When one declares oneself to be a conservative, one is not, unfortunately, thereupon visited by tongues of fire that leave one omniscient. The acceptance of a series of premises is just the beginning. After that, we need constantly to inform ourselves, to analyze and to think through our premises and their ramifications. We need to ponder, in the light of the evidence, the strengths and the weaknesses, the consistencies and the inconsistencies, the glory and the frailty of our position, week in and week out. Otherwise, we will not hold our own in a world where informed dedication, not just dedication, is necessary for survival and growth.

William F. Buckley Jr., Feb 8, 1956, NR

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Federalism: A Talking Paper


1. Our founding fathers determined that sharing government power was also the way to limit power. It was thus that at the federal level, each branch of government is equal — meaning that one can trump the other. The president can refuse to sign a bill into law, the Supreme Court can overturn a law, and the legislature can refuse to fund a presidential program.

2. Our founding fathers also sought to limit the power of the federal government by acknowledging every state as sovereign, and that every power not specifically delineated in the Constitution to the federal government shall be reserved to the states, and to the people.


1. Since the administration of Franklin Roosevelt, a period following the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and a period during which the United States experienced an ecological disaster of epic proportions, the federal government has progressively encroached on the rights of states (and the people) in delivering “human services.” We might today argue that some of these programs were (and continue to be) unconstitutional, or that legislators back then did not consider the long-term implications of the laws they passed with all good intentions. We must also acknowledge that people have benefitted from some programs, and that the likelihood of overturning “social security” (as an example) is highly unlikely.

2. If we do not wish to see the United States moving ever-steadily toward a socialist state, then we must at least begin to dialogue about the right of the federal government to impose “human services,” paid for by the American taxpayer, and which effectively deny states their constitutional authority to govern themselves. What right, for example, does the federal government have to impose “educational standards” on any state educational system? Aren’t state educational standards a matter for the citizens of states to decide for themselves? Similarly, what right does the federal government have to impose “national health care,” a relevant question even if we erroneously concluded that the federal government is better able to manage it than independent states?

3. The only rights we have under federal rules were those accorded to us by the Bill of Rights, and even then, only once our state of domicile incorporated them. This relationship must be a two-way street. If a federal program violates the Tenth Amendment, our states must vociferously object to it, thus protecting “the people” from unwarranted (and unconstitutional) intrusion by the federal government. Over many years, our states have allowed the federal government to intrude on states’ rights; examples of this include state acceptance of federal money for education and highway construction.

4. We now face a Democratic Congress who, rather than exhibiting any discipline in spending, believe their recent “mandate” allows them to impose even more taxes to support a plethora of federalist programs. In my view, we must resist . . . the only way to do that is to insist our state governors and legislatures demand adherence to the Tenth Amendment.

My Opinion

1. Politicians at the federal level only address “the people” when they are seeking election. Most of the time, they could care less about what we think, and few of them ever ask for our opinions before they vote on pending legislation. This is in fact how representative democracy works; we are like the proverbial mushroom: they feed us crap and keep us in the dark.

2. For far too long, most citizens have forgotten they are first and foremost, citizens of states. It has become convenient to buy into federal programs legislation, especially if we mistakenly believe that we will benefit from them personally. In fact, this may be one of the greatest lies ever told. Considering the abject failure of the American educational system, which demands hundreds of millions of dollars each and every year, no one can effectively argue the results justify the costs.

3. If citizens of Indiana agree that they must be entitled to universal health care, it is up to the state of Indiana (and its citizens) to pay for such a program. The people of Indiana are not entitled to monetary resources from the hard-working people of any of the remaining 49 states.

4. If we believe that the Constitution is our “protector” from intrusive federal government, then we must begin to assert our constitutional rights — and our attachment to our state of domicile. Until that happens, there will be no change in the behavior of the federal or state governments.


1. Citizens must correspond with state legislatures and governors to demand they in turn challenge every federal program that interferes with the rights of states to govern themselves, on behalf of the citizens of those states.

2. Citizens must encourage state government to reject federal money whenever those expenditures require state obedience to federal mandates. Note: the NCLB law is a case in point.


Joe said...

You are singing my song!

When we can get a huge choir singing it, we will get somewhere!

(The Feds have decided that those powers they don't think the states should have, they will usurp and then impose their will upon the states' citizens.)

