(f)ederalism – In Practice

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared here on January 4th of 2013.
The following version has been modified slightly, mostly for the time discrepancy.

Part 3 – In Practice

This series began with a lengthy article exposing the latest attempt to circumvent the Constitution, under the rubric of “Progressive Federalism”. Another in-depth piece was posted yesterday, attempting to explain what Founding-era (f)ederalism actually is, as opposed to what we’ve been so carefully taught to believe.

With that foundation laid down, we can now build upon it, toward the goal of restoring the (f)ederalist model of governance enshrined in the Constitution.

What should be perfectly clear, before laying out The Coolidge Project – a detailed plan to do just that – is that there are no solutions to be found within the 495 beltway. This is basic reality, not pessimism.

If the Federal government were capable of maintaining (f)ederalism, without being forced to do so by the states and the people, we simply wouldn’t be in our current mess of a 17 Trillion dollar national debt. Moreover, we wouldn’t be facing down nearly seven times that amount, just in unfunded liabilities for Federal retirement, health care, and myriad other entitlement programs.

So, does anyone expect any movement, from that national governmental juggernaut, toward restoring (f)ederalism and Constitutional limitations? Quite frankly, that would be worse than insane, and by a factor of even more trillions.

Which is the point I’ve been leading up to, with the first two parts of this series. We have been conditioned, through the institution and proliferation of the bureaucratic state, to automatically conflate “Federal government” with “solutions for our daily lives”.

But the Founders and Framers had an entirely different word-association model in mind. “Utterly irrelevant to our daily lives” would be closer to the mark they indelibly drew into our Constitution.

Also, as an aside, let’s rid ourselves of the “conservative” label once and for all, shall we? Because, in order to “conserve” anything, it must be present and somewhat tangible. Our founding principles are no longer present, nor in practice, nor even remotely tangible. As such, they cannot be “conserved.” They must, instead, be restored, or reinstated, or reasserted.

Perhaps we should call ourselves “Refocusers”, just for the sake of etymological accuracy? Just throwing out alternatives, folks. And I digress, as I’m wont to do on occasion.

So, how can the Framers’ vision of an innocuous Federal government (versus the wholly ubiquitous one we have today) be revamped?

Have you ever read the old Seuss story, “Horton Hears a Who”? Much like the people of Whoville, our voices are far too small, as individual citizens, for those in the far off orbit of Capitol Hill to even take notice. But, unlike that story, getting one elephant to hear our voices, and be an emissary on our behalf, is no panacea.

Even a relative mob of such representatives, pachyderm or otherwise, inside the Federal legislative structure, is of little help, as the “fiscal cliff deal” made abundantly clear.

The old adage of eating an elephant “one bite at a time” applies here, and in more ways than one. If only the emissary we must convince of our existence were as tame as an elephant, that is.

But it’s not. The protector of liberty we were supposed to be guaranteed, and now seek, has become an unthinking beast, through the cruel evolutionary process described in the previous two installments of this series.

Its claws and fangs take no stock of what they shred and devour. Its maw is cavernous. Its appetite is insatiable.

This towering Feral Leviathan (no, that’s not a typo) must have its legs cut off (or at least be kneecapped) before its head will be on the same level as “We The People”. Only then can we bend its ear. (And I’ll refrain from reciting the two lines out of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” that just sprung to mind. But they’re at the end of the fifth stanza, if you care.)

At present, every functionary (elected or otherwise) in our Federal government is so far removed from any modicum of true influence the individual has left to wield, that we essentially are left with a national government, rather than the “general” or “Federal” model the Framers envisioned.

So, what stone is that vorpal blade embedded in? Who has the strength to dislodge it? And can it be swung hard enough to strike the necessary blow to the knees of the burbling Jabberwock? (Sorry, I could resist no longer.)

On these questions, I am happy to report a surprising abundance of good news. But it will take a massive effort, and possibly more than a generation of consistently working at it, to see it through.

