While I was away, I had plenty of time to think about federalism. One interesting note is that I did this without having the lens of current events in the way. I was completely away from pretty much all forms of news; if it wasn’t big enough to be talked about by family, I probably missed it.
One of the interesting side-effects of living like this is that my sometimes-random, sometimes-focused thoughts pertaining to federalism were geared towards historical and theoretical federalism. I wasn’t contemplating how a federalist should view Obamacare or gun control. Instead, I was able to apply proper federalist principles to a general perspective. Think of it as a 30,000-foot view.
There were some interesting conclusions and even more interesting questions I’ll go into in the future, but the biggest takeaway is that federalism can only work in modern America if we’re able to get a proper foothold. We’re on a slippery slope with a left-right, liberal-conservative dichotomy that currently holds the nation’s ideologies hostage. Most conservatives believe that federalism applies only to their ideas while most liberals believe federalism is a convenient tool to invoke only when they’re not in power.
The reality is that federalism has very little to do with right versus left, at least as it pertains to decision-making. Let’s look at a basic way to apply federalism generally. Hopefully then we can understand the challenges that can prevent us from finding our foothold. This is not meant to be a scholarly or philosophical look at federalism. It’s just a quick view to set the stage for finding solutions.
The federalist lens
I’ve written in the past that the roots of federalism were based on sharing powers, not making the national government more powerful. In the 18th century, states held the lion’s share of government power so it was necessary for early federalists to push for a stronger central government. Today, the power has shifted unnaturally to favor DC, so a true federalist will embrace taking power away from the central government and distributing it to states, counties, cities, communities, and most importantly to individuals and their families.
With that understood, let’s look at why federalism does not fall within the left-right paradigm that exists in America today. There’s no need to show examples of conservatism championed by federalism because conservatives have generally embraced most tenets of federalism whether they know it or not. However, there are many examples of how leftist ideas also invoke federalism and rightfully so.
One easy example is New York politicians’ desire to give “free education to all.” While conservatives will naturally ask the question of how expensive this “free” idea will become, many are calling on DC to figure out ways to block the attempt altogether. This is 100% against federalist tenets and should not be acceptable. If New York wants to go down that road, it is not DC’s job to stop them. One of the beauties of federalism applied to 50 states is that they should be free to attempt whatever programs their residents desire. If it fails, it is a lesson for other states. If it succeeds, it’s a model upon which others can embrace or improve.
Experimentation allows the states to be like governmental labs. This is a good thing. It applies all the way down (or up, depending on your point of view). Cities should be free to adopt just about anything that does not hinder others. This is a key point because the fear of a free-for-all in governance makes liberals and conservatives alike cringe. Are sanctuary cities acceptable in a federalist model? No. Unless a sanctuary city is able to contain the suspects and criminals they set free, their actions against federal cooperation are not true federalism. Cities cannot be allowed to harm their neighbors based on their actions (or lack of actions). Sanctuary cities are perversions of federalism.
Steps toward federalism
While I get back into the swing of things, there are still many questions I need to answer. One is where the Federalist Party stands, or more specifically where I stand within the Federalist Party itself. Just as with my friends here at NOQ Report who carried on in my absence, I know there were many who continued to build the groundswell for the Federalist Party. Where the party and I stand will be an important piece of information I’ll need before knowing how to proceed.
One thing that does not require any additional information is the realization I came to while on hiatus. For federalism to succeed in America and truly gain a foothold, it MUST be understood. I’m a firm believer that 70% or more of the American population would embrace the tenets of federalism if they understood it properly. Just as a right-leaning gun advocate can be shown how true reciprocity can only be accomplished between states instead of by decree in DC, so too can left-leaning environmentalist can be shown the benefits of localizing environmental protection rather than sinking money into the EPA or (gulp) the Paris accords.
In my downtime, I concluded that a population that does not understand federalism cannot properly embrace it. Conversely, bringing true federalism to light can and will help it gain more supporters because it simply makes sense. Going forward, that will be one of the most important roles I play in the outside world. Championing federalism is the best thing I can do in American politics. It won’t be easy, but if we’re to continue to prosper as a nation, we must wrest power away from DC and back into the hands of the people.