Cross posted from the Pennsylvania Tenth Amendment Center.
There is a point that I think I’ve been trying to get to for much of the time that I’ve been working with the Tenth Amendment Center. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve done a very good job at getting there. I’ve written a few articles that skirted past it and danced around it, but I kept missing this particular target. It’s something that we probably all know, but maybe we don’t all know that we know it.
I got close to this idea it in The Individual and the Tenth, where I talked about the role of the individual in resisting the federal government during the “Whiskey Rebellion”. Apparently, though, I didn’t really have things clear enough in my own mind at the time, because I only got part way there. It came closer to the surface some time last year, when I drew up this diagram, intended to depict the proper Constitutional balance of power.
The diagram was inspired by Madison’s description in Federalist #51:
In the compound republic of America, the power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments, and then the portion allotted to each subdivided among distinct and separate departments. Hence a double security arises to the rights of the people. The different governments will control each other, at the same time that each will be controlled by itself.
Even so, I still didn’t have the clarity I needed.
There’s nothing in Madison’s quote that we at the Tenth Amendment Center haven’t already written about a thousand different times and ways. True, the tension between the states and the federal government can provide security to the people – but this is well worn ground for the Tenth Amendment Center’s readers.
In addition to writing for the Tenth Amendment Center, I also read just about all of our articles as well as many from our detractors on the left and on the right. In much of that reading, I have noticed that many of the articles for and against nullification are written from one of two perspectives. The writers who write in favor of mullification frequently talk about “States Rights” or “State Sovereignty”. People who write against Nullification talk about the role of “the People” in restraining Washington. It should be obvious from a careful look at the diagram, however, that both perspectives are wrong… or… incomplete.
That diagram has been my twitter icon for several months now, but I still didn’t see it. Finally, last week when I posted “Vote the Bums Out” is not the answer, it came to the surface. Although this is something we all know, it is often glossed over so I want to use this article to specifically point it out.
In last week’s blog post, I wrote:
This is the path forward. The states can be a powerful ally. If we want to push back against Washington, the way to do it is with Harrisburg beside us. The Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution reserves undelegated powers to the states and to the people. The states and the people should work together to enforce that reservation. (Note: Harrisburg is the capital of Pennsylvania)
And there it is – “with Harrisburg beside us” – “the states and the people should work together“. It’s not the states vs. Washington and it’s not the People vs. Washington. If we want to preserve our freedom, it needs to be the states and the People together, insisting that our Constitutional balance be restored.
The reality is that any two of the powers in our federal republic can probably collaborate to control the third power. The People and the states can collaborate to control the general government. The states and the general government can collaborate (rightly or wrongly) to restrain the people, preventing the tyranny of the majority, or inflicting grievous harm. Finally, as we learned from the Civil Rights movement, the People and the general government can collaborate to restrain the states. That is how a “balance of power” should work.
In last week’s Supreme Court decision, which absurdly found the Patient Protection and Affordable Care act to be Constitutional, Chief Justice Roberts wrote:
Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.
There it is again… The People vs. Washington with no role for the States. And all three branches of the federal government have already proven that they have no intention of being restrained by the people alone. But in the days after the ruling came down, there has been a chorus of pundits, old and new media writers, and politicians all talking about the role of the people in getting the Intolerable Act of 2010 repealed.
Why did the Patient Protection and Affordable Care act pass in 2010, despite the huge outpourings of opposition? One answer might be that it was because of the party in power, and the other party wouldn’t have done it. When we think about “No Child Left Behind” and “Medicare Part D”, that line of reasoning becomes difficult to accept, though.
The current occupant of the White House campaigned passionately against the Patriot Act, indefinite detention, and Guantanamo Bay. Three and a half years later, Guantanamo Bay is still open, the Patriot Act is still on the books, and indefinite detention was institutionalized and signed into law in the NDAA for 2012.
But the ruling elite tell us that if we just get the right people in Washington, it will be different this time. Really? Maybe, but what if that’s wrong? What if we do the same thing we’ve always done and we get the same result we’ve always gotten?
Here’s what I think. If Washington were predisposed to listen to the will of the people, then the Town Hall meetings in 2009 and the amazing and massive rallies in early 2010 would have done the trick. The legislative branch, the executive branch, and the judicial branch have proven that they’re all willing to ignore both the People and the Constitution. With the states sitting on the sideline, Washington knows that the people can safely be ignored. It runs counter to the experience of my 44 years of life to believe that anyone in Washington is ever going to voluntarily repeal anything of substance. The only hope to get this law repealed is for the states to first render it unenforceable, thereby removing the power-incentive for Washington to protect it.
The people who urge us to run an all or nothing gambit on sending “the right” people to Washington, are clearly not thinking things through. Our constitutional framework provides us with the states as allies for a reason. Why does the ruling class encourage us to fight with one hand tied behind our back? Every Pennsylvania state official is sworn in with an oath to preserve and protect the Constitution. It’s time for them to get off the sideline, join the people in this struggle, and fulfill their oaths of office. And it’s time for the People to insist that they do it.