Every election cycle, the political consulting class reminds us that this is the “most important election of our lifetime”. If we don’t vote straight ticket, ***insert establishment political party***, our country is doomed.
Disillusioned voters are lectured to accept “the lesser of the two evils” and only vote within the strictures of the two-party duopoly. Any talk of voting Third Party is dismissed as a wasted voted or voting for the other side. For the political class, voting is the ultimate sacrament in the American civic religion. The religiosity is taken to another level when political shamans insist that those who do not vote have no right to complain.
On the supposed “limited government” side of the aisle, Republican insiders have faithfully recited and put these same vapid talking points into practice. And what has been the result?
So much for voting for the “lesser of two evils”.
Local Politics is a Lost Art
But there is one particular aspect of politics that is cast aside during the federal elections frenzy—the importance of local and state elections. When you think about it, this is quite logical. The federal government’s vast size entices aspiring busybody politicians. Power-hungry politicians want nothing more than to take control of the federal apparatus of the most powerful government in human history. For most people, federal politics is the alpha and the omega of all politics in the U.S.
For individuals who genuinely want to make change, this is indeed a frustrating process. Institutional inertia and costly restrictions that prevent outside parties from making a difference at the federal level make the political game practically rigged for political outsiders. Nevertheless, there is still hope on the horizon.
If there are any elections political activists should be participating in, it’s the ones in their own backyard. Be it a municipal race or a State Senate race, local politics is an underutilized and under-appreciated facet of America’s federalist system.
The Founding Fathers, especially those of the Anti-Federalist faction, made several key contributions to our political system which allows political operatives to pursue decentralized means of implementing liberty-oriented policies.
Sadly, the century-long push for DC universalism has almost made genuine federalism an afterthought in political discussions.
The Localist Blueprint
Despite the growing trend of centralization in U.S. politics, lower levels of government are still intact and ripe for the taking. In fact, state and local offices are de facto farm teams for control freak politicians. State and local governments have their fair share of corruption and government intrusion. So, it’s no surprise aspiring politicians cut their teeth in these jurisdictions. They’re the perfect springboard for D.C. aspirants.
Needless to say, liberty lovers can and should join in the action.
Local politics is the foundation of larger political movements. For a political movement to become relevant in the first place, it must start locally. Ironically, Progressive champions of centralization have put localist politics into practice for over a century. We often forget that throughout the latter half of the 19th century, political movements centered on interventionism were rather fringe. In fact, they were completely shut out from the federal government.
But this did not deter Progressive activists and their coalitions. They focused their efforts elsewhere—specifically in local and state elections. Using every tactic possible, from electing politicians who supported their values to using initiatives, recalls, and referendums to get their pet issues implemented, Progressives slowly added municipalities and state legislatures to their power base.
Ivory tower figures like John Dewey and agrarian firebrands like Williams Jennings Bryan and his Populist Movement also chipped in to make progressive policies palatable. Eventually, Progressive victories at the local and state level gathered enough steam to start creating carryover into the federal level. The federal government fully embraced Progressivism once Woodrow Wilson assumed the presidency in 1913.
From that point forward, the rest was history.
We must remember, however, the interventionist status quo we see today started out small. It began in people’s backyards, and eventually grew into a national movement. This is just one sign that liberty lovers should not hang up their gloves and accept the growth of government as a given. If anything, Progressives have given us the blueprint to political success.
Even to this day, leftist coalitions have out “nullified” their supposedly limited government rivals on the Right by ignoring federal drug prohibitions. Through ballot initiatives and other means to decriminalize and legalize controlled substances, these movements have given the federal government the proverbial cold shoulder.
All of this has been done without having to resort to violence or prolonged conflict with the federal government.
If the Left can do this, why can’t the Right?
Let’s face it, state-level political activities are not sexy, but they’re a necessary ingredient in the U.S. political system.
When our State governments are ignored, the federal government has the carte blanche to rubber stamp all sorts of statist policy with little to no opposition.
It’s high time we start thinking and acting locally when it comes to our activism.