Thursday, November 8, 2012

Why Federalism?

Yesterday, I posted a fairly academic piece about Federalism and Taxation.  I think it's important to understand exactly why I did that, and why I think that what Conservatives need to be fighting for is a return to Federalism.

Federalism is the single most important defense the framers of the Constitution put in to protect individual citizens from the tyranny of a monolithic national government.  Because of Federalism, they believed that giving the Federal government an unlimited power to tax would be checked.  One of the primary reasons they never specifically wrote the idea of Judicial Review (as it is currently practiced, at any rate) into the Constitution is that they believed that Federalism would prevent Congress from passing unconstitutional laws.

To understand why the believed this, we have to examine what Federalism really is.  The simple answer, taught to school children, is that Federalism is a hierarchical government.  That there's the Federal Government on top, and the States below that, and local communities below that.  That is not, however, what Federalism is.  If that were Federalism, then the USSR would have been a Federalist system.  If that were Federalism, then the League of Nations would have worked.

No, Federalism is the concept of shared government.  Yes, the Federal Government is the "supreme" government.  When it speaks, you must listen.  However, part of Federalism is the very fact that lower levels of government have a "seat at the table."  It is important to realize that the only nationally elected office has no seat at the legislative table.  The President can recommend laws.  He can provide his assent to, or veto laws.  But when it comes to actually writing them, he has no say beyond his "bully pulpit" and communicating with the American People.  The only true "Federal" offices- that of the President and the Supreme Court- did not have any say in how laws were written.  This is because a Federal Government, as opposed to a National Government, is built very firmly on the "consent of the governed."

We use that phrase a lot: "Consent of the governed."  People assume it means that we merely consent to *be* governed.  That is, as long as the people don't revolt, that consent is assumed.  That is also not quite right.  Consent of the governed means that those who are governed have some say in their government.

With that in mind, realize that the arm of government which is supposed to write the laws is not a Federal arm of government.  Even in today's broken system, I do not vote for the Senators from New Hampshire.  I vote for my own Senators.  In the original system, the People had a voice in what laws were made through their Representatives- who were elected every 2 years.  The States *also* had a voice in what laws were made through the Senate- who were appointed by their State Legislatures.

Now, it was that balance of power- that the Federal Government itself had no say in laws, that the States' interests were looked after by the Senate, and that the People's interests were looked after by the House- that was supposed to protect the people from all kinds of Tyranny.  Now that balance of power is broken.  The States have no say.  Worse, while Senators run on the same populist sentiment that Representatives run on, they maintain the elevated powers of being a Senator.  How many Senators voted for ObamaCare who would not have if they'd had to face re-election in 2010?  The very fact that some retired rather than facing re-election then, or this year, should be enough proof that many only voted for it because they felt their 4 or 6 years left before re-election would be enough to distract "the mob."

Federalism is the battle of the future.  I'm not sure how we win that battle, frankly.  I'm not sure that we can win that battle.  But if that battle is not won, it doesn't matter how many we do win; we'll lose the war.

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