What Kind of Government Do You Want?

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On Friday, I published an article detailing the different ways the federal government controls the states. It’s one of the primary ways the government is able to “get away with” unconstitutional behavior. They can step back and blame the states for “doing it”.

Today I simply want to challenge the citizenry to take a long hard look at what you’ve been asking the federal government to do. Really. Step back for a moment and consider the types of things you may have griped about to the federal government or about the federal government. We can’t hope for change unless we each, individually, and personally, look at the ways that we’ve been progressing this federal growth.

We need to all honestly ask ourselves. What kind of government do we want—both at the state and federal level?

I’ve witnessed and heard many “conservative” or “republican” people talk about the need for educational reform. I’ve heard the same people discuss how the federal government ought to step in an invalidate “unconstitutional” state laws that would violate certain rights, like gun rights, or freedom of speech or private business rights. I’ve heard people talk about social security as if it’s a given and a constitutionally expected privilege. Daily, I hear those on the right discussing the Bill of Rights, or the 10th Amendment as if those are the only parts of the Constitution that matter. And there’s always the constant assumption that if the state should ever do something “unconstitutional”, the federal government better step in and fix it. We’ll gladly challenge a state law in the Supreme Court.

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The problem here is that in all of this we’re perpetuating a perverted form of the truth. It’s so close to being correct that we miss where it’s skewed. We feel like we’re protecting liberty, when all the while we’re slowly destroying it. Nothing is worse than a lie that sounds like the truth.

Every time we turn to the federal government to invalidate a “bad” state law, we’re perpetuating two major assumptions about federal and state power. First, we’re assuming that the federal constitution applies to our state government. So, we whine that the state has done something “unconstitutional” based off of the federal constitution.

Friends. remember, the federal constitution applies to the federal government while the state constitution applies to our state government. The federal constitution does not confine our state government, nor does it define our state government’s job. Our state constitution does that… otherwise, why would we need a state constitution if the federal constitution did all that? For example, unless there’s a federal law violating gun rights, the federal government should not be involved.

But, instead of acting responsibly and challenging state action according to the state constitution, we don’t even acknowledge the existence of the state constitution and immediately call out state laws as “unconstitutional” based on the federal constitution (usually the Bill of Rights). What happens when we do this? We validate the dangerous lie that the federal constitution does apply to states (something the Supreme Court has, in some cases, validated through selective incorporation) and further perpetuate the assumption that the federal government’s power is far greater than the states’ power. Why? By assuming the federal government can come in at anytime and nullify state or local law. We’re promoting the very government we say we’re trying to avoid: a grossly overbearing federal government and weakening state government.

States shouldn’t act unconstitutionally according to their constitutions (which are usually much more specific and rigid than even the federal constitution). We should handle Constitutional issues with have with state behavior at the state level.

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Further, when we see a problem, whatever a problem it may be–education funding, social security, poverty, violated rights, abortion, marriage issues, morality–the list could go on and on, we need to get out of the habit of immediately turning to the federal government to fix the problem. Right?

How natural is it, even for those of us who consider ourselves constitutionalists or government minimalists, to turn to the federal government when we see a problem? Truly, take a long hard look at this for yourself. The only way you change the unhealthy way you look at government is by really getting honest with yourself. I’ve had to do it, still am doing it. We all should.

Why do we look to the federal government for issues of abortion, gay marriage, gun rights etc? Most of these issues should all be handled at the state level. Since when did we start assuming the federal government holds all the powers the state governments once held?

In fact, since when did we start assuming the federal government holds more power than the states?

Why do we call states rights, “our 10th Amendment rights”? That’s utterly absurd. We don’t have “10th Amendment” rights. The states don’t need a 10th Amendment to have all the power they have. All they need is Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution because everything not listed in the enumerated powers is left to the states.

From the Constitution Center:

“The Tenth Amendment’s simple language—’The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people’—emphasizes that the inclusion of a bill of rights does not change the fundamental character of the national government. It remains a government of limited and enumerated powers, so that the first question involving an exercise of federal power is not whether it violates someone’s rights, but whether it exceeds the national government’s enumerated powers. 

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In this sense, the Tenth Amendment is ‘but a truism.’ United States v. Darby(1941). No law that would have been constitutional before the Tenth Amendment was ratified becomes unconstitutional simply because the Tenth Amendment exists. The only question posed by the Tenth Amendment is whether a claimed federal power was actually delegated to the national government by the Constitution, and that question is answered by studying the enumerated powers, not by studying the Tenth Amendment. That was the understanding of the Supreme Court for nearly two centuries.”

Boy, have we changed the way we treat the 10th Amendment and state power. We act as if the 10th Amendment is the only thing standing between all encompassing federal power and maintaining a little state autonomy. Friends, the Constitution is what guarantees state power by limiting federal power.

And yet we keep demanding for more federal power, many times in the guise of wanting to protect the Constitution, or a constitutional right that a state has violated.

It’s about time we take a good long hard look at the language and beliefs we’re promulgating. Are they leading others astray? Are they leading government astray?

Some of these misunderstandings and perversions are so deeply engrained in our understanding of politics, government, and rights that even the Supreme Court, lawyers, politicians and the like, also use this language and this frame of thought.

It’s about time we change that.

The Liberty Belle

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