There are two schools of thought as to what kind of government Americans want, and the divide between those two schools seems to be getting more and more pronounced.
On one side are the people who believe the function of government is to provide for their daily needs and wants, and on the other side are the people who seek LESS government presence in their daily lives. At the same time, to make the debate more interesting, each side constantly puts out misinformation (conservatives have no compassion for the poor and liberals are all commies) about the other side, and each plays the blame game.
So, what kind of “federal” government does the U.S. have? What was it meant to be, according to our constitution?
In 1787, the American people were asking the same question. The man who (mostly) wrote our constitution answered that question in Federalist #39: the (then proposed) constitution contemplated neither a wholly national government nor a wholly federal government, but instead a combination of both. Working through the Senate, it was to be a FEDERAL government which facilitated the interactions between the individual states, as the Senators explained the needs and desires of their states, while at the same time taking care not to intrude too closely in the affairs of the individual citizens of those states. Yet, working through the House of Representatives, it becomes very much a NATIONAL government rather than a federal government, intending simultaneously to be responsive directly to the needs of the citizens of the nation as a whole, while being denied the absolute sovereignty that a true national government has to overrule (and even abolish) local governments.
It has been a tug of war ever since as to just how closely the “federal” government might be allowed to influence the everyday lives of the national (American) citizens, and how much it should be beaten back towards the federalist end of the spectrum so the states can still function as the sovereign entities contemplated when they first banded together. Sovereign, of course, within their individual realms. This never-ending ebb and flow is the result of the biennial changing of the House of Representatives as the individual citizens make their current wishes known as to the direction their country should take.
History shows us that whenever private enterprise and states rights advocates are too successful in this never-ending tug of war, robber barons and local tyrants begin to flourish. Conversely, when the historic pendulum swings too far in the direction of a national goverment, intimate interference into the daily lives of American citizens begins to cause a stifling effect on free enterprise and, of necessity, individual liberties.
My opinion is the same as the framers of the constitution: both aspects are desireable. We need a government which can act as an impartial arbitor between the states, and also provide the services a federal government must provide in the areas of national defence and interstate commerce regulation. Yet, we also need a dose of a compassionate (and, yes, proactive) NATIONAL government to protect AMERICAN citizens at large from the excesses and parochialisms of the several states, while still not intruding into the affairs of the states beyond the powers ceded to it by those states.
It is a balancing act. Today that balance has shifted toward an overly national government, in my opinion, and our society is stagnating as a result - bogged down with burdensome interference at a national level. History tells us this will soon begin to change, if only because the bastards will soon run out of money for social programs and the people will rebel at the oppressive (and unfair - more than half of Americans don’t contribute federal income taxes now) taxation.
What many people see as a struggle between Democrats and Republicans, or between Liberals and Conservatives, or between socialists and capitalists, is really only the historically “normal” method our constitution uses to strike a healthy concensus. The current rage of nationalism - even to the extent of disolving state borders - will, if history repeats itself, again recede slowly toward the direction of federalism again.
Short of making dangerous changes to our constitution (which only the states can do) there is little permanent damage that any one fleeting administration can inflict on our republic. Not Lyndon Johnson, not Jimmy Carter, not Ronald Reagan, not George Bush, not Barack Obama. For it is not they or their vocal supporters and detractors who shape the destiny of America in the long run, but the weight of the American people which keeps the ship of state in trim.