations.

Fast forward 50 years: in 2003, President George W. Bush invaded Iraq, authorized not by a constitutional declaration of war by the U.S. Congress but by a mandate from the United Nations. What gave that "mandate" legitimacy? The U.S. was a signatory to the UN treaty that under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution (and in the absence of Bricker) could be construed to be "The Supreme Law Of The Land," overriding the treaty clause of the Constitution.

In 2008, when George W. Bush negotiated a Status of Forces Agreement with the post-Saddam government in Iraq - a treaty by any rational definition - the president refused to let the Senate see the text, much less allow it to be debated and voted upon as a treaty. Why was President Bush so anxious to conclude this "executive agreement"? Because the UN mandate authorizing the U.S. presence in Iraq was due to expire at the end of 2008.

Ironically, the two issues addressed by the Bricker Amendment - secret treaties and the usurpation of constitutional authority by a treaty organization like the United Nations - were the sole legitimizing ingredients of the Iraq War. …

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