Washington is out of control. It does as it likes, without restraint. It spends American money and American lives to fight remote wars for which it cannot provide a plausible reason. It determines what our children will be taught, who we can hire and fire, to whom we can sell our houses, whether we can defend ourselves, even what names we can call each other. The feds read our email and track the web sites we visit, make us hop around barefoot in airports at the command of surly unaccountable rentacops. They search us at random in train stations without even a pretense of probable cause. We have no influence over them, no way of resisting.
Except, perhaps, to ignore them.
Washington has learned to insulate itself from interference by the population. Huge impenetrable bureaucracies beyond public control make regulations that amount to laws, spending God knows how much money to do God knows what for the benefit of the interest groups that run the government. These bureaucrats cannot be fired and usually cannot be named. Congress, like the bureaucracies, serves not the United States but the big lobbies. The looters of Wall Street wreck the lives of millions, and get millions in bonuses for doing it instead of the end of a rope.
Further, the federal government simply doesn’t work. It is clogged up, constipated, gridlocked, using antiquated technology to do badly things it ought to do and things it oughtn’t. In large part this is because federal hiring rests on the desires of racist and feminist lobbies instead of suitability for the work to be done. Whole departments — HUD, Education — do much harm and little good. IRS is ruthless, incompetent, and unaccountable, the tax laws burdensome and crafted for the benefit of special interests and of Washington. I can change my address with my bank online in five minutes and know that it has been done; IRS requires a paper form and six to eight weeks to effect the change, and you don’t know whether it has been done. The goons of TSA leer at our daughters with their porno-scanners. The VA can easily take six months to provide a veteran’s records, when it could be done online in five seconds. The Pentagon spends a trillion a year, precious little of which has anything to do with defending America, but can’t defeat a small group of badly outnumbered men armed with rifles and RPGs; the intelligence agencies were unable to warn them of the prospect.
The government doesn’t work. It is broken. It can’t be fixed. It can’t be fixed because only those within it could, and their interest lies in not fixing it.
The only remedy short of armed rebellion is civil disobedience at the level of the states. Clear constitutional justification for refusal to obey Washington lies in the Tenth Amendment:
“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.”
A great many states now begin to do a great many things counter to Washington’s wishes. I think it wise to keep resistance within the framework of the Constitution, but the entire question comes down to a blunt truth: No law extends beyond the lawmaker’s power to enforce it. Congress can pass a law against gravitation, but can’t prevent things from falling when released from a height. The federal government made alcohol illegal but, in the face of massive public disregard, couldn’t make it stick.
What happens if, as may happen, California legalizes marijuana — not just for contrived medical purposes, but legalizes it, period? I search in vain for the Marijuana Clause in the Constitution. The feds do not have the manpower to enforce federal laws within California without the help of the police of California. What happens if a state passes a law saying that its citizens cannot be forced to buy health insurance? What can Washington do? It can persecute individuals, but a state, or thirty states, are another thing. The FBI can arrest any one person, but it cannot arrest Wyoming.
Much depends on how sick people really are of the ever-growing thicket of laws, regulation, imposed political correctness, surveillance, and having to live according to the dictates of remote elites with whom they have nothing in common.
At bottom, Washington’s power is economic. The feds rely for control on taxing money from the states and giving some of it back in exchange for obedience. They cannot arrest Wyoming, but they can deny it federal highway funds. This technique provides de facto control over everything from kindergarten to MIT.
Now, if Idaho passes a law (I’m making this up) saying that no restrictions on the ownership of guns will be enforced within the state, Washington might choose discretion over valor and ignore it. Legalizing marijuana, however, or refusing to accept compulsory medical care, would be a direct if not necessarily intentional challenge to the power of the central government. The feds could not afford to let either of these things slide. The danger of the precedent to the grip of the governing classes would be too great. A deadly serious confrontation would ensue.
What could, or would, the federal government do in response to defiance? Send the Marines to occupy Sacramento? Or the FBI to arrest Arnold and the legislature of California?
Or cut off California’s financial water? No bailout for the state’s tottering economy, no more fat subsidies to the universities, and so on?
The question is how ugly might things get. Washington may be able to make the states back down. It may not. The peril for the feds is that it might occur to the states that, while they get their money from Washington, Washington gets its money from the states. The central government depends absolutely on the states, whereas the states would get along swimmingly without the current central government.
How tired are Americans of a dysfunctional, oppressive Washington, unconcerned for its citizens, unaccountable and tending fast toward the totalitarian, that sprawls across the continent like an armed leech of malign intent? That is the question. The first time a populous states says “No,” if such a state ever does, we will get the answer. The United States has been free, prosperous, and reasonably well governed for a long time. It no longer is. Things go downward, within and without.
Nothing lasts, change comes, and things break. We shall see. Give it five years.
Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well and A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be. His latest book is Curmudgeing Through Paradise: Reports from a Fractal Dung Beetle. Visit his blog.