Is It Time for an Anti-Federalist Party?
No wise and serious American, whatever his notional ideology, trusts the federal government. This fact is often lost in the dust and wind from that gaggle of pundits whose relevance depends upon every issue of life being controlled by an all-powerful central government. In American politics and government, the problem, of course, is Washington, and most Americans find Washington as arrogant and stupid as American colonists found London in 1776.
Is it time, then, for an Anti-Federalist Party? Such a party or movement need not prescribe the proper response from government to different issues, except that an Anti-Federalist Party would insist that whether government ought to respond to these issues and how government ought to respond to these issues should be decided by state governments and ought to reflect the wishes of the voters in the states.
Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The more power concentrated in Washington, the more hopelessly corrupt Washington becomes. This is surely a message that would resonate with the overwhelming majority of Americans. This is reflected in the dramatically different approval ratings given to governors and senators. While constituents tend to dislike and distrust their states’ senators, the same constituents generally like and trust their state governor. Voters perceive that a remote and insulated federal government is a festering source of waste, incompetence, and venality.
There are three reasons why this popular view is sensible. First, state governments are close to the people. State legislators actually live in their districts, which may be hundreds of miles from the state capitol. Almost any voter can sit down and visit with his state legislator. Second, people can leave badly run states; this sort of internal migration of Americans is a constant process of the marketplace of governments. Third, state governments cannot print money and cannot run deficits.
Anti-Federalism has firm roots in American politics and government, and it includes many great Americans like Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Patrick Henry, James Madison, and George Mason. The Bill of Rights was intended as a check on federal power, not state power, because Americans can leave states that are tyrannical but cannot leave the clammy embrace of federal power...except by leaving America.
A political party based upon Anti-Federalism need not insist on the best national policy toward gay marriage or minimum wage, but rather that the voters in each state ought to be able to elect politicians who reflect their position on those issues. This quietly resolves much.
Abortion prior to Roe v. Wade was regulated by state laws, and these state laws varied. Some states allowed abortion. There was no raging national conflict about abortion forty years ago, and social conservatives were not agitating for a federal law against abortion. Was abortion murder? What constitutes “murder” or even criminal homicide has always been defined by state laws, which vary from state to state.
Prohibition, as a federal design for dealing with the social problems of alcoholism, failed miserably, but prohibitions on alcohol in states where those bans reflected what people wanted largely worked. The changes in prohibition laws came only when voters in those states wanted the change.
It is the nationalization of standards that often creates the problem. Anti-Federalism is the tonic.
The message of Anti-Federalism to voters in states with differing cultural values is simple: do you want the voters of your state to decide policy, or do you want federal politicians making those decisions? Politicians represent states, and which politicians can face voters and say that politicians from other states are better judges than they are for what is good for their state?
Anti-Federalism also taps into the simmering anger voters feel toward both political parties at the national level. It allows us conservatives to tell Vermonters, Hawaiians, and Marylanders that we are happy to support their greater independence from Washington if they will support our greater independence as well.
What form might Anti-Federalism take? The heart of it ought to be reasserting the Tenth Amendment, which states clearly that state governments retain all powers not clearly given to the federal government. The method of insuring that could include individual state legislatures directly choosing presidential electors rather than delegating that task to voters. The Seventeenth Amendment, the “reform” of directly electing senators, ought also to be repealed.
The beauty of Anti-Federalism is that it all about the process of government and not the substance of policies. Almost everyone agrees that Washington is broken. Here is a way to fix the process, by returning most of government back to the states.