Robert said...

Excelelnt post Sam. Thanks for getting us started on this new road.

In my first post I talked about the Great Compromise and how the Continental Congress was divided regarding the structure of the llegislative body and apportionment of representatives. I think that the significance of this disagreement is not fully understood.

The founders were conserned about a balance between states rights and individuals rights - there was little debated about the rights of the federal government. The federal government was tasked with the things that the states could not fulfill independently, such as defense and regulation of trade with foreign powers.

You are right about the perception of people and their citizenship. I think it is a concept that escapes most people.

I do hope that we can get some traction in the area of refusing both unfunded mandates and federal money that is tied to compliance. For us to successd as individuals, and to experience the personal empowerment we desire, we msut insist on more responsibility on the states and less intrusion from the fed.

In Alabama, the state legislature is a joke. Virtually the entire function is to draw district lines and deal with education funding, but of course that is mostly disbursement of federal funds. We need to change this, so that the power is contained by my legislator that lives down the street, and taken away from the representatives in Washington. The guy down the street is much more open to discussion of the issues than anyone we have ever sent to D.C.

Nice work.

nanc said...

mustang directed me here through a comment he made at always-on-watch - i'll link you up here.

David999 said...

Joe said: "When we can get a huge choir singing it, we will get somewhere!"

This is just what we needed to hear. Thank you! You are absolutely right.
However we never heard that choir..
The Conservative's Message Was Don't Even Bother To Vote

rockync said...

Sam - I actually agree with you in concept. By constitutional decree, the states should be more independent of the federal government. I'm all for less federal government interference but because of the monies they have hung out like a carrot in front of state noses for years upon years, I doubt the practical application of this will get much traction.
It certainly will take a very large choir to change this trend.

Anonymous said...

Democracy works best at the lowest level . . . which I assume means, at the local level. This means that political activism within states is a little more difficult. If we all agree that it can’t be done, then I suppose it can’t be done. Even if I begin corresponding to state officials, and I am alone in doing that, then I suppose a lone voice will have minimal effect. On the other hand, if Joe, Robert, Nanc, David, Rocky, and I start singing, then we’ve begun to form a choir. So what do we do? Do we all start singing, or remain mute?

rockync said...

Mustang - If we would call ourselves "activists" then by the very definition of the word, we must be "active." Sometimes it is a lone voice, crying out in the wilderness that starts a great revolution - consider John the Baptist.
This is how grassroots movements begin; someone expresses an idea or concept and if it resonates with enough people, then it is the will of the majority that pushes it forward.
At this time, I think it is a back burner item, overshadowed by the economy, but it certainly bears discussing for the near future.
That's my thought anyway.

heidianne jackson said...

we must all sing - and constantly invite people to join our choir. this post is amazing sam, thanks for putting it up. rockync, i would only argue with you that it shouldn't be overshadowed by the economy, because it is part of the economy's problem, this interference of the feds into the rights of the states.

Perri Nelson said...

"The only rights we have under federal rules were those accorded to us by the Bill of Rights, and even then, only once our state of domicile incorporated them."

This is simply not true. Read the ninth amendment. Read the Declaration of Independence which lists some that are not enumerated in the Bill of Rights. Our rights are not really "constitutional" rights. They are not granted to us by government. Government is merely one of the protectors of them. Our rights arise out of natural law and are granted to us by God Himself.

It's interesting that you chose Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration to trace the federal government's encroachment on States rights, but you can go much further back than that, to nearly the beginning of the 19th century. Franklin D. Roosevelt was a good choice though since he believed that it was the duty of a statesman to "redefine" the meaning of our rights according to the changing social fabric of the times. I'd have probably started with Woodrow Wilson though who thought that the Constitution was an anachronism from the horse-and-buggy era (at a time when the automobile was just a fledgeling).

On the other hand, I agree with most of the rest of your post. I would add one more thing

Perri Nelson said...

We need to be active at the local level, and we need to educate each other constantly.

rockync said...

heidianne - I was just thinking until we stop the bleeding economically, most people will be too concerned with whether they will have a job or their house next week to be too chuffed about much of anything else. I'm afraid the state of the economy does overshadow most everything else. Or maybe it's just here in North Carolina where the loss of jobs has been particularly excessive.

Anonymous said...

