Thursday, April 29, 2010

Just an essay, not a political diatribe

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.

My opinion.


Federalist Number 39


  1. You said this: "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."

    The other end of the spectrum can be readily demonstrated. Kindly, provide examples of of what you mean by this.

  2. @ Stephanie Barr - Hi, Stephanie. You are asking me to provide examples of how the federal government is intruding into my daily life? How private enterprise is stifled by too much government regulation? How individual liberties are curtailed by having to take more and more directions from the government? I'm not sure if these are what you are asking me to provide actual examples of, but I think that is what you are asking.

    No matter, such a discussion is outside the scope of this post anyway. I'm not posting here about whether this or that social program or "government guideline" - that our government minions thought up - is good for us or not. That is the subject of another post, perhaps. The only point of debate on THIS post is whether or not the federal government has a constitutional RIGHT to be working on such a local level or not, or if most of these social programs were meant to be the provence of local or state governments.

    So, sticking to the subject of this post, please tell me, for example, what part of the constitution authorizes the federal government to tell me how much salt I can eat. Don't tell me eating less salt is good for me, or that it will save on general medical costs. Tell me where their authority to regulate my salt intake comes from.

    If you do that, I promise to make another post on the subject of your question.

    On the other hand, if I have completely missed the point of what you are asking me, I hope you will accept my apologies in advance, and ask again.

  3. I've thought of 7 just now, and I bet I can come up with 20. But I want to wait until I'm sure what you are requesting from me before I make another post on that.

  4. I am trying to figure out what you meant by that statement.

    Without knowing what you mean, I can't address the statement.

    And kindly demonstrate where the federal government can preclude you from eating all the salt you want, including right from the shaker. Perhaps that's a state thing. My husband has been known to eat rock salt like candy.

  5. "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."

    This means to me that when the government regulates things TOO much, businesses can't properly attend to running their businesses profitably because of all the paperwork, rules, and red tape; individual citizens are likewise burdened with excess bureaucracy and too much government participation in the decisions of their daily life. A balance between non-regulation and over-regulation, please.

    Have you ever worked for a micro-manager? Did you like it? Do you like to work in a place where your boss is always walking behind you with his chin on your shoulder? Or do you, like me, prefer to have your duties outlined and then be left alone to get the job done? Would it not frustrate you to have your manager return every 5 minutes and tell you in greater detail how to do the small jobs? That type of management just eats out the soul of employees. Citizens, too.

    Actually, I would be happiest of all if you would simply agree that our constitution intends our government to be a healthy combination of protecting the basic human rights of citizens while otherwise practicing a hands off attitude until it is needed again.

    I think one of our main disagreements has always been that that I believe citizens should be free to find their own way in life, to succeed or fail, rather than be told by their government what is best for them, or for the government to always be in the business of providing a safety net for them. Some protections are needed; I've never argued with you about that. Our disagreements have always been about quantity and degree of government.

    Apparently you haven't heard in the news in the past few days about the federal government smacking down McDonald's Happy Meals salt content. I'll let you decide whether you think that is a proper issue for Washington.

  6. Great post and great points of view for all contributors... I have learned a lot and humbly pass on interjecting my opinion on the matter. Keep up the solid info and best of luck.

  7. Telling McDonald's they have too much salt in their happy meal (no I have not heard it - but then I don't want Fox news)is not the same as telling people how much they can eat, unless they make McDonald get rid of all those salt packets they leave out.

    It just means people get a better idea how much salt their eating, can make a conscious choice on how much to imbibe.

    I'm afraid I don't see that as an end to life as we know it.

  8. New York City is one of several cities considering restricting the use of trans-fats and even toyed with the notion of restricting portion sizes for the fat in restaurants. Why is that any better than the Federal government stepping in with regards to children's meals?

    I fail to see that the federal government is all in my face. As I work for the government, I have seen both over managing and, far more likely, undermanaging things that the taxpayer is paying for. That might flavor my viewpoint.

    As for your other point, I also don't think that everyone should be left to fend completely for themselves. That kind of thinking was behind the financial nightmare we have now. Heck, even in Dicken's time they had orphanages such as they were.

  9. Your logic with regard to the function of government is fascinating. So tell me, do you think they should ban butter?

  10. How about clothing? Should there be a government list of permitted clothing items? Should we wear Federal Uniforms to work?