There are tens of millions of vorpal swords. And precisely 50 stones from which to dislodge them. I speak, of course, of the states and the people, which are the very essence of (f)ederalism (with the latter being the most important).

Since the institution of the 17th Amendment (and I’ll delve into that bizarre ratification process a bit later, because it is important), the check and balance power the states were afforded has eroded rapidly. Until very recently, in fact, states were viewed, by the Leviathan, as its own appendages, there for no other function than to carry out its whims, fiats, and diktats.

Thanks to a few courageous governors, however, that relationship has been slowly changing of late. And herein lies the rub.

The “direct democracy” referenda scheme in several of these states threatens this much-needed shift toward state pushback against Federal overreach.

We witnessed the recall fiasco in Wisconsin, for example, wherein small but vocal minorities were able to threaten their duly elected legislators, judges, and even their governor with removal from office. And for what unpardonable sin? Simply following through on their campaign promises. The nerve of them guys, right? Need we be reminded of Jefferson’s admonition, in the Declaration, against “light and transient causes”?

The balancing act of (f)ederalism (and the beauty of its structure) is to temper the imminent danger posed to the republic by direct democracy, while allowing for the most plenary powers of self-governance to be left in the hands of the individual.

This is why the notion of “subsidiarity” is so vital to (f)ederalism, the republican form of government, and the very rule of law. Separation of Powers is not just a doctrine enshrined in our Federal Constitution, but also in those of the states.

And it doesn’t stop there. Every county, city, township, hamlet, and even private business, across the nation, has some level of separation doctrine written into its charter.

Why? Because it works.

In every one of the aforementioned institutions, specific duties, responsibilities, functions, and powers are vested in certain agents, to be performed by that person alone. Sure, the Non-Delegation doctrine is applied, to varying degrees, but overall accountability explicitly requires a clear delineation of responsibilities.

When powers are compartmentalized in this fashion, it is much easier to identify the truly culpable, when those functions are not performed (or performed shoddily, dangerously, unethically, or even criminally).

It follows, then, that the more of these compartments a particular governing body contains, the more vigilant the overseers must be (and the greater their numbers must be, in turn).

But, with the rise of the administrative state, and the simultaneous indoctrination of the people, to look to the Federal government as savior and benefactor in nearly every instance, vigilance broke down and the numbers of watchmen dwindled, some out of an entirely justified sense of futility, but even more due to acquired complacency.

Need proof of this phenomenon? Consider: 15 million more votes were cast for American Idol than for President of the United States, just in 2012.

And I contend that we are in far worse shape on a more local level. Don’t believe me? Try the following experiment. This Monday, ask a coworker if they can give you the first and last name of 3 members of your state’s legislature. House or Senate. Or any combination thereof. Beggars can’t be picky, after all. And brace yourself for the sinking feeling you’ll most likely experience, upon hearing their… answer.

To further illustrate the point, consider this: In any given locality in the Commonwealth of Virginia, where I live, there are more VaLottery scratch tickets sold, every week, than there are members of that local population who can name 3 elected members of their county or city governmental body.

The course of action, then, for any effort to restore First Principles and (f)ederalism, is not so much to increase the level of participation among the entire local electorate, but to emphasize the importance of involvement, among those who are informed, articulate, and motivated.

After all, while the Founders understood that every man, woman, and child has a stake in the preservation of their own liberty, guidelines should be maintained to ensure that their stake in the political process was somewhat proportional to their level of investment in government.

Lest I be misconstrued, I simply contend that the guidelines we must follow, as advocates of First Principles, should be as informal as a mutual agreement to not personally assist others in cancelling out our own votes for liberty. No laws or statutes can, or should, be implemented for the purpose of disrupting anyone’s franchise as a voter, for goodness’ sake.

Now, on to the details. State requirements vary, so we’ll use the Commonwealth of Virginia as the model from this point.

