Since the health care debate got really heated I’ve been making regular comments regarding federalism and how a return to federalism is a critical guarantor of our liberties. One of my last posts resulted in a suggestion that I create a diary about federalism and make my case for why I believe it may be our last best chance to preserve our freedoms. Let’s hope I can make this coherent.
Much has been said and continues to be said about how the Founders in their infinite wisdom gave us a federal government with three separate but coequal branches that would each act as a check on the other to make sure no single branch of government could run roughshod over the rights of American people. This is such a well established and recognized fact that it is grade school knowledge. In the modern era the true genius of our Founders with respect to the government they set up is often not fully understood or appreciated because the system in place today has so radically changed from what was established. The Founders and citizens of the founding era were fearful of big government and when they convened to establish a government for the new United States they sought to create one that limited the power of the central government and preserved the bulk of powers to the states and the people. Their first attempt, the Articles of Confederation, succeeded too well in creating a weak central government that soon the Articles were ratified talk began of creating a new agreement among the many states. That new agreement was of course our Constitution. Although many agreed upon the need for a stronger federal government the many states were still very wary of an overly strong central government and determined to maintain strong state governments with full autonomy in respect to their internal affairs. To guarantee the rights of the states the Founders granted the right to appoint federal Senators to the states themselves. Senators were to represent the interests of the states, not the people. The 17th Amendment which was to make senators directly elected by the people was born in an era of William Jennings Bryant driven populism and progressivism.
The 17th Amendment wasn’t the first blow to federalism although it was a significant one. The first blow was the Civil War, or as we like to say down here in the South, the War of Northern Aggression. The defeat of the South in the Civil War established the supremacy of the federal government and changed the direction of our nation. We all know the history so in the interest of brevity I will leave the history lesson behind.
We’re not likely to repeal the 17th Amendment since Senators aren’t going to commit to sacrificing their own careers but we should seek to communicate the detrimental effects it has had on our republic.
The third blow to federalism, one not fully recognized, was the federal income tax. How has the federal income tax harmed federalism? Consider the effect on the credit markets when the federal government borrows money? Money borrowed by the federal government crowds out private borrowers driving up interest rates and limiting the availability of funds for others. The effect of federal taxation is similar. When the federal government taxes heavily they crowd out the ability of states to raise taxes without creating a tax revolt as taxpayers won’t tolerate much more taxation. This has created a situation in which all states are dependent on the federal government to one degree or another for funding critical infrastructure projects, schools, health initiatives, etc. The federal government doesn’t provide these funds without condition thus bribing or blackmailing the states to implement federal policies that might otherwise be rejected by the states and their citizens. The prime example of federal blackmail is the 55 MPH speed limit. States that didn’t lower their speed limits to 55 MPH were threatened with the cutoff of federal highway funds, money that could have been collected by the states themselves had they the political freedom to raise their tax rates. This tidbit of information was lost on Senator Patrick Leahy who just last month said the federal government set the speed limits in defense of the federal mandate to buy health insurance.
Now let me return to the theme of this diary, Federalism is Freedom, and the genius of the Founders. The Founders, as stated above, sought to create a system of checks and balances to prevent the government from running roughshod over our rights. But this system of checks and balances extended beyond the federal government because the states were also supposed to be a check on federal power via the Senate. And what was the check on the power of the states themselves? The freedom of movement. Unlike federal legislation which cannot be escaped, citizens are free to leave their state of residence at any time if they find their state hostile to their lives or businesses. One need only look to California to see people acting on this freedom. This freedom of movement serves to keep state governments in check under threat of losing taxpaying citizens should the governments create a hostile environment.
The Democrat Party has been trying to undermine federalism, either purposely or quite accidentally, for generations and they have largely succeeded. But what havoc has it wrought? We are a nation divided and our most bitter disagreements, largely social in nature, are fought in Washington DC in Congress and the Courts. The divisions between the Right and the Left are growing deeper and bitterer.
