Potatoes and the Constitution

Michele Bachmann, a person we are assured is a serious candidate for president if she decides to run, is upset that the federal government is thinking about seriously limiting the use of potatoes in school lunches. “Where in the #Constitution does it say the fed. government should regulate potatoes in school lunches?” she tweets. “It doesn’t.”

Well, no, it doesn’t. Nor does it say that highways should be built out of concrete instead of asphalt, or that naval vessels should be powered by nuclear reactors instead of sails. Matt Yglesias rolls his eyes:

This is emblematic of two horrible intellectual habits that have overtaken the current populist right. One is the incredibly slipshod constitutional law here. Obviously the federal government has the authority to specify for what purposes federal grant money can be used. Obviously. How else could it work? The other is the tendency to regard any existing profit stream as a form of property. Banks are entitled to their federal subsidies to offer student loans. For-profit colleges are entitled to their own student loan subsidy stream. Health care providers are entitled to unlimited wasteful spending at federal expense. Potato growers are entitled to their school lunch money.

This is why one should never take conservatives seriously when they claim to favor free enterprise. They don’t. What they generally favor is pro-business policies, which are very decidedly not the same thing. It’s entirely understandable that banks, colleges, healthcare providers, and potato growers want to keep all the taxpayer dollars that happen to flow their way, but it has nothing at all to do with free enterprise. Supporting these policies likewise has nothing to do with free enterprise. It has to do with currying favor with existing rent seekers and campaign contributors.

Both parties do this, of course, but Republicans do it on a considerably grander and more self-righteous scale than Democrats. And as Michele Bachmann demonstrates, a considerably more ignorant and historically preposterous one too.

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