Mustang is right, "Democracy works best at the lowest level."

This reasoning is why I believe our system of government is the best one out there. No political system is perfect by any means, but I do believe that we are the closest to perfection.

Democracy doesn't work well at the highest level of government. Your average voter doesn't have the time to look into all of the resources that should be looked into when it comes to big decisions. This is a reason why we representatives to do that for us.

However, our voices are still heard on the Federal level as well (through the House). Those representatives are NOT the ELITE. The ELITE are considered to be the Senate. The representatives in the House are supposed to represent the American people and what WE want.

TRUTH-PAIN said...

Christoper Hamilton,

Your comment is noteworthy, especially your second paragraph. In my mind, we sure do place an extraodinary amount of faith in that our representatives have a higher lever of altuism than they have shown to have.

If I may be allowed to point out something for the sake of definitions; let's remember what we are, a Constitutional Republic, not a "pure" democracy. In a pure democracy the people rule without the buffer of representation, as it the case of our system. There's not a bunch of those around anymore... if any.

Mustang is correct in his "works best" phrase, since we are in fact voting for representation, or in the case of general elections, Electoral College delegates. But democracy should work most "efficiently" in the higher levels for the same reasoning. We elect them to do nothing more in their hours and days than to study the issues in front of them, and make hard choices that (hopefully) coincide with both the good of their constituents and of the nation as a whole.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Nelson: You are correct that our Declaration of Independence asserted natural rights, as discussed by John Locke . . . and that it asserted the right to throw off oppressive government, but I have not found a single successful case argued before the Supreme Court that cited this declaration. I suppose the founders anticipated that future generations would likewise attempt to throw off the manacles of an oppressive American government and created an ironclad Constitution (with amendments) to prevent subsequent violent revolutions. My reading of history reflects that no attempt has ever succeeded, beginning with the Whiskey Rebellion.

Now as to the Ninth Amendment, it is problematic. According to the Supreme Court decision in United Public Workers v. Mitchell (1947), “The Ninth Amendment bars denial of un-enumerated rights if the denial is based on the enumeration of certain rights in the Constitution, but does not bar denial of un-enumerated rights if the denial is based on the enumeration of certain powers in the Constitution. It is to that enumeration of powers that the courts have said we must look, in order to determine the extent of the un-enumerated rights mentioned in the Ninth Amendment.” You will need more than mere luck relying on the Ninth Amendment to argue un-enumerated rights in a court of law.

Of course, you are also correct about Woodrow Wilson; he not only suspended habeas corpus during World War I, he also created the Federal Reserve—a move our founding fathers repudiated as the certain path toward our ultimate destruction. I only used FDR as a primary example because his assault upon the Constitution was extraordinary. Please also note that each state has its own Constitution — the source of your rights as a citizen of your state.

Rocky . . . thank you for your considered opinions. I think Conservative Convictions is an honest attempt to be that lone voice that ignites a grassroots movement. Dialogue is how we will find our way through the forest. I agree that when our plates are full, it is difficult to take on more . . . but I also think that as we are standing on the brink of economic collapse, there was never a greater danger to our Constitution. Wilson and FDR used crisis to launch their attack on the U. S. Constitution. The Cloward-Piven Strategy of Orchestrated Crisis (1966) was developed specifically by two Columbia University communists as a means of destroying the US Constitution. I fully suspect that Obama and a Democratic Congress are poised to take advantage of our financial crisis to achieve greater government encroachment. It is, at least, worthy of our concern, our consideration and action.


Perri Nelson said...

“The task of statesmanship has always been the re-definition of these rights in terms of a changing and growing social order.”
— Franklin D. Roosevelt (Commonwealth Club Address, 1932)

"I suppose the founders anticipated that future generations would likewise attempt to throw off the manacles of an oppressive American government and created an ironclad Constitution (with amendments) to prevent subsequent violent revolutions."

I disagree emphatically with this notion. They created an ironclad constitution to expand the power of the federal government since the Articles of Confederation created a weak and impotent central government that rather quickly lost all credibility in international relations due to it's inability to even pay its war debts, and because that government could not compel the States to act in one another's interest. The second purpose of the Constitution was to strictly limit the powers that the federal government could have and to guarantee to the States a republican form of government.