Given the opposition to the Left’s social agenda by residents of Red states one would be led to believe that the Democrats would be enthusiastic supporters of a return to federalism. One would be wrong because the Left’s lust for power over all of us exceeds their desire for individual liberty. It would never be enough for California to allow gay marriage if Arkansas didn’t also allow it. It would be intolerable to them if abortion were legal in Massachusetts but illegal in Tennessee. It would be unacceptable to them if Washington established an expensive public option for health care funded by Washington taxpayers only to see productive citizens leave Washington in search of lower taxes and increased personal liberties. No, the statist cannot allow escape from the state. If you’re familiar with the EU you will recognize that the EU is trying to harmonize laws across the EU so that no country will have an advantage over another in terms of personal and economic liberties. They too want no escape.
So what is the solution? I believe that we must continue to work hard to elect conservatives to the Congress. Conservatives who are supportive of a federalist vision of government and not themselves lusting after power. But we must also turn our energy and attention to our states and begin to elect conservatives to state legislatures and governorships who are eager to reclaim the states’ Constitutional roles and powers. Several states are already, as Mark Levin would say, “on the move” and although largely symbolic have passed resolutions reaffirming their 10th Amendment sovereignty.
See here for more on nullification: http://www.tenthamendmentcenter.com/the-10th-amendment-movement/
See here for Walter William’s on the 10th Amendment: http://townhall.com/columnists/WalterEWilliams/2008/07/16/oklahoma_rebellion
However, other states, most notably Arizona, have taken it a step further and are considering constitutional Amendments to nullify what they believe to be unconstitutional federal legislation. Arizona for example has a ballot initiative to nullify whatever nationalized health care plan put forth by the Democrats. This will certainly set up a Constitutional challenge, one I expect the federal government to lose. If even half a dozen states follow suit then I believe the entire nationalized health care plan will collapse. We have been encouraged to activism and what better outlet than trying to get an effort similar to Arizona’s before the voters?
See here for the Arizona initiative: http://www.azhealthcarefreedom.com/
See here for George Will’s opinion regarding the AZ effort: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/opinions/articles/2008/10/27/20081027WP-editazprop1027.html
See here for other states with initiatives in progress: http://www.tenthamendmentcenter.com/nullification/health-care/
Success in defeating the socialists at the state level will further embolden states to nullify other federal legislation they’ve long suffered under. It would become a mechanism that feeds itself and frees us from the federal leviathan.
Federalism is freedom!
When I have addressed federalism in prior posts I’ve been asked to comment on federal taxation because although nullification would prevent participation in national health care it couldn’t prevent federal taxation. Enter the federal escrow account. I’m certainly no expert on this topic but proposed legislation would establish an account and set the states up as tax collectors for the federal government. The states would collect all federal taxes from their citizens, deduct any monies they would expect to be returned as bribes and blackmail and submit any balance to the federal government. Any taxes collected to pay for a nullified health care plan could be returned to the taxpayers. As with the 17th Amendment it's highly unlikely we'll aver repeal or limit the federal income tax but the states can act to free themselves from federal bondage by preventing the federal government from taking from the states citizens more than is required to conduct Constitutionally authorized federal functions.
See here for escrow account draft legislation: http://www.tenthamendmentcenter.com/wp-content/uploads/legislation/Tax-Escrow-Account.pdf
We find ourselves at a crossroads. One path returns us to freedom. The other takes us down the road to socialism and ultimately despotism. I hold many people including myself responsible for where we are today because we as Conservatives have not been vigilant in guarding our liberties. It is the nature of the Conservative to mind his own business, to work, to live, to take care of one’s family and to expect those elected to represent us to look out for our best interests. While we have been busy with our own lives we have left the field of battle to our enemies and they have rooted themselves deeply in our public institutions, our schools, the bureaucracy, the non-profits, the culture and all outlets of information.We now have to commit to acting against our nature, engage the enemy, and stay engaged. We can never again leave the field of battle.