Henry Ford famously said, “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”
Of course today, we can buy automobiles in a wide array of colors, not to mention hundreds of makes, models and body styles. Car makers offer us an endless smorgasbord of features, options and upgrades.
The market demands variety.
Because we’re all different.
We possess different needs, tastes and preferences. Some people need a powerful vehicle for towing or work purposes. Some demand fuel efficiency. Some favor comfort over economy.
Despite Henry Ford’s smugness, there was no way Ford could perpetually limited his product to one-size-fits-all vehicles. Car buyers demanded more.
So, why do so many Americans want monochrome government?
In American today, the political class encamped along the Potomac inserts itself into virtually every aspect of our lives. The federal government tells us which plants we can and can’t use for medicine, what kind of light bulbs we can screw into our fixtures and mandates that we purchase health insurance. We demand that Congress define marriage, insist federal judges prescribe the limits of religious freedom and beg bureaucrats to standardize education.
When you boil it all down, the vast majority of Americans enthusiastically embrace one-size-fits all monopoly government centered in Washington D.C.
You can have any kind of government you want, as long as it’s national.
As Americans debated ratification of the Constitution, a writer publishing under the pseudonym “Brutus” warned against expansive national power centered in the federal government. Most scholars believe Brutus was Robert Yates. He was a New York judge and a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention.
Brutus had a firm grasp on America’s diversity – the differences from region to region and state to state. He railed against the prospect of a consolidated government ruling over “a country of such immense extent, containing such a number of inhabitants, and these encreasing in such rapid progression as that of the whole United States.”
“In a republic, the manners, sentiments, and interests of the people should be similar. If this be not the case, there will be a constant clashing of opinions; and the representatives of one part will be continually striving, against those of the other. This will retard the operations of government, and prevent such conclusions as will promote the public good. If we apply this remark to the condition of the United States, we shall be convinced that it forbids that we should be one government. The United States includes a variety of climates. The productions of the different parts of the union are very variant, and their interests, of consequence, diverse. Their manners and habits differ as much as their climates and productions; and their sentiments are by no means coincident. The laws and customs of the several states are, in many respects, very diverse, and in some opposite; each would be in favor of its own interests and customs, and, of consequence, a legislature, formed of representatives from the respective parts, would not only be too numerous to act with any care or decision, but would be composed of such heterogenous and discordant principles, as would constantly be contending with each other.”
In other words, monochrome government won’t work in a country as large as the United States. A handful of politicians all crammed together with a bunch of appointed bureaucrats in a single city simply cannot effectively govern more than 300 million people spread out across thousands of square miles. Brutus offered a poignant warning.
“In so extensive a republic, the great officers of government would soon become above the controul of the people, and abuse their power to the purpose of aggrandizing themselves, and oppressing them.”
Brutus’ message resonated with most Americans during the founding era. They did not want centralized government – or consolidation, as they often called it. They believed the best government remained closest to home.
Supporters of the Constitution didn’t dispute Brutus’ contention. They didn’t preach the virtues of a powerful central government. Instead, they promised the system created by the proposed Constitution would not lead to consolidation and would not establish a powerful “national” government.
In Federalist #14, James Madison insisted that the federal government would remain limited. It would only exercise explicitly delegated powers, and most of the actual governing would remain at the state level – closer to the people.
“It is to be remembered that the general government is not to be charged with the whole power of making and administering laws. Its jurisdiction is limited to certain enumerated objects, which concern all the members of the republic, but which are not to be attained by the separate provisions of any. The subordinate governments, which can extend their care to all those other subjects which can be separately provided for, will retain their due authority and activity.”
The constitutional system makes sense. The federal government handles the few things that involve the entire union – national defense, trade and foreign relations. And the state governments handle, as Madison put it in Federalist #45, “all objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement and prosperity of the State.”
Californians decide what kind of plants you can consume in California. Floridians decide how they want to define marriage in Florida. Alaskans decide how to protect the environment in Alaska.
But we’ve bastardized the constitutional system. We’ve allowed the political class to create the consolidated government Brutus so feared.
We can have any kind of government we want, as long as it’s run by the political elites in Washington D.C.
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