The supreme court has taken upon itself power that was never authorized to it, and well before 1947 had already taken to interpreting the constitution as a "living" document meaning whatever their policy preferences took it to mean.

The federal government has very few enumerated powers (Congress has only 18 of them). While the court was right that the assertion of an unenumerated right could be denied if a specifically enumerated power of the government proscribed it, that is not all that there is to the topic.

The Constitution and the Bill of Rights do not for example enumerate the "rights" to privacy asserted in Roe v. Wade for example, nor do they enumerate as FDR asserted a "right to make a comfortable living" or to be "assured... in the safety of his savings."

On the other hand, the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness imply the right to be free from the interference of government in our day to day affairs. For example the supreme court declared that the enumerated power to regulate interstate commerce granted the federal government the right to set quotas on how a farmer uses his land to grow wheat that never is taken to market. This is clearly a violation of the farmer's right to use his property and it's based upon a twisting of the plain meaning of the enumerated powers.

The founders did not create the Constitution as a hedge against subsequent violent revolutions, and in fact they anticipated that such might occur at some time in the future. Franklin is quoted as having said that the government the constitutional convention proposed was "A republic, if you can keep it". Jefferson, AFTER the ratification of the Constitution still looked forward to and hoped for generational revolutions.

Government is MOST DEFINITELY NOT THE SOURCE OF OUR RIGHTS. If it is, it can freely take them away, and they are not truly rights, but mere privileges.

"[T]o secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it"

Government exists to secure the rights given to us by our Creator. If it attempts to take them, we have not only the right, but the DUTY to do something about it.

TRUTH-PAIN said...


It seems we are entering a tangent of sorts.... rights vs privilege.

The first person that can objectively give me the definition of rights (besides the Webster's bit...) can have dinner on me at the restaurant of his or her choice the next time you are in Silicon Valley....

To define "rights" objectively, absolutely and clinically as it is referred within our founding documents, is to have a hubris that I admire...

... I'll be here awhile...

Anonymous said...

This would be a lot more fun over a glass or two of Sam Adams beer.

The practical reality is that the US Constitution says what the SCOTUS says it says. Unless anyone is proposing armed rebellion, not exactly a conservative principle, then that's the way it is now, and has been since the days of Chief Justice John Marshall. No one today will agree that "abolishing" government by any other than peaceful means ... at the polls ... is credible, ever justified, or very smart. The government has most of the firepower.

You may not agree, Perri ... that's okay. I'm just say'in.


Perri Nelson said...


I agree that government has most of the firepower. I don't agree that the U.S. Constitution says what the SCOTUS says it does. I have a copy, and I know how to read. It says what it says. The SCOTUS can't make up its mind what it says from one decision to the next.

Having said that, I'd also agree that it's not wise to look to abolish our government by any means. But it is wise to seek to reform it. And the best way to do that is to wage a continual campaign to assert the foundational principles upon which it is supposed to be based, both to our politicians and to one another. If we merely give in and "accept" the outrages that our government and the SCOTUS perpetrates then we've lost and we might as well roll over and be good proles.

We CAN change things, and a necessary first step is to see things as they really are. The government we have is not the government that was authorized by the framers or even by amendment to the Constitution. I don't see that as acceptable, and anyone that believes in our foundational principles ought not to either.

That doesn't mean that returning to those principles will be easy or even comfortable. A lot of people don't believe in them in the first place, and others have been taught that they're anachronistic. Perhaps I'm more like Don Quixote than I ought to be, but I really believe that what we have will collapse under its own weight within a few more generations unless we work to reform it now.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, Perri ... I believe we are closer to collapse than most people realize. It will be an economic collapse, and it won't take long for anarchy to reign supreme.

I appreciate the dialogue; and I think it's your turn to buy the next round.


Perri Nelson said...

Happy to buy a round, as long as it's quality brew. None of that recycled horse urine that passes for beer for the general masses. Your choice of a good Sam Adams works well for me.

You'll have to come to the Pacific Northwest to collect though.

rockync said...

I don't have anything more to add although I am enjoying following the ongoing debate, but I do have one observation:
Is it just me or has this blog gotten back to a tone of spirited debate tempered with civility and courtesy that it began with?
Certainly seems like order has been restored!

TRUTH-PAIN said...


I fully concur that order has been restored to our private universe. Maybe we should have opened the bottles of beer sooner ... ;)