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Federalism 101 and Governor Palin

November 14, 2008

I heard parts of Gov Palin’s speech to the Republican Governors’ Conference last night and was impressed. This woman is smart–just plain smart–despite her disarming “just plain folks” demeanor. (The left gets this and that’s why they’ve gone all-out to ridicule and demean her.) But it’s not my intent on this blog to be a pundit–to watch current events and comment on them. There are plenty of people out there of all political persuasions whose purpose in life seems to be to interpret the news for us in a particular way. The purpose of the blog is educational–and I use current events only to illustrate key ideas in political theory.

The part of the speech that I thought was brilliant was her assertion that the Republican governors represented a strong base of leadership and executive experience from which the Republican party can help drive the political agenda and thus America’s future. While others on the right bemoan the left’s near complete control of the Federal government, she reminds us that there’s another balance we almost never talk about these days: the balance between the Federal government and the states.

Federalism is a creation of the Founding Fathers and the Constitution. There was nothing like it before and little since–the coming together of the Cantons into Switzerland is the nearest parallel. We have a federal system because the states, independent colonies in the colonial period, did not trust a central government. With good reason. Remember, it was the states that ratified the Constitution and joined the union, not giving up all their power but rather relinquishing some limited powers to the federal government and reserving the rest–all the remaining and unstated powers to the people. Not the Feds.

The Civil War was about the right of states to unjoin the union–it was not about slavery, the cultists of Marx who interpret all of history as being about race, sex and class are wrong here. Thus began the long decline of “states rights.” If we as a nation are to survive this historic event of electing the first Marxist president, then it will be the states who save us.

Why? Not specifically because of Republican governors, but because many of the states retain virtues that the federal government has long abandoned. Virtues in the Roman sense of civic virtue. Like the requirement in state constitutions to have a balanced budget. Like the states’ ability–too rarely exercised–to accept or reject federal funding of programs and with it surrender of control to the federal government. Gov Palin also called for the ending of “unfunded mandates” (although I don’t remember whether she said it in this speech or on the campaign trail)–that pernicious thing where the Congress decrees that something must be done (the mandate part) but fails to provide the funding to do it (the unfunded part).

If democratic capitalism is to survive in this country, it looks as though we are going to look to the states for leadership. God bless Governor Sarah Palin for reminding us.

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