Federalism, You're Already Dead

Federalism—that is what the debate is about. It’s not about gun control, abortion regulations or the minimum wage. It’s about what kind of government we want to have. Do we want one more like those in Europe, where strong central governments predominate and laws can be passed with a simple majority? Or do we want a government like the one our founding fathers gave us? 

The debate is really about federalism and how strong the Federal government should be. It’s a debate “as old as time”—or, at least as old as the Constitution. In states like California and Texas, the issues of gun control, abortion regulations or the minimum wage are largely decided. California residents want strict gun control laws, a higher minimum wage and lax abortion regulations. Texas residents do not. This is the way it is supposed to be. This is federalism in action—laboratories of democracy! May the best state win! 

If you don’t remember basic civics, the U.S. Constitution created a Federal government with enumerated powers—it only has the power to do what the Constitution says it can. Every other power of government is reserved to the states. At least, that is the way the Constitution designed the Federal government to work. 

The states were given wide latitude in terms of what they could do. Want a minimum wage? Your state government could give you that. Believe that guns should be more strictly regulated? Your state government can give you that too! That is what Federalism was all about. 

During FDR’s presidency, federalism began to die. It wasn’t enough that Massachusetts offered a minimum wage and Tennessee didn’t. No, now every state had to have a minimum wage, whether their citizens wanted one or not. And the Federal government was now determining what that wage had to be. 

That is what makes watching the current debate about gun control so frustrating. I live in California and we have gun control here—gun control much stricter than any proposed federal law. Yet, that isn’t enough for liberal Californians. According to them, EVERY state must have gun control as strict as California. 

To some degree, I understand why liberals would want stricter gun control on a Federal level. Somebody could buy a gun in Texas they could not buy in California. That same person could then move to California. And if that person is a psycho, maybe he will kill a bunch of people. That makes sense, but I have a right to disagree with it. 

The debate I really want this country to have, though, is whether it is time to finally pull the plug on federalism. Based on the chatter I see on Twitter and elsewhere, I’m thinking most liberals would say federalism doesn’t work—that this idea of a federal government with limited powers doesn’t work in the 21st Century. Maybe it doesn’t. If that’s the case, though, they need to be honest in talking about it. 

Instead, liberals have chipped away at federalism since the 1930’s—all while playing it lip service. Liberals don’t want federalism, though. If they were being honest, they’d say federalism is outdated and that the modern world demands a more centralized government. 

The sad truth is that I think many people, even those not necessarily of a purely liberal persuasion, like the idea of “federalism” and keeping the government our forefathers founded. Many Americans are in denial, though—denial about the fact they think federalism is outdated. If that is the case, then Americans need to change the constitution and give themselves the kind of government they believe the 21st Century requires. 

What Americans shouldn’t do is say we have a government of limited powers while applauding an ever-expanding federal government.  

Increasingly, we live in an American society that wants to have its cake and eat it too. Americans want to reduce the budget deficit—we just can’t raise taxes or cut spending to do it. Americans want free college—they just don’t want to pay for it. All of this is the product of an American culture that is in denial about what it must do to get what it wants. 

In summary, all I want is for America to be honest about what we are debating. We aren’t debating whether we need gun control. Some states already have gun control. No, what we are debating is what our government is and should be. I welcome that debate. What I don’t welcome is what we have been doing for 80 years: ushering in a centralized, European-style government without publicly admitting so. Let’s have the conversation, but let’s not pretend like we aren’t.