We’ve already established that the Feral Leviathan will not voluntarily “bind its mischief” within the shackles placed upon it by the Constitution. Indeed, those chains have long since been demolished. So, we must fashion new ones, working from the original blueprint.

Every bastardized “Flavor of Federalism” since Andrew Jackson has contained strong fiscal elements, all of which originate with the plundering of individuals for unenumerated (read: prohibited) Federal functions.

Federal grants to states, whatever their purpose or delivery method, are simply not possible without money, whether taxed or borrowed on credit. (Or, as is the new vogue since about 1913, conjuring “money” out of thin air.)

Just powers from the consent of the governed” is a powerful phrase, and therein lies every remedy we need, in order to reinstate (f)ederalism. Withdrawing our consent, by perfectly legal means.

The cascade of “dollars from the sky”, which states receive from the Leviathan as bribes in order to perform some function the Federal authorities deem useful to them, has a chilling effect upon the voices of those who would otherwise apply pressure from below, and bend state legislative ears to their demands.

Removing those dollars from the equation, then, should be our top priority.

Step 1: Beat the bushes.

It is abundantly obvious that too few in our current state legislatures are open to cutting off these “Federal” dollars. To remedy this, we must identify our worst enemies in that regard. Then, firm believers in (f)ederalism, and the devolution of powers from Federal to state (and onward from there) that it now requires, must be recruited to run for those state legislative seats. And, if the major party apparatus within the state is hostile to (f)ederalist causes, I will guarantee that other options exist, within lesser-known parties that would be thrilled with the chance for ballot access.

Am I suggesting throwing the two major parties under the bus, for the purposes of this endeavor? Absolutely. If that’s what it takes.

At this point, you should be asking yourself if major party loyalty takes precedence over your last chance to save your country. If your answer is “yes”, I’d encourage you to look closely at your party’s evolution in the last 30 years.

And, if that party happens to be the GOP, you need look no further than August of 2012.

If your answer is still “yes”, then you are tacitly admitting that American liberty is no longer worth saving, and I would submit to you: I hear Estonia is nice this time of year.

Step 2: Ballot access.

So, we’ve found solid (f)ederalists willing to run, and we’ve found a party willing to lend their brand to the cause. Now, we must ensure that this candidate’s name is on the ballot for the general and/or party primary election.

There is a common misconception, due largely to our unhealthy preoccupation with Federal elections, that gaining a spot on the ballot is an arduous task. Nonsense.

Again, state requirements vary, but for the Virginia House of Delegates, a candidate needs a minimum of 125 valid petition signatures for placement on the ballot.

To put this in perspective, I once worked gathering contact information for the email list of a major tax reform organization. On one chilly Sunday afternoon in March, in front of a Wal-Mart, nearly 400 people stopped at my little table and jotted down their names, phone numbers, and email addresses. Ballot petitions, however, seldom require more than a name and mailing address.

Step 3: Getting (f)ederalists elected.

We have our candidate, on the ballot, and he or she is solid, articulate, and is travelling the district persuading voters of the necessity for devolution. But everyone has limitations. In time, in availability, and in geography.

This is where you come in, again. Trust me, educating your fellow citizens about the enormous benefits to them, from reasserting (f)ederalism, is much more fun than standing in front of Wal-Mart. Any time of year.

So, let your enthusiasm show. It’s contagious.

Get to know your audience. If their main concern is the burden that Federal and state regulatory fiats impose on their small business, happily explain how the process of devolving power is a continual one. (f)ederalism will always make those regulatory burdens more manageable, and will most likely even eliminate the heavier (and sillier) ones.

If their concerns are monetary, well, you have fantastic news, right? Smaller government necessarily entails smaller budgets. Remind them that every governmental body creates only one thing: a dent in the individual’s wallet. Bigger government, bigger dent. And vice versa.

Most important of all: never conflate (f)ederalism with the candidate you seek to elect. The candidate is simply a vehicle. (f)ederalism is the destination. Cults of personality lead to the “power of incumbency,” which is a major part of the problem we are trying to correct.

