Protecting American Rights at the Local Level
Liberals believe themselves to be superior people who not only know the answers to all of life's problems but are also more caring and compassionate than the hoi polloi. Their self image fuels their feeling of noblesse oblige, they have both the right and responsibility to run the lives of the less gifted in America; i.e. those who aren't liberals.
To an objective observer it's hard to reconcile the liberal condemnation of conservatives who object to abortion on the grounds that making abortion illegal is an intrusion on individual liberty when those same liberals declare that the government has the right to determine how large a bottle of soda you can buy. Needless to say, liberals themselves see no contradiction because they know that abortion is good and drinking too much soda is bad with a fervor and certainty normally associated with a revivalist minister.
Fortunately for the majority of Americans, the Constitution limits what can be done at the level of the Federal government to constrain the liberties of the average American. While liberals have made gains at reducing individual rights through judicial activism, they face a fight every time they attempt to circumvent the clear intention of the Constitution, as we are seeing now on the issue of gun control.
Liberals, generally quick to avoid an actual political fight when a judicial or bureaucratic fiat can do, have looked for ways to impose their vision on Americans that require less effort than the traditional legislative and legal approaches.
Most non-low information voters are familiar with the Imperial Obama presidency's use of executive orders and the selective enforcement of laws, such as not enforcing laws Obama personally doesn't like, in order to avoid needing to establish any sort of consensus among the peoples' representatives in Congress. While extremely dangerous at the very least, these illegal actions achieve a certain level of notoriety and are recognized as being violations of the limitations of government.
A variety of issues occurring at the local level seem to indicate that at the local level Americans have no mechanism to protect their freedoms other than the ballot box. For example, when the uber-rich Mayor Bloomberg of New York dictated how large bottles of soda could be, there was a general response dismissing this as absurd but no one could point to a legal construct similar to the Constitution that would restrict the mayor's power to impose his personal beliefs on the citizens of New York.
The problem with the ballot box being the only recourse of Americans is that the tiniest of majorities, or even minorities in races with more than two candidates, can impose their will on the rest of the voters. Additionally, the incentive to election fraud is dramatically increased if people know they can do whatever they want once they're elected. The Founders recognized that basic rights needed special protection and that the without constraints, politicians would be tempted to continually expand the scope of government to increase their own power, which is why both the Bill of Rights and the Constitution were written to limit the ability of the majority to legally coerce the minority.
An additional sign that liberals in state and local governments do not feel constrained in any way once elected is their willingness to ignore the rule of law. The most famous example of this is the refusal of the California government to defend in court Proposition 8, defining marriage as being between one man and one woman. The people of California voted for the proposition using a legally-established mechanism. Yet neither the governor nor the attorney general of California were willing to defend the proposition -- passed according to California electoral law -- on the grounds that since they personally didn't think it was constitutional they could decide not to defend it.
It would not appear to be overly paranoid to be concerned about the limitations on state and local government when we live in a time where those governments can control what bags we carry our groceries in and can also ignore laws they don't happen to like.
Historically speaking, it's not surprising that local laws don't have the same limitations as do national laws. The constitution was primarily designed to limit the power of the Federal government. That's why, when the Constitution was ratified, no one suggested that the states that had official religions -- in what would be a direct violation of the First Amendment if the Amendment applied to the states -- should be required to abandon their official endorsements of specific religions.
The lack of limitations on the states, and local political structures, was not a great threat to the average American in the past due to the simple fact that those political bodies tended to limit the scope of their legislation to issues that impacted on how people interacted. There were exceptions of course; the phrase "separation of church and state" arose out of Virginia Baptists feeling that they were being discriminated against by the official Virginian religion of Anglicanism.
In the last 50 years or so the situation has changed in that the modern American liberal movement views no aspect of individual life to be outside of the legitimate sphere of government control.
In a world where it is viewed as legal for a local government to tell businesses what size soda they can sell or prohibit businesses from giving their customers paper bags it is far from clear what if any limits there are on government action. Additionally big government fans, at all levels of the political process, work hard to ensure that it's harder to remove a government edict than to establish it.
The liberal approach of expanding the role of government counts on the ratchet-like nature of the political constructs used at all levels of government. For example, to distort the Constitution all that is needed is 5 Supreme Court judges who view the Constitution as a "living" document spending a few hours writing an opinion. To reverse those 5 rich, unelected lawyers requires super majorities in either Congress or all state governments along with a long and tedious process of ratifications by a super majority of the States.
At the local level there is a similar asymmetry in effort with the added burden that there is generally no judicial mechanism to limit the scope of governmental decrees. In Alameda County in California, for example, the people who decided that stores could not use disposable bags and that those same stores must charge ten cents for paper bags were not in fact elected. Rather they were appointed to a board by elected officials. It was nearly impossible to discover which politicians were responsible for the new rule that in turn made it essentially impossible to use the standard political process to reverse the decision.
While Americans can survive with smaller sodas at restaurants and without plastic bags, the real issue is what is to prevent local and state governments from introducing far more intrusive limitations on the rights of their citizens? What barrier is there to a state or a local government requiring that bookstores not carry certain books? If those same governments can restrict who can and can't own a gun and what type of gun they can own, thereby circumventing the intent of the Second Amendment, why are we to believe that the First Amendment will be honored?
It is imperative that the conservative movement begin to develop approaches that limit the ability of local and state governments to encroach on the individual freedom that is the core of America's strength. The recent imperial edicts on soda sizes and shopping bags should serve as a canary in the mine warning us all of the vast dangers associated with unrestricted governmental power at the local level.
You can read more of toms' rants at his blog, Conversations about the obvious