Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Fundamental Difference

There's one point in American politics that almost everyone misses, yet it is the single most important aspect of our country that separates us from the rest of the world. I've alluded to it in one way or another in just about every entry in this blog so far, and I really want to drive it home today before we go any further. Any guesses as to what this SUPER IMPORTANT distinction is?

The distinction is that the Federal Government answers to the States, not the other way around. The Bill of Rights, particularly the 10th Amendment, ensures that. Here is what that means: the Federal Government can only legally (note I said LEGALLY) do what the States allow it to do. The States, on the other hand, answer only to their citizens and have the right to pass the laws they feel are appropriate without asking permission of the Federal Government.

Why did the Founders do this? Well, as I've already pointed out, early Americans identified first with their home State and were distrustful of powerful central governments. They had just fought a bloody war and they were going to be hanged if they were going to allow another tyrant to take over their lives. But they also knew something else that seems to have been forgotten over the years: the concept of ACCOUNTABILITY.

You see, the Founders realized that a Federal Government was necessary in order to handle matters that spanned the whole country, such as defense, interstate commerce, interstate infrastructure, etc., but they meant to keep those responsibilties as limited as possible. Never did they intend that the Federal Government should tax the people directly, implement social programs, get involved in education, healthcare, or anything else that it does today. Does that mean that they were against charity, community, and helping your fellow man? Of course not! They believed these things were of the utmost importance, but NOT AT THE FEDERAL LEVEL.

How many of you donate to charities? I do, and I bet quite a few of you do, too. Wouldn't you rather donate to a charity where you can be sure that your money is actually going to help the intended beneficiary instead of having the majority of your donation go to "overhead?" Wouldn't you like to see and perhaps even get to know the people you are helping, maybe even receive proof of their progress? Wouldn't you be much more likely to invest in that kind of charity, or even start one of your own, than one where you have no idea where your money is going?

Well, this is what we refer to as "accountability." And it is much easier to achieve at the State or local level, where it might be your neighbor, a member of your congregation, or a fellow classmate who is the beneficiary, the benefactor, or the politician implementing the program or voting to pass the law. Besides, if you were down on your luck and were getting government help, what would better motivate you to go out and look for a job: a nameless, faceless hand sending you a check from who knows where, or your neighbors checking on you all the time, knowing that the money was coming from their pockets? At the Federal level, there is no accountability. Some guy sitting in Washington, D.C. does not know (or care!) what the local needs are in your community in Montana, New York, or Indiana, and it's certainly not fair to take money from the taxpayer in New Jersey so that someone he's never heard of in Illinois or Georgia can get paid.  Or watch while the money just disappears into politicians' pockets, because it can't really be tracked by the average taxpayer.  And when I say politicians, I mean not only the ones in D.C. but those from half the nations of the world getting paid off by the U.S. in the form of "foreign aid."

What's more, in a State, once a law is obsolete or a program is no longer needed, then it is much easier to terminate it than it is at the Federal level, where you need a majority in Congress at least, and the absence of a veto from the President. As Ronald Reagan famously said, "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" At the local level, if politicians get out of line and cross the boundaries, it is much easier to organize the people of a single state or locality to change things. Try that at the Federal level, where you're dealing with people from all the States, all economic situations, regions, and opinions, many of whom are easily influenced. Oh, wait, we already have...

So, whether you think people should fend for themselves, or that the government should get involved and lend a hand, doesn't it make much more sense that it should be the LOCAL government, where there still is some accountability, and not the Federal Government? The Founders certainly did, and emphasized this sacred right of the States in the Bill of Rights, especially that infamous 10th Amendment. (Read it, people, I've referred to it so many times that really, by now you should be curious, if you haven't already. You can find the text here.)

Isn't it funny how we all know the name of the President, but if I asked most people today who their local elected officials are, I would probably get a blank stare?

The issue of States' rights (and the limitations of the Federal Government) is going to be a very important one as I go into the next topic, which is a hairy one on many levels. Stay tuned!


  1. Having had this very argument with more Federalist friends on many occasions, I can play devil's advocate here. It's ironic that you linked that Wikipedia page, because it goes into great lengths to show why the 10th Amendment is currently almost meaningless...the Interstate Trade Clause. Time and again the federal government and its court systems have upheld the fact that if an activity can be tied to commerce in any way, it can be successfully argued that it can be considered in some way interstate commerce. At that point, the federal government has carte blanche.

    In the few situations where they haven't been able to cite the commerce clause, indirect influence wielded via withholding of tax subsidies has proven almost as effective.

    Until you can nullify in some way the commerce clause and the sixteenth amendment, any attempts to enforce the tenth are going to be ultimately futile.

  2. Ah yes, the Interstate Trade Clause. It's funny how they like to use that one to repeatedly thwart commerce instead of help it, which was the intention. And of course we've already talked about how much the 16th Amendment sucks. I think that, as always, the intent of the original Clause is what the Feds and the Courts(deliberately) misinterpret to their own benefit when it comes to the regulation of interstate commerce, don't you think?