Step 4: Accountability, after election.

This goes back to the previous point regarding personalities. Principle must always come first. The more involved you are in helping to get these (f)ederalists elected, the more they will listen when you express displeasure at one or more votes they cast. After all, they know you can always put that same amount of effort and energy into their challenger’s campaign in the next cycle. Make damn sure they understand this point. “125 signatures? Hell, I’ve got 50 people, just in my extended family, Mr. Delegate. (And they all happen to live in your district.)”

Step 5: Implementation of (f)ederalist policy.

(Read the following with an understanding that we are just past the mid-point, in an effort that will have possibly taken a decade or more, by now.)

With solid majorities of these (f)ederalists, within the state governments, no amount of recall petitions will be able to stop the march of (f)ederalism. Further, the recall and referenda statutes could well be overturned altogether, to stamp out the deleterious vestiges of “direct democracy” undertaken for such “light and transient causes”.

Removal from office for criminal behavior or unconstitutional overreach is another matter entirely, and will be perfectly justified under statutes declaring as much.

More importantly, with a bare fifty-percent-plus-one majority of (f)ederalists, in both state houses (and an amenable governor), the real fun can begin.

But, before we cover that, humor me for another brief aside.

In talks with the chairman of a national political party, I have discussed the plan I’m laying out here. The result of those conversations is an initiative they will be rolling out soon, dubbed “The Coolidge Project.”

The bare bones of the impetus for this name are as follows. Vice President Calvin Coolidge ascended to the office of President in 1923, after Warren Harding’s death. During Harding’s two years, the Federal budget was cut in half and personal income taxes were lowered drastically.

Coolidge continued the tax rate reductions of Harding, despised and reduced Federal regulations, refused U.S. entry into the League of Nations, shunned foreign aid and interventionism, and twice vetoed bills to institute farm subsidies. In short, he was the last President that could be truthfully called a (f)ederalist.

Naturally, shrinking the Federal budget meant that individual states once again resumed their rightful powers. But having a (f)ederalist in the Oval Office is not the only way to reproduce that scenario.

Gaining a (f)ederalist majority, in the legislature of just one state, can have the same eventual effect.

Allow me to explain. We all remember the national news stories generated by Arizona’s S.B. 1070; public sector union reforms in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and New Jersey; right-to-work legislation in New Hampshire, Michigan, and Ohio; and the myriad school choice, medical marijuana, gay marriage, anti-Sharia, and welfare reform bills in dozens of other states. Not to mention the uproar over numerous governors refusing high-speed rail and stimulus funds, and balking at setting up state health insurance exchanges under “Obamacare.”

Do you think, for a second, the national media would devote any less airtime to a story about a state passing legislation that turns down every penny of Federal Medicaid money? And surely they would spend days blasting the awful, evil, no good, dirty rotten scoundrel of a governor that actually signed it into law, right? An entire state, in unison, essentially telling the Feds, “We got this. Mind your own.”

Delicious, no?

Better still, imagine the domino effect, across dozens of states, after watching this rogue state closely the following fiscal year and realizing, “By George, they really do ‘got this’.”

Every state with even a slight majority of limited government legislators would be clamoring to claim the status (and news exposure) of second place.

After all, despite the best efforts of power-mad Federal agencies and lawmakers, states must still compete for intellectual and monetary capital, which can only be generated by entrepreneurs. And, unlike Federal electeds and bureaucrats, these entrepreneurs’ job prospects are not limited to the realm of public service, which is rooted in a specific geographical area.

Would you relocate to a state that shows a willingness (or even eagerness) to keep Federal busybodies out of the lives of its citizens? Damn right you would. And millions would join you in that mass exodus.

That leads us to the final step, which is simply an extension of step 5.

