Federalism is the Answer

I have a confession. Sometimes I like to listen to talk radio.  It usually serves as a reminder of why I don’t listen to talk radio, but it’s also an opportunity to hear the mainstream conservative opinion on the news of the day. So, when I turned on the radio today I got pretty much what I expected: Rush Limbaugh saying that Mitt Romney must be elected to stop Barack Obama because Obama is the biggest problem in government and defeating him is the only remedy.

I do not believe either of these statements to be true, not because I’m an Obama supporter but because I believe that there are many people in Washington who are as dangerous to the Constitution and the principles of limited government as Obama is. I also don’t but the idea that one guy is the biggest problem in government, nor is one party, and that voting him (or them) out will fix everything.

The biggest problem in government is that almost everyone is intent on arguing every issue at a national level regardless of whether or not the Constitution authorizes that particular issue to be handled nationally.

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “When all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another, and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated.” In this opinion, Jefferson was prophetic, because not only are the federal checks and balances entirely powerless today, there can be no doubt that we live under a government that is exponentially more oppressive than the government against which our forefathers rebelled.

To persist in pursuing a strategy that relies on federal politicians to limit their own power is to live the life of Sisyphus, eternally pushing the boulder up the hill just to watch it roll back down.

So, what then is the actual remedy for our malaise? Ironically it was discussed on Rush’s show last week when Walter Williams was guest hosting. Dr. Williams discussed the idea that states should nullify Obamacare. Nullification, which arises out of the concept of federalism, or states’ rights, has been gaining momentum in recent years in response to Obama’s unconstitutional agenda.

Jonah Goldberg, a mainstream conservative columnist, recently wrote a column embracing federalism in which he describes it as, “simply the best political system ever conceived of for maximizing human happiness.”  He continues, “Pushing government decisions down to the lowest democratic level possible…guarantees that more people will have a say in how they live their lives. Not only does that mean more people will be happy, but the moral legitimacy of political decisions will be greater.”

This is why the framers and, more importantly, the ratifiers of the Constitution argued for assurances that it would not vest large amounts of power in the government in Washington. This is why we have the Bill of Rights, which explicitly limits what the Federal Government can do, particularly the Tenth Amendment which Jefferson called, “the foundation of the Constitution.”

I get perplexed when conservatives and members of the Tea Party ignore or eschew federalism, because it seems to fit the main principle that these groups say they believe in – adherence to the Constitution. It furthermore offers the best chance of limiting government. I have a suspicion that the reason that some conservative groups, like the Heritage Foundation, resist this line of reasoning is that it removes their ability to push for legislation that will control people at a national level.

When it really comes down to it, many people who call themselves conservatives aren’t really in favor of limited, constitutional government, they just want to use the coercive power of big government in different ways than liberals.

However, for those who are truly interested in limiting government, they must ask themselves if it is worth fighting these battles at the national level, if they should continue to just elect more Republicans. They must determine if this strategy offers a reasonable expectation of success. History clearly says no.