by Dan Gelernter
My elementary and high school teachers never did a good job of explaining American federalism. They left me and, I suspect, many of my fellow students confused. Perhaps they were a little confused themselves: If the federal government’s laws are supreme and can overrule state’s laws, why not just have all laws uniformly adopted at the federal level?
The federal government was not, of course, intended to be what it has become: the daily manager of every citizen’s life. The founders envisioned a federal government that remained in the background, available when it was necessary to get all the states fighting together to win a war, present to help explain a unified foreign policy, and above all to guarantee that goods and people could flow freely from one state to another with no impediment. (That last point is the reason for the interstate commerce clause.) Any national government more aggressive than that would never have been adopted by the liberty-minded states that had just won the Revolutionary War, and even that proved a hard sell: Two years and the addition of a Bill of Rights were required before a sufficient number of states were willing to ratify.
But now the interstate commerce clause is used as the justification for the entire regulatory regime. Every federal regulatory and enforcement agency, from the EPA to the CDC to the FBI, cites its authority for existing as that one fraction of a sentence (that Congress shall have the power “to regulate commerce . . . among the several states”).
The federal government gets away with this, meanwhile, because the Supreme Court has usurped from the states the right to determine which laws are constitutional. The original version of the Supreme Court was simply the court of last appeal to settle disputes between states. But when Chief Justice John Marshall invented the concept of judicial review out of whole cloth, no one at the time had the foresight to say, “Wait a minute . . .”
In 250 years, the federal government has grown up from a whelp to a monster that, apparently, can shut down businesses and lock people in their homes at its whim. Ironically, with this assertion of new federal superpowers, federalism, too, is reasserting itself.
When I was in school, it was hard to see any major difference in government from one state to another, except perhaps in the prevailing tax rates. But now it’s obvious: New York wants me to show health papers to go to a restaurant. Oregon is moving to make its indoor mask-mandate permanent. In Florida, meanwhile, there are no masks and essentially no COVID.
Federalism is now a grand stage for leftist hysteria to play itself out against American freedom. American freedom is winning: People are leaving California and New York and moving to Texas and Florida in record numbers.
But as Americans continue to frustrate the attempts of government to contain them, to restrain them, and above all to take their money, the federal government will become ever more aggressive in attempting to enforce a uniform—and uniformly leftist—way of life.
There are few state governors who have the courage to stand up to the federal government. We need more governors like Florida’s Ron DeSantis and fewer (or none) like Georgia’s Brian Kemp. And for those who are urging DeSantis to run for the presidency in 2024: Hold your horses. A good governor is going to be just as important in 2024 as a good president, and these people don’t grow on trees. In fact, there is not another governor in the country who can hold a candle to DeSantis in those matters of personal freedom fundamental to American life.
This leaves us with the problem of leftists moving to free states and ruining them. This is exactly how Connecticut went from being the one state around New York with no state income tax to being the state with the highest income tax. (Meanwhile all of its manufacturing has collapsed and died or gone elsewhere.) My proposed solution is simple: People should only be allowed to vote in the states in which they grew up. If you move to a new state, you’re rejecting the style of government in the state you just left—but you may not understand why. To quote the lady who got off the plane in front of me on my last trip to Florida: “Everything is great here except the politics . . .” Let your children grow up in the new state you’ve chosen, surrounded by a culture of greater freedom and independence. Chances are they’ll understand it better than you do.
– – –
Dan Gelernter is a columnist for American Greatness living in Connecticut.
Photo “Welcome to Florida Sign” by Joel Kramer CC BY 2.0.