Step 6: Slaying the Jabberwock, For Good

I have been asked, in the past several months that I’ve been formulating and discussing this plan, why I believe a focus on state offices is preferable to county, city, township, and school board offices.

While I readily admit the major importance of those positions, as well, the preference boils down to an issue of longevity and implementation.

Remember that we are discussing a very time-consuming process. As such, and with shorter terms in most of these local offices, my concern is that, by the time power devolves from Federal to state, the local (f)ederalists will no longer be in office to continue the handing-down process.

In fact, as it requires a much smaller voter base to elect these local officials, we can install the properly informed candidates with relative ease, whenever the time for the actual handoff arrives.

By no means am I implying that we simply cede this turf to the Progs and other enemies of Liberty. That would truly be disastrous. But it is only necessary to hold these offices with conservatives, or even independents (as many locales forbid party affiliation) who will hold the line against further Prog infestation.

Because, sadly, although the level of degree varies geographically, these councils and boards are only nominally run by those who sit on them. In our present regime, they are mostly mere functionaries of the next layer of government up the chain, if not owned outright via the funding carrot. Any autonomy they purport to wield is largely illusory, so massive devolution must occur at every governmental level above them before it is truly regained.

With (f)ederalists in place, and states pushing back against the Federal government, demanding their illegally usurped powers back, how do we gain the cooperation of those inside the God-forsaken swamp we call our nation’s capital?

Step 6 1/2: Slaying the Jabberwock, By Making It… Bigger?

One way to drive the sword home, believe it or not, is with the original first amendment, which I alluded to in Part 2 of this series. This is the only one, of the initial twelve proposed, that has yet to be ratified.

Why? Because it scares the living hell out of Congress Critters and the professional political consultant/pundit class alike. Oh, and lobbyists.

You see, none of these slimy creatures (can we collectively dub them “the frumious Bandersnatch”?) care very much for rigidly imposed accountability. Worms covet their ability to wiggle, after all, and the original first amendment leaves them no room to do so.

So, what is this “original first amendment”? And how is it relevant to (f)ederalism, and its reassertion? In essence, the amendment imposes a more stringent proportional representation model on the House of Reprehensibles than the one laid out in Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution. There, a single Congress Critter must represent a minimum of 30,000 people, but no maximum is defined.

The Original First Amendment does that. The maximum it would have imposed, at the time it was approved by Congress, would have been 40,000. Of course, one House member per 40k citizens would eventually become unworkable, which is why the amendment essentially would establish an algorithm based on the census.

At the current population, we would have 1,650 members of the House, each representing just under 200,000 people. Ratifying this amendment, in 2013, would be a good first step toward curbing gerrymandering, and would completely eliminate the wide swings we see now among Congressional districts, where some contain as many as 1 million people, and some as few as 300,000.

Some scoff at the notion of 1,650 members in the House, and I would remind them that some would be female, so that’s not quite accurate. All kidding aside, though, with today’s online meeting technology, there would be no need to construct a new House chambers. As a matter of fact, the case could be made that reps would never even have to leave their home districts.

Boy, wouldn’t they hate that! No more junkets or cross-country luxury jet rides? And those pesky people always so close by, to harangue them for Liberty-destroying votes! (The horror!, he exclaimed, while cackling.)

And just think of the ramifications, from a continuity-of-government perspective: terrorists would have a hell of a time figuratively decapitating our Federal government, wouldn’t they? I mean, as opposed to flying a plane into one building, while a major floor vote is underway. “We’re here for you, Congressman! Safety first!”

Sold yet?

What’s that? You say Congress would have to approve the amendment and send it to the states for ratification, before it can become an official part of the Constitution?

Nope.

That has already been done. There is no expiration date on state ratification of already approved Constitutional amendments, as the 27th amendment has proven. That one was finally ratified in 1992. But it was approved by Congress (as the original second amendment) in 1791.

But, just for the sake of argument, say the states wanted to ratify an amendment and needed Congressional approval. With their lust for power, they’d never send an amendment out to the states, just because those puny little states demanded it, right?

