Power Divided is Power Checked: The Argument for States Rights
An Op/Ed by Jason Lewis
Whenever you write a book, invariably people ask "Why did you write this book now?" While the idea for "Power Divided is Power Checked: The ArgumentforStates Rights" is as old as the founding documents themselves, there was an urgency in my mind towards reinvigorating the framers' intention at this particular moment.
We are at a tipping point in America of which there may be no going back if we choose the wrong path. And while everyone (at least those on the left) bemoans the fact that the country appears to be so polarized, no one asks why. I think I know one reason.
People have always had differing views on the size of government in a free society. In the modern era, however, we have abandoned the live and let live philosophy of federalism for the ‘one size fits all’ imposition of consolidated power. The result is a spoils system bordering on mob rule by allowing Leviathan government to impose its will on the rest of the country. This is the antithesis of republican architecture.
James Madison wrote of the new central government that it could not “be deemed a national one since its jurisdiction extends to certain enumerated objects only, and leaves to the several states, a residuary and inviolable sovereignty over all other objects.” In short, the genius of the framers was to craft a system of governance that would account for the diversity of men by allowing separate jurisdictions--known as states--to compete for the governed.
A Republic then embraces a division of power that emphasizes local control “extended over a large region.” It is neither a monarchy nor a democracy, but a filtered majority refined with representation and constrained by the separation of powers. The most important of which, expressed in the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, being vertical in nature.
Why is this important? Because the most divisive issues of the day are no longer being decided by everyday citizens crafting the laws under which they live, but by a federal behemoth overstepping its constitutional boundaries.
For instance, while the Civil War Amendments were appropriately designed to eradicate any and all forms of state racial preferences, they were not (contrary to a century of judicial activism) meant to “incorporate” federal review over every imaginable dispute. Most of those--from religion to education to crime and punishment--fell squarely under the power of the states to police the law.
At the same time, regulating commerce among the states was never intended to nationalize control over the economy. Indeed, the federal health care law (Obamacare for the unpersuaded) itself now rests tenuously upon the twin posts of an elastic commerce clause and a bizarre view (hatched at a cocktail party during the New Deal) of an unlimited federal taxing and spending power. Believe it or not, there was a time when state tax burdens were of greater concern to the average worker than the federal one. The demise of fiscal federalism has conclusively put an end to that.
The point is this: if any given state wants to bailout business, subsidize health care, and legalize abortion and gay marriage, let them do it. As long as every other state is free to enact the opposite policy. In 1962 it was President John F. Kennedy who (perhaps unwittingly) reminded a nation on the doorstep of expanding centralized power, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
Breaking up the monopoly in Washington may be the surest way to diffuse today’s political hostilities. But that of course would require the most progressive of pundits to stand down on the issue of national government and in the process rediscover the virtue of exactly what they’ve demonized for so long: states’ rights.
And that's why I wrote "Power Divided is Power Checked: The Argument for States' Rights."
Jason Lewis is a nationally syndicated talk show host and a columnist for the Star Tribune of Minneapolis. He is also the author of “Power Divided is Power Checked: The Argument for States’ Rights” from Bascom Hill Publishing.