For a long time, ‘local control’ has been a major tenet of the conservative movement… Now, before someone brands me a heretic for even daring to discuss the subject & suggest that it might be changing, all I ask is that you hear me out.
I recognize that those with strong libertarian impulses are going to disagree with the points I make here, because they have a default love of bottom-up solutions even when those solutions produce undesirable results.
1) How we (conservatives) became localists/regionalists
In the past, a stalwart devotion to local control made sense.
The reasons for this were obvious: Prior to the ‘great realignment’ that started in the 60s & finally came to completion in the 90s, liberals controlled the US Congress almost continually. Thanks in a large part to southerners voting for Democratic delegations to Congress because ‘Southern Democrats are different’ & a less ideologically-rigid orientation among the parties (you had very liberal Republicans (worse than today’s RINOS) & Zell Miller style conservative Democrats), the House was in Democratic Party hands even through the Reagan Revolution – if you wanted to ‘do something conservative’, you did it at the state or local level. Liberals, if they wanted their policies enacted, used the power of the federal government to pursue ‘transformation’ from the top down.
2) What Changed
Along the way, however, things changed. The parties became ideologically polarized, the South largely resolved it’s historic ‘political personality conflict’ between Antifederalist/Jacksonian-Democrat populisim & conservatisim in favor of the conservative position (the last spasms of the Jacksonian/Antifederalist position today drive the Paul family political enterprise, but win little traction to actually DO anything), and liberal political power became increasingly concentrated geographically (both at the state and local level).
We now live in a world where Conservative political power is concentrated at the state & federal level.
The natural tendency of liberals to *want* a communal lifestyle packs them into high-density cities like cordwood – which makes it easier for conservatives to control the US House (since House districts factor in geography, a party that wins 90% of the vote in a given state’s major-metro, but scares off suburban voters like Jason on Halloween is going to be in bad straights everywhere but those locations where the metro population dwarfs the rest of the state), and impossible for us to make a dent in local government at the county, metro, and in some cases state level.
This is in direct contrast to the old days. Now, if you want to do something Liberal with national impact, you no longer can count on the federal government to push it down. Conservatives control the House & while we do not use that power as effectively as the liberals did to make offensive progress (advance our agenda) we are realistically good at using it defensively, to block the liberal one. The fact that Obama is reliant on executive orders to (unconstitutionally) get ‘liberal stuff’ done post-Obamacare is evidence of this: while what he is doing is bad, it would be worse if he’d been President under the old voting patterns, with an unshakable (rather than temporary & fleeting) Democratic majority.
So the liberals have lost their power in Congress… But they have simultaneously figured out how to use OUR old weapons against us – how to drive an agenda from the bottom up, leveraging the very things that drove them from control of the House (their concentrated urban support) against us.
3) The Threat
To the skeptical & more than a few folks who probably still want to call *me* a liberal/hang me from the nearest virtual lightpost, the obvious response is ‘So what, let them build their socialist utopias in the cities & the blue states… They’ll live their lives, I’ll live mine & we’ll see which one works’…
You. Couldn’t. Be. More. Wrong.
The thing about local political power is, while it doesn’t enable you to pass grand, sweeping national legislation… If you cobble together enough small strongholds, it enables you to use *market economics* to force your agenda on the entire nation. ‘Big Little’ government (liberal ideology implemented at the lowest levels of government) is just as much a threat as classic Liberal ‘Big Government’.
A little liberalisim somewhere, can be used to force fealty to the liberal agenda *everywhere*
Don’t believe me?
Try to buy a gas can without a ‘CARB approved’ nozzle. Look around and count how many cars you see with ‘PZEV’ stickers on them. Read the label of any common product & note the ’causes cancer in California’ language.
Now think about the fact that while (most of you) do not live in California, California liberals have regulated your life on a national scale – denying you the choice of gas can spouts, jacking up the price of cars, and adding ‘bubble-boy nanny-state’ safety labels to things you buy.
This isn’t because companies love California liberalism. Far from it.
This is because the cost of making 2 separate lines of product – one for the huge market that is California & one for the ‘free states’ – is cost-prohibitive compared to just making California-friendly products for everyone.
For another example of the threat of ‘Big Little Governments’, look at immigration. It matters not how strictly the federal government tries to ‘secure the border’, if blue cities are able to make themselves ‘Sanctuaries’ for illegals & blue states issue them regular ID documents. Immigration enforcement that only exists in the suburbs, is immigration enforcement that does not exist.
Now think about all the other liberal/progressive agenda items that Conservatives oppose. And think of a future where enough of the US economy is subjected to these things from the bottom-up, that they are de-facto national standards, even in ‘free states’ because refusal to comply results in an inability to do business in liberal areas.
If enough big-blue cities set their minimum wage to $15/hr, who cares how well we hold the line at the federal level? The invisible hand doesn’t give a rats’ about federalism or what level of government is setting wage-floors, it reacts the same way… And everyone is screwed.
‘Universal Preschool’, permissive welfare programs, and rediculous urban-development programs can all be enacted from the ground up, with the same deleterious effects as if they were federal laws.
Same thing with carbon taxation or ‘cap and trade’ – if you’re taxed and tolled to death for daring to drive a car into a blue city or state, who cares that it’s not federal… The economic impact is the same… Add ‘renewable energy standards’, ‘Smart Growth’, mass-transit-centric transportation policy, and such to the list.
