April 4 2011
Federalism "on Life Support"
Friday I had the honor of hearing Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli speak at the Kirby Center on "Federalism's Last Line of Defense: The Case Against the Health Care Law." Health policy was a lesser focus of his address; the main spotlight was federalism.
Over the past decade, federal spending has been snowballing. But the growth in federal power should be even more concerning to us than the growth in federal spending. The former presents a danger to the very structure of our government.
Cuccinelli said that federalism is not dead, but it may be said to be "on life support." He did allude to his case and the Florida case against the federal health care law and said that "If the states lose, it is the end of federalism as we have known it for 200 years."
Certain powers were reserved to the states for a reason: to leave them closer to the people, rather than walled up in the bureaucratic red tape of Washington, D.C. We cannot stand by and watch the Department of Justice argue that a liberal interpretation of our Constitution allows the federal government to take these powers from the states or from the people.
It's easy to blame the federal government for the power grab. But we should also recognize that power-grabbing is a part of human nature, and as long as we are ruled by humans, we will struggle to maintain the careful balance between the rulers and the ruled.
Part of that careful balance (as established by the founders of the U.S.) is our system of checks and balances. I don't just mean veto power or judicial review (examples of the government's internal ability to check its other parts), but I mean the power that the American people have to participate in government: elections, rallies, phone calls and letters to our representatives.
I was inspired by Cuccinelli's speech. He quoted Patrick Henry saying, "No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue; and by a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles." Cuccinelli also suggested that we all read at least some of the Federalist Papers. (He said Papers 45-51 were the "Cliffnotes version:)
Another point that Cuccinelli made: "We didn't have a Constitution until the States ratified it."
Over the recent years, Americans have become more involved in the political process, especially through newer media like social networks on the internet. Technology, communication, and even our culture will change and develop. But the fundamental principles of our government are the same. We have an opportunity now to take federalism off of life support and make it strong again by revisiting those fundamental principles and standing up against the expansion of the federal government's powers.
UPDATE: Read more about Cuccinelli's remarks on the individual mandate here.