I can’t imagine a worse journalistic assignment than having to read the vanity book Ron DeSantis issued in 2011, unless it involves first hand coverage of coke orgies among Republican legislators, but at least it yields a useful insight:
Still, Dreams From Our Founding Fathers is much more interesting than a typical partisan screed. Its author, who majored in history and spent a year teaching the subject at a tony boarding school, has clearly given a great deal of thought to the book’s thesis: that Obama’s agenda of raising taxes on the rich and spending more money on the non-rich is an attack on the Constitution.
“As legend has it, Benjamin Franklin once said that ‘when the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic,’ ” he writes. While acknowledging that the quote is apocryphal — it was probably concocted by reactionaries many decades later and attributed to various Founding-era statesmen — he proceeds to try to prove this was the real view of the Founders and the Constitution.
The Constitution, he argues, was designed to “prevent the redistribution of wealth through the political process.” The danger is that, as his fake Franklin quote suggests, people will support programs funded by taxing the rich that benefit themselves. “Popular pressure to redistribute wealth or otherwise undermine the rights of property,” he laments, “will ever be present.” The Constitution’s role, as DeSantis sees it, is to prevent popular majorities from enacting the economic policies they want.
DeSantis does not believe the Constitution merely establishes a set of ground rules for how policy should be written. He thinks the Constitution requires that conservative Republican policy prevail forever. This is not an original belief. It was the dominant right-wing position from the late-19th century through the middle of the New Deal, and conservative courts routinely struck down all sorts of progressive legislation on the grounds that the Constitution prohibits active government intervention in the economy.
DeSantis treats any further expansion of government as a mortal threat to the Constitution. Sentences like “Obamanomics represents a dramatic departure from the nation’s founding principles” and “Obama’s quest to ‘fundamentally transform the United States of America’ represents the type of political program that the Constitution was designed to prevent” are found in nearly every chapter. The word redistribution and its variants appear more than 150 times.
DeSantis’s core conviction is that an outcome in which Democrats win majorities through free and fair elections and vote to expand social spending by taxing the rich is fundamentally illegitimate. He is far from the only Republican to hold this view. The American right has never fully accepted the legitimacy of democratically elected majorities setting economic policy.
This is why control of the federal judiciary has been the dominant goal of Republican elites for a long time — it will allow them to win even if the other anti-democratic mechanisms working in their favor (some in the Constitution, some of their own making) allow Democrats to assemble a functioning governing majority. The overarching view of Republican elites is that democracy is problematic because their policy agenda is massively unpopular, and when it was clear that Trump strongly agreed with this view elite Republican opposition to him was always going to disappear.
In related news, DeSantis has vetoed Florida’s congressional maps for not being sufficiently gerrymandered in favor of the Republican Party.