HONOLULU, April 14, 2013 — Everyone knows that fire burns, water is wet and Washington is broken. But if everyone knows these a priori truths, why can’t American voters fix a government built by majority consent?
In 1776, Thomas Paine, speaking of the British Empire’s grip on the American colonies, bemoaned “there is something very absurd in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island.” If Paine were alive today, he would find it infinitely more absurd for a single American city to be arbiter of the world, with a presidency enforcing capricious might through drone strikes in diverse places and the Federal Reserve’s interest rate policy wreaking economic havoc on a planetary scale.
As Thomas Jefferson prophetically warned, “When all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated.” America’s founders understood from reviewing the patterns of human history that concentrated power is not a safe companion to liberty. Like a stagnant swamp, the aggregation of power naturally gives rise to pestilence and abode to parasites and other carnivorous creatures.
“Drain the swamp” with our Tenth Amendment
The only way to slow the spread of political pestilence and tyranny is to drain the swamp of concentrated power. It is with good reason we call ourselves the United States of America, not the United State of America, because the founders did not want a politically monolithic entity to unilaterally rule the New World. After all, so many persecuted people had fled the dystopian Old World of Europe to create a haven for economic, social and religious freedom on America’s shores.
The Bill of Rights was created to ensure that the liberties won in the American Revolution would be protected by limited government enforced through separation of powers. When we speak of separation of powers, we mean not only between the three branches of federal government, but also in the dividing lines between municipal, state and federal government. The Tenth Amendment codifies this wisdom by telling us “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”
More than twenty millennia of human history confirms the precedent that too much power invested in the hands of a few people — however well-intentioned or “moral” they may be — always leads to oppression. Even ancient texts give readers powerful political science lessons in the dangers of concentrated power. In the legendary Chinese tale Romance of The Three Kingdoms, author Luo Guanzhong warns “the world under heaven after a long period of unity must divide.”
Likewise in the Hebrew story of Genesis 11:1-9, readers of the Bible are told of how all mankind settled in one place at the plains of Shinar and committed to building a capital city in the form of a giant tower. Scripture records that God saw man’s works and said “Behold, they are one people and they all have the same language. If this is what they have already begun to do, nothing will be impossible for them.” The Bible writes of God breaking up the concentration of human power by scattering people the world over and allowing them to develop into independent governments so as to delay the formation of a single planetary order.
The political lesson to be learned from that vignette is that when power begins to concentrate, there is no limit to the tyranny of a few elite leaders. Even as the Bible said “nothing will be impossible for them” we see in our own modern America how mandates previously considered politically impossible or electorally impractical are passed effortlessly through Congress.
In the past, it would have been impossible for Congress to enact indefinite detention without trial, bailouts of banks and blank checks for infinite war. Today we have a Congress that does nothing to help the average American but believes it can do anything it wants to our checkbooks, dinner plates, bedrooms, local farms, doctor’s offices, schools, communities and our future. If this model of governance is permitted to continue with impunity, America will join history’s ash heap of failed nations and wrecked societies.
States and municipalities must take initiative
So why have we fallen so far from our founding principles? Why has the Great Experiment in liberty turned all of us into test subjects for tyranny? The answer is simple. The Constitution will not enforce itself. The Bill of Rights is powerless among a people committed to thinking wrong. If we want to restore freedom, prosperity and personal choice in America for ourselves and our children to come, we must focus on local reform and local empowerment through a vigorous exercise of the Tenth Amendment.
There is a word we must all re-learn if we are to speak truth to power and that word is nullification. Write that word down and make it your watchword for freedom. Nullification is the legal act of a state legislature refusing to comply with an unconstitutional breach of the Constitution by the federal government. It is a constitutional principle which we have forgotten but must bring again to the forefront of our minds in this time of great crisis.
As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “every state has a natural right in cases not within the compact, (casus non foederis) to nullify of their own authority all assumptions of power by others within their limits: that without this right, they would be under the dominion, absolute and unlimited of whosoever might exercise this right of judgment for them.” The states created the federal government and the states retain the authority to set breakers in place to stop the flood of federal power.
We have separation of powers engineered into our Constitution so that local people can determine best for themselves how to work, live and play without a distant government meddling in their daily affairs. State rights and home rule exist to divide federal against state and state against municipal, ensuring that no obelisk of single, concentrated government towers above all.
The states and municipalities need to stop being reactive to Washington’s out-of-control governance and take initiative in standing firm on the Tenth Amendment. While changing the ideology of Washington is nearly impossible, changing our executive mansions, state legislatures and city councils is very much within our grasp. With the average Congressional election priced at $1.5m and above, none but special interests and crony capitalist megacorporations can lay hold of Washington’s reigns of power in these difficult economic times. But in state or city races where an incumbent can be primaried and defeated for as little as $35,000 the public can exert immense electoral pressure on local legislatures to exercise nullification.
No longer can we afford governors that issue mere press releases of their disdain to Washington’s unconstitutional encroachments on our essential liberties. No longer can our Republic exist with state representatives or city councilmembers whose incumbency consists merely of taking ribbon cutting photos and publishing newsletters that itemize capital improvement projects funded by infusions of federal money collected from hardworking taxpayers in other states. It is time for the people to select for themselves a new generation of local leaders who will stand in the gap and truly represent the local interests of their constituency through nullification of unconstitutional abuses.
America’s founders did not envision a world where Washington and its elite few rode over the heads of so many. As sons and daughters of the American Revolution, all Americans are called to freedom, not to fear. But how can America claim to be “free” when an entire nation lives in perpetual fear of what the Congress and the President will do (or fail to do)?
How can we be free men when millions fear that if the cost of health insurance rises faster than our salaries, we might be penalized by the IRS or imprisoned for not complying with Obamacare?
How can we have freedom of speech when there is the constant fear that a misconstrued set of words spoken over the phone or written by e-mail could be intercepted by government and result in indefinite detention for being a “suspected” terrorist sympathizer? Or how can we have freedom if the government has the power to place us on a no-fly watchlist that no one, not even a judge, can view, appeal or overturn?
This is not the kind of country we were born in and this is certainly not the kind of legacy that our children deserve. We must no longer live in fear of the federal government and its out of control appetite for power.
It’s time for local governments and local people to reach into the reservoirs of their souls and draw upon their courage and love for community. As a Christian, I’m reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul who exhorted believers persecuted by their government to remember “God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong … and … the things that are not so that He may nullify the things that are so that no man may boast before God.”
Remember those words. We have no excuse for the decline of our nation and the destruction of our Republic. The Bill of Rights gives us a roadmap to freedom, and that freedom begins with nullification.
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