    Is there EVER a line beyond which you would think the government may have intruded a bit?

    Or is the test only "Is it good for the Borg"?

  11. I'm afraid you misunderstood my point. My point was that you don't have to be the federal government to to be intrusive (which was your original point).

    Nor do I equate telling a restaurant they are overdoing salt the same thing as regulating salt intake for all citizens.

    But, you bring up a good point. Where's your line? Do we tell people what they're eating is dangerous? Should we just lean back and stop worrying about lead in our toys? Kids with cigarettes? Cocaine? If something is demonstrably dangerous, should steps be taken to ban it or limit it's use, at least for minors?

    I'm not saying things haven't been intrusive (I think the current law in Arizona is a fine example and not just because I could pass for Mexican and would care to show my ID to every Tom Dick and Harry). Of course, that's a local government kicking people's rights about. But things that are intrusive, that take away people's real rights, infringe unduly get undone over time.

    But, when I see rights infringed upon on the federal level, it's more where gay couples can't be treated as real citizens - a role I think no government should have. Or people taking it upon themselves to decide what a woman should decide to do with her pregnancy when no one else is going to have to live with the consequences. I'm not sure any government should be able to stand in the way of a person's right to die.

    I happen to know what a difference the FDA and EPA have made in this country. I'm not claiming they're perfect or never made mistakes. I'm sure some things are still out there that are dangerous and some things were pulled prematurely.

    Where's the line? Fat doesn't frighten me, salt either. I don't think anyone should be forced to be healthy, but, I do think standards should be higher for children (who aren't making a conscious mature choice). And materials that are deadly should be controlled. And people should be informed of the risks they take.

    My point though, isn't the line, but that the federal hardly corners the market on intrusive restrictions on our freedom and, in many cases historically, has been the force behind freeing us from unsavory local mandates (think Jim Crow laws, for example).

    That's all.

    (You can come up with something better than salt on McD's fries, can't you?)

  12. Well, I don't think I misunderstood your point. Your point is that practically anything the federal government does is fine with you, as long as it is for the "general good." (They will decide what is good.) You believe the primary function of the federal government is to take care of us. That's your point. I understand it.

    You ask why NYC can regulate transfats and the federal government can't do essentially the same thing in other areas. The answer is simple: the constitution allows local governments to do that and it doesn't allow the federal government to do it. Is there some hidden nanny section in our constitution that you can point to that you think allows the federal government to regulate salt intake or transfats? That stuff is reserved to the states and the local governments. (Incidentally, here I must admit I lied about the salt in McDonald's thing - turns out that was the County of Santa Clara in California, not the federal government. And they are perfectly within their authority to do that if the people who live there let them. I humbly withdraw that salt accusation about the feds.)

    And no, there is nothing on your list that the federal government needs to be involved in. Not cigarettes, not lead in our toys, not even cocaine. Unless one of those things crosses state lines in commerce in such a way that the individual states concerned can't handle the problem. It's up to the states to regulate those things within their boundaries.

    The fact is, you don't like smoking. I don't either. So what? Smoking isn't illegal in any state. Therefore, if you take your cigarettes across a state line, you haven't broken any law. The states can tax cigarettes or liquor or baby diapers. But the federal government has no business putting their little messages on cigarette packages since smoking doesn't violate federal law. That stuff is up to the people of the several states. There.

    You seem to love uniformity for the sake of uniformity. I don't. I like laws that are tailored to specific localities. I also like laws that are authorized by our constitution, and no freelancing by the feds.

    I don't like it when the federal government thinks up something that is "good for all of us", like handicapped parking and ramps. Why? Because the constitution doesn't give the federal government the right to do those things. It is up to the states to make such laws with regard to their citizens, if the people want those laws in their state.

    I think you and I are much too far apart to ever come to some middle ground. You want a federal government who takes care of "their" people. More that that, you want the federal government to do it in a uniform manner. That's ridiculous! - we don't have the same needs in every state! I want a federal government that concerns itself with those things which affect two or more states in their dealings with one another.

    Regulate interstate commerce; print one kind of money for all of us; provide for the national defense. Simple.

    Like protecting our national borders, for example.

  13. I repeat:

    "Like protecting our national borders, for example."

