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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mark Levin vs. Tom Woods on Presidential War Powers and the Constitution

A battle has been raging over the weekend between neoconservative attorney and talk radio personality Mark Levin and American history scholar Tom Woods. It all started when Levin targeted Ron Paul on his radio program Friday for opposing Obama's act of war in Libya as unconstitutional.

Tom Woods just had to correct Levin's false statements in an article on his website entitled Mark Levin Wrong on War Powers:

[Levin:] “We’ve been involved in many military engagements; we’ve had very few declarations of war. And I’m including military engagements that were involved in by people you consider Founders of this nation. It’s because they’ve never, ever, required as a requisite—to defending this country, or even certain military actions—of getting Congress’ approval.”

[Woods:] Totally misleading. Everybody knows we’ve had few declarations of war. But Congress has also authorized countless lesser military actions — including the ones Levin obviously has in mind when he refers to “people you consider Founders of this nation.” Adams did not confront the French without congressional approval; same for Jefferson and the Barbary pirates. I’ve explained this.

To everyone's pleasant surprise, Mark Levin actually responded to Tom Woods in a Facebook post Sunday morning:

"Of course it is wise politically and from a policy standpoint for a president to consult with Congress or even seek resolutions to support military actions... But it is not and never has been a constitutional requisite to making war. And Woods knows it...

Is that what they said at the Constitutional Convention? Is that supported anywhere in our history? Is that how Congress is to legislate under the Constitution? Utter nonsense."

I was first alerted to Levin's response by Jack Hunter, in a Facebook link he posted Sunday evening. He made an excellent point about all this-- that Levin is actually being really cool by responding to Woods and not marginalizing and ignoring him.

So while debating and discussing this unfolding conversation with Levin, I think we should be as respectful as possible and quite vocally appreciative of Levin's attention.

Here's the comment Hunter left on his link:

"Mark Levin's reply to Tom Woods. I will also have something addressing this up very soon which makes a different point [it's now up here]. By the way, kudos to Levin for replying to Tom. A disagreement amongst conservatives in which we actually discuss them. Nice. The old National Review was full of such debate, between Frank Meyer, Russell Kirk, etc. It's always healthy to reexamine first principles."

Woods shot back with the following response to Mark Levin at

'To my surprise, Levin replied to me – sort of. Read through the links above if you are so inclined and then see Levin’s response. Notice something? He refutes nothing I said, and then declares himself the winner. Nice.

I see nothing in what Levin thinks is a reply that should make any of his supporters proud, or that should cause me to abandon my constitutional views. I am accused of misusing the Constitutional Convention, the Federalist, etc., but Levin does not condescend to share any specific examples of this alleged misuse. We are to be satisfied with his ex cathedra pronouncements alone.

Nowhere does he address my refutations of his arguments, whether regarding the real eighteenth-century meaning of "declaration of war," the intentions of the Framers, or the cases of unilateral presidential warmaking Levin wants to cite that I have shown were nothing of the kind.

And no wonder: there is no evidence for his position at all. People coming to a discussion of war powers and the Constitution for the first time may assume, understandably, that Levin can probably cite some sources, I can cite some sources, and the whole thing is probably a stalemate. But Levin can cite nothing.

Wait, I take that back. He can cite Pierce Butler’s view at the Constitutional Convention in support of "vesting the power in the President, who will have all the requisite qualities, and will not make war but when the nation will support it." Unfortunately for Levin, Butler’s motion did not even receive a second.'

Woods concludes:

"Let’s get to the primary sources. Mark Levin, here is my challenge to you. I want you to find me one Federalist, during the entire period in which the Constitution was pending, who argued that the president could launch non-defensive wars without consulting Congress. To make it easy on you, you may cite any Federalist speaking in any of the ratification conventions in any of the states, or in a public lecture, or in a newspaper article – whatever. One Federalist who took your position. I want his name and the exact quotation.

If I’m so wrong, this challenge should be a breeze. If you evade this challenge, or call me names, or make peripheral arguments instead, I will take that as an admission of defeat."

Your move, Mark. And thanks for giving my man Tom Woods the time of day.

Wes Messamore,
Editor in Chief, THL
Articles | Author's Page

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