The turmoil in Wisconsin, and the Obama/Democratic/union response, has got me thinking about the phenomenon of federalism.
Like so many other concepts on which our country is based, we supposedly learned about it in civics class (or whatever passes—or doesn’t pass—for civics class these days). I wonder whether the younger generations have received the instruction at all, but even for those of us who did, what did it really mean to us? Book learning is nowhere near the same as living it. Now we are getting an education in what it’s really about, and why it’s so important to preserve it.
Our founders lived in a time when states had been more powerful than they are now, and each state had a very distinct identity, with its citizens highly aware of their state allegiance. What’s more, the founders realized that a federal government would have a tendency to want to grow and to swallow up states’ autonomy unless its powers were strictly limited, which they attempted to do.
Over the years the federal government has grown anyway. One of the differences between Democrat and Republican parties in recent decades has been that the first has been behind that growth, and the second has wanted to limit it, although in recent years many Republicans have violated their own principles in that regard. But with the financial crisis and the Obama administration, as well as the influence of the Tea Party, Republicans are now reclaiming at least some of their old mantle.
In that they have been helped rather than hurt by the transparency of Obama and Democrats’ heavy-handedness in attempting to thwart them. It seems a long time ago, but remember Jan Brewer and the feds’ lawsuit against the state of Arizona? Then there’s the lawsuits by over twenty states against Obamacare. And now, in what is perhaps the most visually graphic of the battles, we have Wisconsin and the Democrat-supported (and Democrat-supporting) public employee unions against almost everybody else, particularly the cash-strapped other citizens of these cash-strapped states.
The old image of states’ rights was of Democrat Governor George Wallace standing in the doorway at the University of Alabama, trying to hold back the feds’ insistence on integration. From that, states’ rights got a very bad rap. Now we’re seeing a different picture: governors (so far, Republican) protecting the fiscal integrity of their states against the influence of public service unions that feed the Democratic Party and are fed by it in turn.