    You seem to think you know all about the new Arizona law. Like a lot of other people who haven't even read the words in the law, like Obama and Holder, and Posner, and the Mayor of San Francisco and the LA city council, you say the law will result in racial profiling and discrimination. This without ever having read the law. Holder says he is considering suing Arizona over the law. Then he admits he has never read the law. Cool. Typical liberal knee jerk idiocy.

    So LA is going to boycott Arizona because they "think" the law will result in racial profiling and racial discrimination. So what happens if Arizona turns off LA's electricity? "Oh, I heard you are boycotting us, so we assumed you didn't want us to send you our electricity any longer."

    I know you are a god-fearing conservative, but what is your opinion about the liberal establishment that rants and raves about a law they've never even read?

    In what way is it a case of a local government kicking people's rights around? What does the new Arizona law say? Is it in effect now? When will it go into effect? Obama said if you are walking down the sidewalk eating an ice cream cone, the Arizona police can whip up and check out your citizenship papers. Our president said that. Do YOU believe that? Does Obama have a handle on the Arizona law? How about Holder? What do you think about him suing without reading the law? Maybe the law says Phoenix police officers are obligated to give out donuts to Mexican Nationals. Wouldn't you all be embarrassed for your baseless rants? You should at least get the facts first. Couldn't hurt. Might help.

    I have a point here too. It is this: Dear Barack, Don't be such a knee-jerk reactionary. Do your job. Protect our borders.

    For ONCE that is a job for the feds the constitution actually gives them.

    Where is my personal line, you ask?

    Well, I firmly believe in the Equal Protection Clause, for starters. No Jim Crow Laws. No treating some particular segment of the population poorly. (Or treating others like "special citizens".) For starters. You would get farther with me arguing equal protection than you would arguing that Nanny is good for us.

    You make some good points too. I don't think we will ever agree on the means to the same ends though.

  14. This has been interesting. My own country, without the benefit of the chance to vote on whether we want to be federalised, has gradually been having its sovereignty eroded by its membership of the european union. The EU was foisted upon us under a number of deceits. Back in the nineteen seventies, we were told we should open up our trading within a european Common Market. That was the thin end of the wedge. Oh the idea was good enough. Free trade, unified rules, an end to restrictive tariffs.
    but then the downside. Britain was part of a "Commonwealth", it was already part of a common market, we traded in that way with our partners, those countries which had once been The Empire. Our wool came from Australia and New Zealand, our bananas from the caribbean islands, our sugar also, grain and minerals from Canada, produce, all manner of trade from Africa, Rhodesia, South Africa, Kenya, all manner of countries which have changed their names and borders, but then.... The EU tells us "You can't just buy your bananas from these islands where they've always come from, because the french still have banana islands, and its unlawful to exclude them from your deals." likewise the New Zealand Lamb.
    Now the EU is all-pervasive, somehow we find ourself a vassal state... How did that happen?
    How can it be that a person who has no case under British Law, can second-guess it, and seek a more favourable ruling by taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights. That court which rules that we can not deport our avowed enemies, because their own countries might subject them to their own laws?

    However: You Americans talk of America, of being American, of the shared values of America, the whole Norman Rockwell, Doris Day, Mom's Apple Pie syndrome, in a way that we would never talk of being european.
    You go to war as Americans, you compete the Olympics as Americans, you boast of your industries as Americans, you cancel your space shuttles as americans.
    You are federal creatures. Federal is fundamental to you. There are no border guards between your states. Domestic appliances work off the same sockets in Kentucky as they do in California, you pass, without let or hindrance though state after state on a long journey.
    What you, as a people, are proudest of, is America, is that symbolism, that flag, that capitol, that white house, that president, that federalism that makes you all Americans, not just members of a bunch of little squabbling countries spread out across the space between Canada and Mexico.

    Without the federal govenment there is no USA, no stars and stripes.

    Oh yes, Ohio, try flexing your muscles on the world stage and hear the laughter. Arizona, show us your Olympic Prowess, Montana, how's your space travel going?

    You owe so much more to federalisation than you do to individual statehood. Federal law should reasonably cover all aspects of being American, as opposed to all aspects of being, say, Texan. It has a right and duty to concern itself with the overall steering and management of that ship we call America, and that involves adjudicating the squabbles between the engine-room and the galley, the steering gear and the bows.
    What do you want, Max? is it better to untie the links, take to the boats and scatter upon a stormy sea? Shall each boat speak its own language? use an incompatible paddle with its neighbour's?
    Shall the crew feel free to mutiny against the captain because they don't like his orders?
    "Hey, Engine-Room's not gonna supply galley with electricity, it's our electricity!".......

