The first is that the federal government is beyond repair. This country is so deep in debt, so far astray from the Constitution, so uneducated on the principles of liberty, so controlled by centralized power and corrupt deals, and so unwilling to take the steps to reverse course, that its future is looking increasingly grim. Whether the future brings a crisis event such as a monetary collapse or military attack, or whether we simply will be gradually subjected to yet further federal tyranny, the direction has long been consistent and unrelenting. The United States of America is headed in the direction of disaster. I think this general observation is pretty much indisputable.
The second realization is that my time and energy are largely wasted when focused on trying to help fix it. For every good bill that passes through Congress—after expending significant time, money, and political capital—hundreds of bad ones fly through with little notice and even less controversy. It’s like trying to build a dam in the Mississippi river one twig at a time. Any progress that is made is quickly swept away in the overpowering and rapid current heading exactly where you don’t want it to go.
Still, those successes—few in number though they be—should be praised. We should also, I think, continue to try and elect pro-liberty candidates who are crazy enough to be willing to jump into the federal fray and attempt to solve some of the myriad problems which exist. One need only talk to a handful of congressional aides and federal employees, though, before realizing that the establishment against which such elected officials are opposed is immensely powerful and incredibly difficult to tweak even in the slightest degree. The chance of such candidates making much of a difference is unfortunately slim.
When I say that I’ve given up on the federal government, I’m not suggesting that I will become completely disengaged from or indifferent to what occurs. It’s not as if this government is not continually taxing me, sending my neighbors to die in faraway lands, claiming control over nearly aspect of my life, and overpowering the state government which theoretically stands between us. We all are intimately affected by the federal government, and so I will remain interested in and opposed to most of what they currently do.
Giving up on them means, rather, that I won’t be focusing my energies primarily on changing things at the federal level. The odds are in the house’s favor, after all, and if you happen to win a hand, a security detail intimidatingly stands behind you as you cheer your small victory, simply to remind you who is in control. Still supporting others who choose to deal directly with our problems at the federal level, I now spend most of my time and energy at the state level.
I do so for one specific reason: if we are to gain any victories in substantially restraining the federal government, they will be realized through state-based opposition, rather than trying to get the federal government to restrain itself. Token victories and small successes are not enough to actually turn the tide of federal tyranny. The best hope that exists in our current system is to work through the state governments to reject unconstitutional legislative and bureaucratic mandates from the national government. Asking the feds to please play nicely and follow the rules has rarely, if ever, worked; the states must be utilized, as they were intended, to “erect barriers at the constitutional line,” as Thomas Jefferson wrote.
This is no easy task. It requires a legislature, a governor, and an attorney general with spines sufficiently strong to take a stand and deal with the consequences. It requires a people who are informed of their individual rights, the Constitution, and the principles of moral government. But these are things that are much more manageable at the state level. Communicating with, persuading, pressuring, and/or replacing somebody in state government is far more achievable and realistic than working to do the same at the federal level.
Working at the state level is necessary not only to more effectively ensure that the federal government is appropriately restrained, but also to improve the internal affairs of the state. Utah and every other state has plenty of laws on the books which are absolutely anti-liberty and must be repealed. Something about cleansing the inner vessel comes to mind.
If this country is to be spared from the consequences of its current course, it will be done from the bottom up, not the top down. The federal government will not voluntarily nor willingly surrender the power it has acquired over the past century, even if there exists within its ranks a few principled patriots trying to stack their twigs in the rushing river. With apologies to Ghandi, I believe that we must be the change we want to see in our government. And we can manifest that change far more effectively at the local and state levels than we can by gravitating to the federal level and becoming easily lost in the fray. The tide is both more shallow and weak in the state, and therefore one’s efforts to build a dam to restrain the river of regulations is more likely to be successful.
This isn’t a defeatist attitude. Rather, it is a recognition of how and where practical solutions and feasible outcomes might actually be achieved. I applaud (though question the sanity of) those who have more hope and optimism for fixing the national government. I simply do not share that view nor think it realistic. I will, at times, support or oppose a candidate for federal office, or advocate for or against a bill. But where my goal is to effect change and increase individual liberty for myself and those around me, I feel that my time and energy is best spent at a more local level.
In 1840, Virginia statesman Abel Upshur penned a response to Judge Joseph Story’sCommentaries on the Constitution of the United States. Upshur’s writings contain many passionate and persuasive arguments for what today is generally referred to as “state’s rights.” Some of his words are eerily prescient and directly relate to the thoughts I’ve expressed here:
So far as (the federal) government is concerned, I venture to predict that it will become absolute and irresponsible, precisely in proportion as the rights of the States shall cease to be respected, and their authority to interpose for the correction of federal abuses shall be denied and overthrown. It should be the object of every patriot in the United States to encourage a high respect for the State governments. The people should be taught to regard them as their greatest interest, and as the first objects of their duty and affection. Maintained in their just rights and powers, they form the true balance-wheel, the only effectual check on federal encroachments.
The danger is, not that the States will interpose too often, but that they will rather submit to federal usurpations, than incur the risk of embarrassing that government, by any attempts to check and control it.
That danger has become our reality. It is a reality I will be working to change in the coming years. Expect good things to come.