The national Republican party is riven by an insuperable internal contradiction.
Out of one side of their mouths, Republicans wish to portray themselves as tax cutters, red-tape slashers, champions of liberty fearlessly hacking away at the slimy tentacles of the leviathan state. Ignore for the moment that they’re spineless jellyfish when it comes time to cut, slash or hack; this is how they wish to present themselves.
Out of the other side of their mouths, Republicans offer American voters an alternate set of slimy tentacles for the same old leviathan. The state they promise to shrink will simultaneously promote a nebulous family values agenda and forbid abortion. Republicans will simultaneously dismantle the Department of Education and supplant ecosocialist indoctrination with theocratic indoctrination. The leviathan state will lose the power to ban cancer drugs but gain the power to ban rap records.
Things fall apart. The center cannot hold…
Whatever the Republican party seeks to be in the states, in the counties, in the towns, what it cannot be at the national level is the party of both smaller and larger government. It can’t because as a strategy it makes no sense, and it can’t because there is no common ground between the liberty-seeking Republicans and the theocracy-seeking Republicans. Those two wings of the party can only fly apart in the long run.
But: There is a way around this: The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
If the national Republican party were to concentrate solely on shrinking the Federal leviathan to a strict adherence to the Constitution, devolving all of the usurped tentacular powers to the states to do with — or do away with — as they choose, the party could achieve these goals:
- It would actually deliver on a promise, prompting universal amazement.
- It would present to both of its contradictory wings the opportunity to achieve at the state and local levels what they cannot hope to achieve nationally.
- It would result in something much better than campaign finance reform: A Federal government that’s not worth buying because it has nothing to sell.
- It would result in something much better than tax reform: A massive reduction in the Federal tax burden.
- It would give Republicans a lasting national agenda. Moreover, it would protect American voters from the predations of the Democrats even when Republicans are out of power.
I myself am a libertarian, and I suppose it’s important to answer the libertarian objection: Fifty small tyrannies is not preferable to one large one. This is false on a number of grounds.
First, the only devolution of power that can be effected by the Federal government is the devolution of Federal power. Whatever else you might hope to do at other levels of government must be done there.
Second, tyranny is most onerous where escaping it is most costly. So long as free-thinkers can easily move to New York or California, it doesn’t matter as much what happens in Iowa or Alabama. Moving from the U.S. to New Zealand is a much higher hurdle.
Third, the irrationality of bad laws is most obvious where comparison is easiest. If it turns out that the Iowans scare away their best and brightest with irrational laws, the Iowans will either change their ways or pay the consequences of failing to.
The Framers of the U.S. Constitution anticipated that the states would comprise laboratories of democracy, each seeking to find the best balance between individual rights and collective authority. Devolving political power from the Federal government to the states, and from there to the counties and municipalities, most closely mimics the grand idea expressed in the Declaration of Independence: The consent of the governed.
In effect, I am offering to the national Republican party the choicest cut of the libertarian steak, the insufferable confiscatory Federal nanny-state. What Republicans choose to do on the state and local levels is their business. What they will stop trying to do is to find a common national ground between Connecticut country-clubbers and Texas bible-thumpers. There is none.
Cut Federal agencies one by one, and cut taxes in lockstep. Sell Federal assets to reduce the national debt. Pass Constitutional amendments that clarify the meaning of the Preamble to the Constitution, the Interstate Commerce Clause and other clauses that weasel-wording lawyers have used to feed the leviathan. Repeal the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments to restore to the states their power over the Federal government. Do everything necessary to give us the Federal government provided for in the Constitution, and then start whittling away at that. Ecosocialists and theocrats can impose their views on those who share them. Those of us who don’t can get on with the business of building a civilization.
That is a national Republican agenda that can win. It gives the liberty-seeking Republicans the liberty they seek. It gives the theocracy-seeking Republicans a fighting chance to achieve their goals locally. And it will appeal to many, many Democrats, Independents and Libertarians, each for their own reasons.
This can win. And nothing else will.
Further notice: I wrote this in November of 1998. Nothing has changed since then, alas, and nothing will now, either, I’m afraid.