    Might I suggest that without the federales, your state might find itself annexed by an earlier owner?

  15. @Soubriquet - I think you are, again, confusing Nationalism with Federalism and, again, using them interchangeably. Sure, I have a healthy national pride, when it comes to war and the olympics. Indeed, the states speaking with one voice is why we banded together in the first place. I don't deny that, over the years -- especially with improved transportation and communications -- nationalism has increased; Texans are still proud to be Texans, but not as much as a hundred years ago. Many (perhaps all, if not all their citizens) of the states who fought a war against the unconstitutional infringement into the affairs of states by the federal government have long since made their peace with that federal government. Today, we realize it didn't matter that it was unconstitutional; might makes right. I can't really communicate my feelings except to say there is a constitutional limit to federalism, and that limit has long since been exceeded. Because we have a national anthem and a national flag and an olympic team should not fool you into thinking that Vermonters have the same values and concerns and problems as Arizonans or Iowans. It would be a mistake for you, even in this day and age, to assume we have all homogenized into a big cooperative "American" pot. While I do see the differences between our brand of federalism and what you are seeing with your E.U. quasi-federalism, it just isn't quite the same. People in Boston live farther away from San Diego than people in Helsinki live from Cadiz... but they speak the same language and, yes, have the same flag. Still their daily concerns are very different. The Federales? Well, I know who you are talking about and you are not talking about the real Federales of Mexico who are not doing a very good job of patrolling their border. You are talking about OUR "federales" who also are not doing a very good job of patrolling their border. You say states couldn't make it on their own. You say our "previous owners" (and by that I presume you mean the Mexicans and not the Indians who the Mexicans stole the land from) would reposes us without our federal government. You even use Texas as an example of federal dependency. Yet Texas did fight a war with Mexico. Then, the Republic of Texas, after eventually winning that war with Mexico, then accepted the invitation to join the United States. Don't be so sure about individual states needing the "federales" so much. :) And Texas is only slightly larger than France. My own state is the last one to be attacked by Mexico, or at least a Mexican presidential contender, in 1912. Our federales responded then, unlike now. I guess the bottom line is that I still remember how (and why) the U.S. came to be, and I still believe our constitution can make us great and even prosperous again if we will return to it. It is not a desire to return to our past and our past horrible imperfections; it is a desire to return to the the game plan that has served us so well over the years. Our current sad weakened condition reflects, in my humble opinion, our drifting from that original game plan. I enjoy and respect (and want) a certain amount of nationalism; I believe there is a time and place to put on a united front. At the same time, I realize how Europeans dismiss the importance of the individual states in this day and age. That's cool. You can think that, and you can be joined by many in this country as well who think the same way. But you would both be wrong. :) You see, I KNOW that America didn't fight the British or the Japanese or Mexico or Al-Queda. Texas did. California did. Massachusetts did. Georgia did. Michigan did. Ohio is. Arizona is.

  16. And, yes, we need to get out of NATO and the UN too, just as fast as we can run. Sigh. I know there isn't much of a chance I can tempt you to wade through James Madison's archaic language which explains the need for a mix of Nationalism and Federalism. But if I COULD convince you, you would find it here.

  17. I think I understand what you are saying.
    I've stayed out of the debate precisely because the whole thing is beyond my comprehension.
    For the record, I'm absolutely against the federalisation of europe.
    I'm British, not european.
    Yes, I'm all for treaties, free trade between neighbours, and so forth. But I'll never feel any personal allegiance to "europe".
    Where I live, we're on an island.
    We have an island mentality, we have but one border, and that is the ocean.
    Now, the "europeans can walk from Paris to Frankfurt, Athens to Madrid, should they so wish. And good luck to them. We British, we built boats to keep the bastards out. The "wooden walls of England". And with our boats we went out into the wider world. Hearts of oak were our ships. We have fought with and competed with our neighbours, we've fought for their freedom too. But our sovereignty? Our constitution was signed on the meadows of Runnymede in 1215. Clauses in that document underpin our most fundamental rights today. The charter of 1297 further defined our laws.
    No court in Den Haag, or Strasbourg, should be able to interfere with our law, no federal europe for me.



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