Federalism, Not Democracy, is What Protects American Liberty

Ask any progressive about what little he believes to be worth preserving in America, and you’ll likely hear countless pieties about our “democracy.”

They don’t mean it, of course.  For progressives, democracy is a linguistic talisman that is selectively employed and often discarded in pursuit of political power.  If they truly believed in democracy, and if they were truly interested in governing by democratic principles, then late-term abortions would have been abolished long ago and there’d be calls to have the same-or-more police presence in American neighborhoods than we currently do, as more than three-quarters of Americans agree with both of those ideological policy positions. 

But it’s not such loose adherence to democracy that makes America great.  There have been lots of democracies, after all, and throughout history, most of them have been prone to tyranny and evil.  An extreme few of them have been good, and none have been so good as America.

As our Founders knew, democracy is very good at finding ultimate answers to simple questions.  The problem, however, is that how government might go about promoting individual liberty to the greatest extent possible is not a simple question.

For example: get ten people into a room, and give them a choice about what to have for dinner.  Will it be Italian or Mexican food?  Let’s say that six opted for Mexican.  Well, the majority rules, so Mexican it is!

That scenario has the appearance of fairness.  But what if the choices aren’t limited to two possibilities, but countless and evolving ones?  And what if we’re not talking about dinner, but something that’s infinitely more important? 

Well, democracy isn’t so clean when it comes to finding those answers. 

Shall mothers be allowed to kill their unborn children in America, or shall they not?  This is literally a life-or-death question for the child who could either be legally killed or saved.

That’s not the only question, as we know.  Where shall the limitations apply, if at all?  Shall there be no abortions, or shall they be only allowed until a heartbeat is detected, or until it’s presumed that the baby can feel pain, or until the last trimester, or should the baby lie on a gurney while doctors discuss with the parents whether the baby should be killed post-birth? 

There are still more questions.  For what reasons shall a mother and her doctor be able to legally decide to kill her unborn child?  If the child was conceived in rape or incest, or if the child might have a health defect which might limit his quality of life, or if the mother is poor and unwilling to consider adoption, or if the mother simply decides that a summer at the beach before college sounds like more fun than being pregnant with her baby that she conceived with her boyfriend?

Suddenly, a simple, yet profoundly important question about whether or not abortion should be legal becomes complex and unmanageable by democracy alone and would require introducing tyrannical impositions on the individuals involved to promote any one path forward.

Our Founders, in a moment of brilliance, etched a prescription for such questions into our governmental framework.  They knew what Antonin Scalia would later observe in regard to this very issue in his opinion for Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992).

The decision in Roe v. Wade (1973) to invent a constitutional right for mothers to kill their unborn children has since been heralded as having resolved this contentious issue.  Scalia shreds that contention:

Not only did Roe not, as the Court suggests, resolve the deeply divisive issue of abortion; it did more than anything else to nourish it, by elevating it to the national level where it is infinitely more difficult to resolve.  National politics were not plagued by abortion protests, national abortion lobbying, or abortion marches on Congress, before Roe v. Wade was decided.  Profound disagreement existed among our citizens over the issue – as it does over other issues, such as the death penalty – but that disagreement was being worked out at the state level.  As with many other issues, the division of sentiment within each State was not as closely balanced as it was among the population of the Nation as a whole, meaning not only that a lot more people would be satisfied with the results of state by state resolution, but that those results would be more stable.  Pre-Roe, moreover, political compromise was possible. [emphasis added]

Now, in 1973, the pro-life position would have been democratically favored at the national level, giving us yet another example of progressives’ false devotion to democracy and necessarily making Roe v. Wade among the most egregious examples of judicial activism and “legislating from the bench” in modern times.  But what Scalia describes is the true protecting principle of our republic, and it is most certainly not “democracy.”

What protects American liberty is federalism.  It is limited centralized power in the federal government, explicitly enumerated in our brief Constitution that is amendable only when there is profound agreement among the states to change the nature of the contract between the states and the federal government.   The power and purpose of federalism are embodied in the Tenth Amendment, about which Thomas Jefferson warned:

I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That “all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people.”  To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specifically drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition.

And it will be exactly this prescription for federalism that saves Americans from the tyrants who brought us the COVID lockdowns, mask mandates, and vaccine requirements.

The progressive left hates Florida at this moment, and as such, is doing everything possible to ignore the state.  But that wasn’t the case a few months ago.  Over the summer, Florida had a surge in cases, and the media breathlessly reported about how Governor Ron DeSantis’s refusal to force children to wear masks in school was the culprit.  Florida wasn’t requiring masks or vaccinations to freely shop, dine, or pack into stadiums with 70,000-plus other people, either. 

And yet, on October 28, Florida had the lowest COVID case rate in the country.

This is the power of federalism in action. 

Imagine an American government where there is unquestioned power to provide the same prescriptions for the COVID pandemic across all the states.  Imagine that these restrictions took the progressives’ faux-science to its most extreme ends.  Masks everywhere, even outdoors where it has never made any sense to wear a mask even if one presumes the masks work in preventing or slowing infection rates (a contention for which there remains no real-world evidence).  Plexiglass between diners sitting six feet apart at restaurants.  Stadiums limitedly filled with mostly vaccinated but some recently-tested spectators, enduring stupidly arbitrary spacing in the stands while watching a football game in which the players don’t wear any masks or have distancing guidelines (though they would undoubtedly put one on for the interview after the game, amplifying the obvious theatricality of it all).

If all states had to do that, we’d have no way of knowing that all of it is stupid and ineffective. But since Florida had the legal ability, and chose to not infringe upon its citizens’ liberties by doing those stupid and ineffective things, we have a control group in this experiment being conducted by the federal health politburos.

And in spite of the progressive left’s best efforts to hide it, the truth is catching on.  We were told masks would protect kids.  Florida proves it untrue, and we all know it.  We were told social distancing was science.  A government official who helped disseminate that lie has told the public that this was untrue, if Florida’s disproving it wasn’t enough.  We were told vaccine mandates are the only way to get COVID under control.  And yet, there stands Florida, without a vaccine mandate and still boasting among the lowest COVID case rates in the country.

Florida is the big middle finger of the American people, directed to the federal government.  And other states are thankfully following the lead of that state’s heroic governor, Ron DeSantis.

Barring the prospect of revolution or civil war, here is what will happen.  When those who have visited this moment of terror upon us are no longer in power, those who replace them will not have an interest in promoting the terrible policies which lost the previous leaders their power.  Rather, they’ll be interested in dismantling the tyranny that preceded them, and that leadership will likely be more in the vein of Ron DeSantis than Gavin Newsom.  

Right now, in Virginia, we’re watching a similar political battle raging.  Different subject, but it’s the same protection of federalism which is giving Virginians the chance at some localized autonomy that Floridians have enjoyed this past year.

Image: Pixabay / Pixabay License

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