Moving American Government Back to America
The concentration of government power in America has two distinct aspects. The first and most familiar aspect is the disintegration of state government sovereignty. Senators, once chosen by state legislatures, are now directly elected by voters, stripping from legislatures the power to block congressional legislation and presidential appointments which compromise states' rights. The federal bench has interpreted the Constitution so that the "General Welfare Clause" of Article I allows Congress the authority to do almost anything.
This destruction of federalism -- that balance of federal and state power which was the salient issue at our Constitutional Convention -- has destroyed the principal tool which citizens have to prevent government in America from becoming oppressive, unresponsive, and bullying. This ought to inspire all Americans who care about individual liberty to seek the dismantlement of every federal program which is not clearly within the intention of Article I, to dissolve the quasi-legislative independent regulatory agencies which act as a fourth branch of government, and to strip from federal courts the self-invested power to effectively legislate.
There is a second response which would do a great deal to end the appeal of hyper-federalism for millions of Americans: physically decentralize federal power so that Washington, D.C. ceases to be the fortress of federal overlordship. Our Founding Fathers understood that the geographical location of federal power was very important. One of the compromises which came out of the Constitutional Convention was to locate the new capital between Maryland and Virginia in a federal district which was within a few miles of the demographic center of our new nation -- a point between Baltimore and the Potomac River. The District of Columbia was also very near the geographical center of our new nation.
In the last two centuries, the demographic center has moved west and south with every new census, and it is now in southwestern Missouri, which is relatively close to the geographic center of the nation in eastern Kansas. Proximity is power. That is why the real estate market in the District of Columbia and the adjacent counties in Maryland and Virginia -- which have the highest income of any counties in America -- is always strong: being close to Washington provides countless avenues of influence and interest.
It does not have to be that way. Nothing in the Constitution requires that Congress meet in Washington or that the president reside there or the Supreme Court meet there. In fact, Philadelphia was the first seat of the federal government. Moreover, information technology allows the business of the federal government to be conducted from anywhere in the nation, or simultaneously from many places in the nation.
Presidents could choose to permanently reside in an executive capital which would move every census or so more towards the demographic center of the nation. The houses of Congress have absolute control of how each house conducts business. What if the next House of Representatives, controlled by Republicans, adopted radically new rules along the following lines? (1) Each member of the House may vote and conduct business only when physically residing in an office in his home district; (2) the system of committees is to be conducted by electronic meeting, and staffers, too, are to reside in the home district; (3) the entire legislative process is to be radically streamlined so that any American can see what is happening; and (4) all communications by a House member in his official capacity must be public and available to any citizen who wishes to visit the House website.
The stated goal of these reforms would be to decentralize federal power not only back to the states, but back to the individual congressional districts of House members. If Republicans captured the Senate, the same reforms could be made, and almost overnight, Washingtonian influence on legislation would vanish. House and Senate members would actually live among their voters, rather than traveling back to touch base or campaign.
Congress would remain the federal legislature, but as individual members with children going to school and spouses shopping at groceries and the family going to parks and to church at home, this Congress would actually represent the sentiment of its discrete members' neighbors and friends in their districts, and not that of the largely anonymous federal bureaucracy.
There is every reason to imagine that this reform, if presented as a deliberate attempt to end the undue chumminess and back-scratching of Washington via a Congress that actually lives in places all across America, would be immensely popular with voters, whose opinion of Congress today is as low as it has ever been. There is no reason to have federal political power concentrated in a district about as distant from ordinary America and as unrepresentative of America as possible. Move Congress to America, and the whole attitude of our federal government will quickly change.