At no time in our country’s history has political debate been as confined as we find it today. So many of us feel our views must fit within small, conventional, and often contradictory parameters.
“I oppose same-sex marriages and support prayer in school,” Generic Republican A might state, fully confident they are doing their good duty as a conservative. “I think we need heavy gun restrictions and that contraception should be taught over abstinence,” Generic Democrat B might chime in, visualizing their favorite NPR commentator vigorously nodding in approval. Underlying each of these previous statements is a view that federal policy is little more than an extension of one’s personal tastes, likes, and prejudices.
Lost in the current state of our discourse is any adherence to the Constitution; rarely, if ever, are what Congress and the president authorized to do even considered. Formerly strict limits on federal power have become collateral damage to arguments increasingly based on emotion.
Article 1, Section of 8 of the Constitution laid out Congress’ specific powers, and nowhere was banning drugs or dictating marriage law found. This might come to the chagrin of social conservatives. But nowhere is the authority to force the purchase of health insurance or dictate public school curriculum on homosexuality or contraception found, surely frustrating the pet causes of many social liberals.
These things are simply not within the realm of the federal government to determine. Under the 10th Amendment, which some have begun to invoke, such powers were left to the state legislatures. If these legislatures so chose, such decisions could be left in the hands of those even closer to the people. This federalism was intended to allow our states to, as Louis Brandeis said, function as laboratories of democracy.
Ending the federal drug war and allowing each state to try innovative approaches, where Oregon
might take a public health approach and Alabama a law enforcement one, is the constitutionally correct answer to the substance abuse problem. More states would adopt and follow suit with the ideas that proved most effective.
This would not, as some conservatives might suspect, be an endorsement of drug usage. Instead, such a policy would be an invoking of the federalism and state sovereignty embedded in America’s Constitution.
Liberals who claim opposition to federal welfare programs is equivalent to lack of empathy for the poor are off base as well. It is simply an acknowledgment of the confines placed on Congress by the Constitution.
It makes no sense to expect that 315 million residents will adhere to the same social morays and viewpoints. And this was never the intent of America. In their foresight, our Founders devised a system where states could take creative approaches, understanding that certain regions would differ in taste and philosophy. A few rights were guaranteed, and the remainder was left up to each sovereign state.
Moving the axis of power away from Washington will end much of the unnecessary divisiveness we see in 21st century America. Establishing the precedent that each hot button issue should be decided for every American by the same source of power is simply not practical. We should instead accept the Constitutional answer, letting the institutions closest to the people establish a more easily reached consensus.