Believe it or not, they would. And they did. In 1912. Less than a year later, the requisite number of states had ratified it, and it became the despicable 17th amendment.

Despite its ruinous effects, though, the 17th Amendment didn’t actually accrue more power to the Federal government. While not a (f)ederalist amendment, it did take power from the state legislatures and vest it directly in the individual. Seeing the results (can you say “Senator Elizabeth ‘Warpath’ Warren”? I knew you could choke it out.) is just one more strike against “direct democracy” without checks and balances, isn’t it?

But why would Congress propose and approve this amendment, if it didn’t really benefit them? Because those “puny little states” actually demanded it. (Yes, the state legislatures delegated their Constitutional mandate for selecting Senators to their own citizens. Crazy, I know.)

But Article 5 of the Constitution establishes the amendment process, including a provision for the states themselves to initiate it. Upon approval by two-thirds of the states, Article 5 declares that Congress shall call for the convention to approve it.

And, by early 1912, with a couple more states vying to become part of the union, critical mass was imminent.

Yes, the states flexed and Congress flinched.

That can happen again, once one state legislature contains enough (f)ederalists to refuse Federal money (and its requisite strings and sticks), and the dominoes begin to fall.

But we can’t bring about the full restoration of Founding (f)ederalism with state-initiated Constitutional amendments alone. Some amount of cooperation from the Federal government is necessary, in order to roll back their massive overreach and hand back those stolen powers to the states.

And this is the reason I don’t fear laying this plan out, in such detail, in a public forum. Because there is nothing that can be done to stop it, save for failure to initiate it.

Take into account the major political parties, and their apparatus. Senators are generally former members of the House. And parties recruit House candidates from their farm team, which is generally the state legislature. If their bench for fielding candidates is occupied mostly by (f)ederalists, where else can they turn? Sure, they can attempt to run a candidate with no elected experience for national office and, in that event, we field a candidate to oppose them (in the primary or the general) who is a veteran elected (f)ederalist. Preferably one that is wildly popular with his constituents, due not to a cult of personality, but to his proximity to our Founders, in terms of principles.

By this method, we will eventually have enough (f)ederalists on the state and national level to begin the process of devolution.

And the time to start is now. For those of you in the other 48 states, you have some breathing room. Your elections for state legislature are in November of 2014. But it’s not too early to begin testing the waters by educating your friends, neighbors, coworkers, and families about the merits of, arguments for, and viability of (f)ederalism.

You also have plenty of time to start looking around for articulate and personable men and women of character, who understand subsidiarity and localized governance and can explain it succinctly, and convince them to run. Most state legislatures are only in session part-time, after all, so the commitment on their time is not a tremendous burden. Indeed, if their loyalty to Liberty and our founding philosophy is as fervent as you think it is, they may even view the office as equal parts burden and duty, as did our Founders.

As for my fellow Virginians, and our colleagues in New Jersey, this plan is already being implemented. The entire House of Delegates, in both of these states, is up for election in 2 short months. Petitions are circulating as I write this, to gain ballot access for the handful of candidates we’ve recruited so far. But, even if you don’t live in NJ or VA, you can still help us by contacting friends (online or in real life) and family who do live there (or here), and making them aware of our efforts. 2013 is the trial run for this plan to reinstate (f)ederalism and truly Constitutionally limited government. And 2014 can carry these efforts forward on a much wider scale.

The only question remaining is whether you have had enough of the Progressive evolution, and its predictable effects that are causing more suffering by the day, to do something about it. If so, then it is high time we devolve.

While the Feral Leviathan/Jabberwock need not be slain, necessarily, it is overwhelmingly evident that it must be brought to heel, at the very least. There is but one way, within our Constitutional framework, to do so. And I firmly believe this is that path.

‘Tis half past brillig, ladies and gentlemen. And the vorpal swords await.

Snicker-snack!

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