Our Most Important Issue
As the 2016 presidential nomination approaches, we ought to recall the single most important issue in preserving our liberties and saving our nation: restoring federalism. Coerced sameness is the nectar of totalitarianism; regional variety is the lifeblood of liberty.
Those evil regimes of the last century invariably destroyed the rights of local governments. Nazis began almost immediately to completely destroy state governments, which in Weimar Germany had been very robust, and books about Nazi Germany at the time noted that this was the single most important change in government under the Nazis. The Soviets made Moscow the center of everything and crushed the independence of the myriad Soviet Socialist Republics.
Our American Republic was created by sovereign states who conditionally relinquished some powers to the new federal government so that it could do those few things that it could do better than states. No one thought that the federal government was needed to protect the rights of individuals from oppression by state governments.
Until the juggernaut of centralized federal power began to overwhelm states, the differences among states in our quilted nation provided an effective structure for different sorts of Americans to live both as loyal citizens of the republic and as happy citizens of genuinely different states.
Mormons, driven across half a continent, created in Utah a state in which they could practice their religion in a single state sympathetic to that faith without compromising good citizenship in the American Republican. Diverse states meant that Jews in New York could establish a polity in which public schools would let out on Jewish as well as Christian holidays and in which Jews completely integrated into the life of the world’s largest city.
Social issues like abortion were likewise amicably resolved through federalism. Roe v. Wade, like Dred Scott, was a jurisprudential monstrosity that stripped the mediating power of individual state legislatures and replaced nuanced law among states with clammy, iron federal judicial tsarism. Before that decision, there was no “Right to Life” movement, because each state regulated abortions according to popular will. The Supreme Court could just as easily have ruled that the fetus is a human life and that all state laws allowing abortion, with due process rights extended to the fetus, violated the Fourteenth Amendment.
If hyper-federalism was a disaster on social issues, it has been just as bad on economic and government service issues. The natural operation of economic laws will reward states that tax wisely and spend intelligently and will punish those states that are incompetent wastrels. We see that in the migration of people and business out of the quasi-Marxist regions of our nation. When Washington through social welfare spending, bailouts, and the like protects bad governance, the whole nation is pulled down.
When federal bureaucrats try to destroy different approaches to education, they stifle competition in approaches to learning and insure that failures in policy are never changed – and that instead, barnacles of self-interested political groups, like public employee teachers unions, clog all discussion of change. Fifty different systems of public education provide genuine studies in success or failure. One dull script from Washington insures only groupthink.
Restoring state power at the expense of federal power could prove a powerful political theme in the 2012 election. Few Americans, whatever their notional ideology, trust Washington, which they rightly see as infested with self-important people enriched at our common expense. Washington insiders are seen as corrupt, arrogant, myopic, two-faced, and out of touch.
The contrast between Imperial Washington and state government is stark. Try to sit down with your congressman or senator. Unless you are a fat cat during election season, voters will see only congressional staffers, not their elected representatives. Try, instead, to sit down with your state representative or state senator. Those elected officials, who live where you live and work at non-government jobs when the legislature is not in session, will sit down with a cup of coffee and talk to you. Their kids go to your kid’s school, and they shop at the same supermarkets as you.
There is a grand, largely untapped unhappiness that ordinary Americans feel not just toward one political party or another, but toward Washington, whose denizens inhabit the very richest parts of America in northern Virginia and central Maryland. Present to voters this solution to the problems that federal politicians love to blather about: give us, ordinary Americans, the power to handle these problems in our own way through state governments that listen to us. There is the seed in that message of a true and needed electoral revolution.