Federalism could fix political ailments

David French of National Review Online responds to the argument that the United States has become too big to govern effectively from Washington, D.C.

How is the continued consolidation of governmental power remotely compatible with this geographic, cultural, and religious fragmentation? Indeed, doesn’t it inevitably increase alienation and bitterness? After all, the consolidation of American power isn’t just in the hands of the federal government, it’s in the hands of one man: the American president.

Consider the “pen and phone” Obama presidency. Individual Americans had but one vote out of 120 million, and that was the entirety of their substantive political input to a presidency that bypassed their elected representatives to change everything from national immigration policy to disciplinary policies in their local public schools. All other levels of county, state, and city government were helpless in the face of Obama’s immense accumulated power.

And then, much to the fury of his millions of supporters, many of those changes disappeared before their very eyes — all because a few thousand voters in cities and towns hundreds of miles from their own either stayed home or switched their votes in 2016.

There is nothing healthy about this. And even leaving aside the presidency, there is nothing healthy about the idea that Nancy Pelosi can loom large in Tennessee or that Ted Cruz can loom large in California. The very idea of Cruz’s potential power in San Francisco or Pelosi’s power in Franklin can cause politically engaged Americans to live in a state of near-constant agitation and misery.

The solution is staring us in the face. Ironically enough, 18th-century federalism is more compatible with the Information Age than 20th-century centralization. It is not, however, compatible with the will to power that darkens all too many political hearts.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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