As we steamroll towards November, there’s a palpable feeling among conservatives that literally everything is at stake. I know, I know, each election is “the most importantest election ever,” they tell us every four years. It’s almost become a running joke. But this time, I’d have a difficult time making the argument that that isn’t true.
In today’s America, if you hold the keys to the federal government, you control more than an executive branch dweller a hundred years ago could even imagine, and the power only seems to have increased exponentially. In a sense we’ve become more like the monarchies of old than the founders ever dreamed we would, except the “king” changes every four to eight years.
From environmental regulations to healthcare to tax policies that intimately affect every man, woman and child in America, the stakes are higher than ever before. Should the Democrats win the presidency and both Houses of Congress, they will make criminals out of law abiding citizens by imposing nonsensical gun control regulations, expand the welfare state, impose regulations, taxes, and a minimum wage that would cripple small and medium businesses, and enact legislation that would enshrine abortion rights up to the day of birth (and possibly, if those who think like Ralph Northam get their druthers, even a few days after - you know, as long as their comfortable). And that’s, as we all well know, just the tip of the iceberg.
Tragically, it was never meant to be this way. It shouldn’t matter so darn much who controls the reigns of federal power. In fact, it mattered little prior to the last century. For context, check out this excellent and classic op-ed from FEE’s Jeffrey Tucker, written before the 2016 election, titled “It Shouldn't Matter Who the President Is.”
“Under a small government with limited and well-defined powers, Americans are safer, not because a ‘good guy’ won the election, but because the institutions he or she controls cannot be used as tools of oppression,” Tucker writes. “This is what the old liberals meant when they spoke of "a government of laws and not of men.”
His solution: “dismantle Leviathan before it destroys us.”
Tucker is correct, obviously. However, how does one go about dismantling “Leviathan” when most of the people under its thumb are literally dependent on it for so many of life’s necessities? I would argue that, minus some sort of massive societal breakdown the likes of which no sane person wants to ever experience, Leviathan will never be dismantled, at least not all at once. What could happen, however, is a gradual resurgence of federalism, the kind America’s founders envisioned even before the federal government expanded its tentacles into every facet of American life.
In a speech delivered last week at the 2020 National Religious Broadcasters Convention, Attorney General William Barr displayed a level of insight rarely seen in Washington D.C., regardless of party affiliation. I highly recommend you read it, then watch it, then read it again. Then, pass it to everyone you know so they can do the same. It’s truly one of the most important modern speeches you will ever read, and if you take nothing else from this column you will thank me for sending you there. When the war against the left is finally won, this speech by William Barr will be required reading in every Civics textbook in America, at least outside places like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City (you know, because there won’t be a centralized Department of Education to do the requiring). It’s just that good.
Contrasting liberal democracy with the totalitarian democracy of the left, the AG’s speech focused on “religion, the decentralization of government power, and the free press” as three key “bulwarks against this slide toward despotism” in the United States. Discussing decentralization specifically, Barr said: “The Framers would have seen a one-size-fits-all government for hundreds of millions of diverse citizens as being utterly unworkable and a straight road to tyranny. That is because they recognized that not every community is exactly the same ... It is easier to run away from a local tyranny than a national one. If people do not like the rule in a state, they can vote with their feet and move.”
“But if it is one size fits all – if every congressional enactment or Supreme Court decision establishes a single rule for every American – then the stakes are very high as to what that rule is,” he continued. “When you take a controversial issue about which there are passionate views on both sides, such as abortion, and say we are going to have one rule nationwide, it is a recipe for bitter conflict over that rule. And when that rule must govern widely-divergent communities, the conflict is between combatants who often do not even comprehend their opponents’ perspective. The result is our current acrimonious politics.”
Talk about hitting the nail on the head. Everything is at stake in 2020, but it shouldn’t be this way. The only way to make a widely diverse - in every possible way - America work without becoming a totalitarian empire that crushes dissent and controls every aspect of life is to push down as much power to local and state governments as possible. If you don’t like a law in a state or municipality, you can easily move to a place where it doesn’t exist. But if you don’t like a federal law, where is there to move? We’re already seeing forms of this happening as left-leaning states seek to protect immigrants and legalize marijuana and right-leaning ones put restrictions on abortion and establish Second Amendment sanctuaries.
Whether you agree or disagree with the policy in question, this is the right track. One size will never fit all, and if trying to make it so could lead to massive unrest and even civil war, perhaps agreeing to disagree is the one thing we could all agree on.
Follow Scott on Twitter @SKMorefield