Friday, November 14, 2008
On this day:

Let's restore federalism

Culture11's John Schwenkler writes (H/T Southern Appeal):
By campaigning and governing in ways that are tailored to local concerns, a politician like Mitt Romney can be a success as the Republican governor of Massachusetts even if his approach would be a less-than-ideal fit for the national party, while Mike Huckabee can do well in Arkansas even though the nation may not be quite ready for a “Christian leader” of exactly his sort. Presenting themselves, not as a single-minded party with an inflexible platform and no place for disagreement, but rather as a group that is focused on enabling local governance and a consequent sensitivity to regional particularities, can help Republicans to overcome their internal conflicts without having to throw the dissenters overboard.

The flip side to this is that adopting a federalist approach to governance will also entail abandoning the attempt to make federal policy decisive on issues like abortion, marriage, drug policy, and euthanasia. But the attempt to impose nationwide policies in such areas is a strategy fraught with danger for social conservatives: not just because it is Constitutionally suspect, but also because there simply isn’t the sort of national consensus on such issues that many conservatives would like there to be. As Jim Manzi and Megan McArdle have recently observed, the alliance between libertarians and religious conservatives that has traditionally been at the heart of the Republican coalition requires exactly this sort of modesty — and it’s far better to win in some states while losing in others than to bet the house on Washington and lose it all at once.
I agree wholeheartedly.

The temptation to centralize power in Washington, D.C. is an affliction that has found suitable hosts among both Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. Time after time - whether on education, social welfare, the federalization of criminal law, or budgetary earmarks for projects of purely local interest - Democrats and Republicans have cooperated in a broad effort to co-opt those powers that have traditionally been reserved to the states. Our political leaders have thus succeeded in creating an imperial national government that bears little resemblance to what James Madison promised in Federalist 45:
The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.
So why is it so important to preserve the constitutional balance between the state and federal governments? And how does federalism contribute to republicanism? You could write essays upon essays on those two questions. Or you could just read The Federalist Papers and find out the answers.

We conservatives shouldn't advocate a rebirth of federalism out of mere sentimental attachment to "the good old days," or because we believe it would promote our ideological interests, or because we view it as a cure-all for the nation's ills. We should do so because we agree with our Founding Fathers that both reason and experience recommend it as the best possible system for preserving liberty and harmony in this diverse, extended republic we call home*.

*See Federalist #10 and Federalist #51 for further elaboration on this point.