All of this can be imposed upon us from the bottom-up, while we’re focused on the boogeyman of federal power that we now actually have the power to harness *in service of OUR cause*.
4) What to do about it
So, hopefully, there’s a far smaller portion of the board thinking I’m a heritic now…
The problem is real. They really are trying to flank us. But we can stop them.
While this is now a major issue across the board, it’s been seen & dealt with by conservatives before, on an issue where we have resoundingly won the national debate: GUNS.
Those of us who have been actively involved in the pro-gun movement are familiar with the threat of ‘big little government’ because it was used against us before it was used against anyone else. Anti-gun liberals, frustrated by a lack of broad support for their policies at the ‘bigger’ levels of government, pushed their most extreme legislation through in major urban areas. They enacted municipal handgun bans, special municipal permitting systems & worked with leftist big-city mayors on attempts to bankrupt & regulate the gun industry with lawsuits/consent-decrees. The result was, that it didn’t matter how secure your gun rights were on the national/state level, if you didn’t have them at work because you commute into a ‘gun free zone’.
Respecting ‘local control’ meant letting your 2A rights get trampled on. So we didn’t.
Action was taken to stop this infringement of rights, via the use of ‘bigger’ government to trump the Left. Preemption laws & state constitutional ammendments were enacted that forbade municipalities from regulating firearms. In the ultimate example of big-government power being used to advance a small-government/individual-rights agenda, a federal law (PLCA) was passed that shut down the anti-gun movement’s attempt to backdoor-regulate the gun industry by lawsuit & settlement decree. And of course, we used the power of the Supreme Court to grant formal teeth to the 2nd Ammendment, imposing the conservative viewpoint (that it’s an individual Constitutional right, on par with free speech, and that it applies to all levels of government) upon the entire nation. The anti-gun movement at the national level is now effectively destroyed, the ‘big-little government’ portion of it is still active but vastly weakened, and the result is national firearms freedom on a scale we’ve never seen before.
In short, the salvation of individual freedom is going to come from the use of federal & red-state state-government power to block the liberal agenda. We are going to have to rediscover our ‘Big F’ Federalist (as in America’s original Conservative party) roots, and use the Supremacy Clause along with state police-power, to deprive liberals of the ability to regulate indirectly through the economic power of their impenetrable urban strongholds.
The Constitution, read literally, allows this – it is, after all, a Federalist document designed with the failure of our first ‘big little’ government (the Articles of Confederation) in mind. And in fact, liberals have built up a nice bunch of Supreme Court precedent that allows a Conservative US Congress (and a Conservative President) to squash ‘Local Power’ liberalisim flat.
Once upon a time (separate from it’s Raich-created role as a federal police-powers clause – which is a subject for a whole ‘nother diary), the Commerce Clause strongly forbade states and municipalities from enacting measures that substantially impacted interstate commerce. This ‘firewall’ needs to be rebuilt, ASAP, to a level where a state regulating the design of motor-vehicles, or the features of a gas can is universally unconstitutional.
Beyond this, the federal government needs to exert it’s supremacy (utilizing Art VI, and the 2012 ‘Arizona v US’ decision, etc) and pre-empt states from regulating such things as air pollution and firearms. In a world where it’s illegal for Arizona to set immigration policy (according to the Supreme Court), it should also be federally illegal for CA to operate an ‘Air Resources Board’, engage in ‘Cap and Trade’, or deny a US citizen a concealed-weapons permit – in the same way it’s illegal for the City of Seattle to enact gun bans.
Finally, the power-of-the-purse & federal control of federal lands can be used to deny federal funds to states and localities that go rampaging off on liberal crusades. Want to enact ‘Smart Growth’ zoning? No HUD money for you. Running a ‘Sanctuary City’? No federal law-enforcement grants. Building mass transit instead of freeway lanes? No federal transportation funds… Leagalizing pot? No antidrug funds.
5) The inevitable Libertarian split
The one major impact of all this, is that successfully addressing & shutting down this threat will end any political association between conservatives & libertarians. ‘Big L’ libertarians are the odd-ducks of US politics, being essentially ‘liberals who don’t like welfare’ – they are with the Left on foreign policy & crime-control (see the number of libertarians who wind up on the Occupy! side of every domestic issue that doesn’t involve taxes/spending), but with the right on fiscal issues that don’t involve the military.
The problem is, a good number of libertarians are ideological purists to such a degree that they are unwilling to initiate force/use compulsive power to preserve/protect freedom. It is ‘more wrong’ to use the power of the federal government to ‘reconstruct’ liberals, than it is to allow liberals to abuse federalisim to force liberal ideology on us all.
Beyond this, most libertarian-conservative initiatives actually focus on taking power away from the federal government (shifting the balance-of-power back towards the pre-Constitutional order of the Articles Government) that we will need to resist bottom-up liberalisim/’big-little’ government. By concentrating power at the state/local level – especially in downright anti-federalist ways, such as ammending the Constitution to make the federal government dependent on the states for revenue – you actually help liberals dominate us. A Convention of the States that devolves power is game-over for the conservative cause, as it reinforces liberal ‘stronghold power’ over the national economy.