December 18, 2003

Federalism: Why We Should Want to Recover This Precious Pearl We Long Ago Threw to the Swine

Putting aside the usual eloquence, I would like to get Right To The Point.

Our Founders didn't trust government farther than they could throw it.

Federalism was a fundamental key to what our nation was supposed to be. Now adays, "Federalism" has become the word used to embody the idea of "states rights." What's somewhat peculiar, of course, is that originally, the same ideals of Federalism espoused by the few who care today, used to be considered radically pro-big-central-government. The opposite of Federalism is now pro-growing-the-central-government, whereas before the opposite was all-power-to-states-and-none-to-the-central-government.

I can't say precisely when this changed, but I can tell you what the single biggest blow to the idea that the Federal Government AND the States need to be sovereigns concurrently was.

The 17th Amendment.

It has annihilated the primary check on the growth of the central government.

Most people don't know what it does or why that's bad. I'll tell you.

Our Founders had a keen understanding of human nature. They understood that people tend to do that which is in their best interest, as they understand it. They designed the Federal government to only have limited powers. The Federal government was really just a small chunk of sovereignty carved away from state sovereignty, and the pieces from each state all together added up to the Federal government.

At that time, the fear was that the states, being more established and the sovereign to which the citizens identified, could run rough-shod over the central government. So each state got equal representation in the Federal government. No matter how big and or populace the state, it got the same as any other state. That representation was in the form of the two senators that each state sent to Congress.

So long as the states were represented, the founders thought, the central government will not grow into areas belonging to the states unless there really is a consensus.

People get representatives too. As citizens, we get one representative per some number (I forget at this moment plus or minus) so that we get approximately equal representation. Viola! That’s why we have the big census every decade. It makes sure that our allotment of representation is never too old. The representatives existed in the House as a watchdog on both the state and the federal interests. You see, this way, the states could not collude with the federal government to take away rights.

Oh, and another thing that was important to the Founders was that all bills pertaining to raising revenue originate in the House. For a long time I wondered, “Why in the House? Why not in either house of the Congress?” The reason, when you look at the original Constitution (pre-17th, I mean) was that the Founders MEANT it when they proclaimed “No Taxation Without Representation!” Taxation, according to the Constitutional plan, must originate by the people who will really be impacted by taxes.

As an aside, it’s also interesting to note that any impeachment proceeding must begin in the House as well. Again you ask, “Why?” Well, it’s quite simple, really. The Founders believed that the most important qualification for the Presidency was high moral character, so the Founders decided that the standard for removing a President was to be “High Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

Tell the truth… When you heard that back in ’98 you believed the news media and the legal experts who, inexplicably, all seemed sympathetic to Bubba, you were persuaded to believe that “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” really meant “Big” or “Really Important” crimes. Right?

That is so incredibly wrong. The phrase comes from ecclesiastical adjudication in the middle ages. As you can all imagine, the idea was that it was one thing to commit a crime against the law, but to offend the God’s law… the HIGHEST law… well, that was really bad. By the time our Founders were around, that understanding morphed into the meaning that “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” were serious moral failings.

Hmmmm… didn’t hear that from CNN did ya?

Anyway, I’ve digressed long enough on that point. What I’m getting at is that the House of Representatives was supposed to be the part of the Federal Government closest to the heart and sensibilities of the people. If the President did something truly morally offensive, the House was supposed to pick up on that.

The Senate, as representatives of the States, were to be seasoned, and understand the law more deeply. The Senate would check the passions of the House and determine if there really was a violation by serving as a special court.

“OK, OK,” you’re saying, “so what does this have to do with why the 17th Amendment is so bad?” -- We no longer have the check. Like I said above, the Founders understood human nature. They didn’t want the Federal government taking BIG steps unless it was in the best interest of BOTH the people AND the states.

How can our federal system survive in any meaningful way if the states cannot assert their interests? The Founders expected gridlock in the Congress. They expected the tension to be a filter that would only let legislation pass that was really likely to be beneficial to our nation.

Now, we have 6-year panderers and we have 2-year panderers, and ALL of them have in their own personal interests the buying of popular votes by bloating the budget and mandating special interests. If it were as our Founders intended, a Senator would REALLY listen when one of his constituents called. He would only have a couple hundred… they would be in the state legislature. If he wanted to keep his job, he would listen carefully when they spoke. How closely does your Senator listen to you now? It’s all a statistics game now. It’s all about how many votes can he buy each tax dollar he allocates, and none of it is about respecting the Federal system.

So… Why should you care? Because if you are reading this, you probably have at least a vague interest in the health of our government and nation. You probably wish the government didn’t spend money like a drunken sailor, and you probably wished the Federal government reach less into your life.

Currently the best we can do is elect Senators and Representatives who have a conscience, and so long as they keep it, they will probably do a passably good job. Eventually, however, the need to be liked by everybody, and the need to pander for votes overcomes them, and then they become part of what we hate. If we repeal the 17th Amendment, we will insulate, to some extent the part of the Federal government interested in restraining the growth of the Federal government.

Repeal the 17th Amendment so that the magnificent health of our Federal government does not starve the liberty out of our nation.

Posted by Bronson at December 18, 2003 11:27 PM

The "usual eloquence" is no requirement.
Right to the nitty gritty.. I love it!

Posted by: Tuning Spork at December 19, 2003 12:42 AM

'6-year panderers' is apt & pretty convincing. Alas, the tide of the age runs against it...but advocacy is why we're here! Several points:
1. States rights & Federalism are easier to discuss freed from the yoke of Jim Crow. Good & good.
2.Americans are less attached to individual states today.
3. It is Hillary's dream to abolish the Electoral College, further diminishing the rights of States, and giving control of presidential selection to a dozen big cities.
4. The College mirrors the number of Senators & Reps. of a state. Therefore, like the Senate itself, it is anti-democratic in the 'one-man/one vote' sense; i.e., Wyoming & California both get 2 senators despite the population differences. If the College is to be abolished...then so should the Senate!
5. The Senate is supposed to cool the passions of the House...but the people need a way to cool the passions of the Senate. Which brings us back to your proposal.

I'll have a few proposals soon, too...

Posted by: Noel at December 19, 2003 11:02 AM

There would be a lot of good reasons to repeal the 17th amendment. If the 17th were not in place then the Congress may not have violated State sovereignty by strong-arming the States into setting a "national drinking age" or "national speed limit" by threaten to redirect their bridge and highway funding into PSA programs.

The thing I wonder about, though, is that having the Senators answer to their respective State legislatures might result in a further Federalization of State budgets.
The State legislators might think "Why should we have to pay for Program X out of our budgets when we can get our Senators to get us some Federal funding for it?"

Since Federal funding is raised by taxing the People's business generally, and then redistributed to the States according to their populations, repealing the 17th might eventually result in a socialization of State budgets, with the conditions for directing that funding (a la drinking age, speed limit) imposed by the Federal govt.
Meaning: Don't trust the State as far as you can throw the Fed.

Posted by: Tuning Spork at December 19, 2003 06:57 PM

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