28 Mar 2011

Tom Woods vs. Mark Levin

Foreign Policy 17 Comments

One of my favorite Free Advice posts (yes I have favorites) was my reaction to Mark Levin’s response to a critique by Jim Manzi. If you go refresh your memory–or read it for the first time, if you’re new–you’ll see that Levin does the rhetorical equivalent of kicking people in the family jewels when the ref’s distracted.

Come now to Tom Woods, who had argued that the president of the United States doesn’t have the Constitutional authority to wage a non-defensive (some might say “offensive”) war without consulting Congress. Levin responded, Tom responded, Levin responded on Facebook, and then Tom issued this challenge:

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.

Now that’s pretty bold. I mean, Alexander Hamilton could’ve gotten drunk and fired off a Letter to the Editor of the New York Observer saying the Navy should shell Ireland or something; Tom can’t have literally read every single thing the Federalists ever wrote and spoke publicly. But that’s what he said, so confident was he.

And here’s Levin’s response:

Consulting Congress? Now, notice how the outlier professor changes the subject. I’ve been at this now for the better part of a week. I’ve explained my position on radio, on Fox, and on this site. I think it is extremely wise for a president to consult with Congress (well, not all 535 members but members in leadership positions) before launching non-defensive military actions for both policy and political reasons. In fact, most presidents claim to have done so in one form or another respecting most military operations. I cannot imagine any Federalist would have argued against a president consulting with Congress. Why would they? But that was not the issue. Consulting Congress is a far cry from arguing that a president is required, as a constitutional requisite to military operations, to secure a declaration of war.

That should make you do a double-take. With such confidence Levin breezes through, as if Tom has missed the point (and hence Levin doesn’t need to dig up any examples). Here’s Tom’s reaction:

Mark, the point is not and has never been whether it is wise for the president to consult Congress. The point is whether he is allowed to conduct offensive operations without consulting them. That is your position.

And I have shown that there is zero — ZERO — evidence that the Constitution allows this. Levin’s ham-handed evasion of my challenge has only amplified my point. I am changing the subject, he says….Levin’s position is that the president may launch offensive operations without consulting Congress. I deny that this was any part of the original constitutional intent. That is the entirety of the disagreement between us. Whether it would be nice for the president to consult Congress, whether it’s practical for him to do so, etc., are entirely irrelevant to a discussion of this specific issue. Those are forms of evasion, as even Levin’s own followers are capable of seeing.

I only disagree with Tom on one point: I’m not sure Levin’s own followers are capable of seeing this, at least judging by their comments on his Facebook posts. A bunch of them kept guffawing at the “liberal Marxist college professor” Tom Woods.

17 Responses to “Tom Woods vs. Mark Levin”

  1. Blackadder says:

    Jonah Goldberg recent tried to reign in conservative criticism of Obama by rhetorically asking “does the Right really want to erase the commander-in-chief’s prerogative to take out mad dogs like Moammar when the opportunity arises?” Surreal.

  2. Bill Onesty says:

    No one seems to be making the careful distinction between the political question and the Constitutional one. The former asks whether we should do the thing. The latter asks who has the power to do it. In the case of Libya, the common mistake is to confound these two questions, and end up trying to make the argument that we should go in because it is the good and humanitarian thing to do, so we can just sort of look the other way for a bit regarding the Constitutional thing. After all, the Constitution was never meant to PREVENT us from doing the right thing, was it?

    And that to me is the danger of Constitutional ignorance. The Constitution was meant to make it hard to do things until we are completely in agreement that they should be done. One man should NEVER have the power to send any of us to die. That power MUST be in the hands of a deliberative body like the Congress.

    So my response to BlackAdder would be “YES! I DO want to prevent the CIC from doing ANYTHING militarily without consent from Congress, unless foreign troops are invading our shores or foreign missiles are headed in our direction.

    In the case of Kudaffi, I am afraid that what will replace him will be worse and then we will have some responsibility for having helped them.

  3. Bill Onesty says:

    Maybe I misread BlackAdder. Perhaps my response was to Jonah Goldberg instead of to him.

    • Blackadder says:


      To be clear, I do not agree with the sentiment implicit in Jonah Goldberg’s question.

    • Aristos says:

      Yeah, Bill, I kept thinking you’d missed BlackAdder’s point. Everything else about your post was great. Thumbs up, man.

  4. knoxharrington says:

    I listen to Mark Levin on my drive home and he and the truth are perfect strangers. Levin’s solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict is for Israel to keep building settlements and to “wipe the Palestinians off the map” – you can see the mentality Tom Woods is dealing with in Levin. He is a rabid neo-conservative chickenhawk who loves war, as much, if not more, than Joe “Senator from Tel Aviv” Lieberman (to borrow slightly from Fritz Hollings).

    Levin loves Executive Power – as long as he and the neo-cons are wielding it for their purposes – the Constitutional rhetoric is just that – spinning a line for the rubes and hoping to co-opt Tea Partiers.

    • Daniel Hewitt says:

      I like Will Grigg’s description of Levin best….”a diseased badger.”

  5. ListenEllipse says:

    I must compliment Woods on his wording of Constitutional issues. While he appears to be a well informed constitutional minarchist, he never makes any of the faulty social contract or pro-state arguments.

    He continually calls Levin (and others previously) out for being unconstitutional, yet he never seems to openly advocate for constitutionalism.

    This is a welcome relief from typical libertarians like Friendman who “acknowledged that some form of welfare was necessary in capitalist societies and that the state would likely play a role in its provision.” http://www.city-journal.org/2011/21_1_income-tax.html

  6. yahya says:

    and, like Tom pointed out on the LRC blog, that article doesn’t even mention his name, as if Levin is battling against a ghost or just random commentators on his facebook page.

  7. DDavidson says:

    I am still waiting on the birth certificate. We can talk about consulting Congress after that.

  8. Matt Flipago says:

    Wow that’s a tough one for Levin to miss.

    Thinking of dodging questions, I hope you don’t dodge David Henderson’s question, or I will have to put you and Levin in the same league.

    Put simply, how does inflation in America cause global inflation.

    • Avram says:

      Most foreign central banks hold their reserves in dollars on which the multiplier is based, and many peg their currency against the dollar — whether it be the less obvious way of credit swaps and acquiring / selling various financial instruments (usually the treasury notes of one government or another) or just plain price controls.

      Because of these realities, when U.S dollar money supply increases, the money supply of other currencies increases too.

      Hope that helps.

  9. Matt Flipago says:

    Also is consulting congress different from deceleration of war by congress?
    I also like how Levin thinks voting for funding is an official and formal approval.

  10. stickman says:


    Seeing as you mention that Mark Levin VS Jim Manzi post…. Any chance you feel like taking a look at my comment regarding the relative prices argument for climate action?

    I’d still be interested in your thoughts on that one…