A Million Little Pieces… Of Government

(Originally Published by Howey Politics Indiana)

Over the last week, terrible and awesome events have grabbed our headlines.

The first was a horrifying accident by Indycar Champ Dario Franchitti. In a hasty, split-second decision, Franchitti made a pass in the Houston Grand Prix, and the move launched his car in to the catch fence, and sprayed the crowd with debris. Fortunately, the spectators and the three-time Indy 500 champ will miraculously survive the crash. Dario’s crash looked brutal because of the thousands of pieces flying away from the driver; carrying with them the force meant for his body.

Franchitti’s accident led me to wondering if our government isn’t headed for a serious crash itself. Our hulking leviathan has continuously grown centralized, and decision-making has become as flexible as Ray Harroun’s Marmon Wasp. The government is still shut down, and we are hurdling towards default with dysfunction at the top. Physics certainly is not the cause, but we have violated the principles as sound as gravity itself.

The larger man-made institutions grow, the less functional they become. The less functional a government becomes, the more harmful it is to those inside. It is my fear that our government has grown so large that it is no longer able to function.

One of the paver stones in our long road to national dysfunction is our collective shift from a nation that sees itself as a collection of states versus a nationalist perspective. It is hard to pinpoint when we stopped seeing our nation as a compact of 50 labs of democracy, and began seeing ourselves as a single nation. When did the United States just become America?

A strong central power was not something designed by our Founders. The states created the federal government, and limited it with a constitution. In it, they outlined 17 specific functions the federal government may exercise. These powers include regulating commerce with foreign nations, coining money, and running a post office. And then in the 9th and 10th amendment, they declared that anything not enumerated in that document is left to each state to decide.

Over time, the nationalist perspective rose, and achieved dominance with Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln is often put at the top of the Presidential rankings. He is regarded as a hero, emancipator, a man of wisdom, and the man who kept the Union together.

It is that last reason that I find him a complicated hero. In an effort to keep the Union together, he greatly grew the power of the Federal government. He suspended Habues Corpus, he issued executive orders that imprisoned journalists and newspaper editors, closed over 300 newspapers, and allocated military spending without the consent of the Congress. These are serious breaches of civil liberties and human rights.

I consistently struggle with the historical question: Every nation ended slavery in that century peacefully. Why were we the ones that fought a civil war where 850,000 Americans died? The idea of succession was meant to give civilized people a peaceful exit from a political institution that no longer represented them.

Jefferson’s idea of the founding was that our Constitution were merely a temporary convenience, and should it no longer be necessary, those binds could be dissolved for something more advantageous. Why not several confederations inhabiting America? That is a far cry from Lincoln’s view that the Union should be preserved by even the worst means necessary.

So why does any of this matter today? Those currently arguing for a stronger central government need Lincoln as a pretext for their own plans. If we need to read emails in a time of war, it is to protect our nation. Even Lincoln did it. We need to detain prisoners of war indefinitely, and it is ok, because even our hero Lincoln did it. The idea is even reinforced each day across the nation as the pledge is said: “one Nation under God, indivisible.”

I am not arguing for succession. In this day and age, no serious political thinker should. I am arguing that State and City governments ought to start thinking independently. Protect us from our dysfunctional federal government.

What can they do to survive without federal grants? What can local politicians do to empower their communities? And voters ought to choose politicians that put their local interests first.

Government power should rest as close to the individual voter as possible. Apathy sets in as individuals have lost their ability to directly influence those making decisions for them.

The modern political class needs to find ways to return power to the local level. If we apply the principles of IndyCar racing to our political history and present, we are all a little safer if things break into thousands of pieces as opposed to one hulking mass.

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