Ira Lacher reflects on the impact of federalism. -promoted by Laura Belin

On the eve of Independence Day, let us take a moment to consider that, like knowledge, too much independence is a dangerous thing.

When the founders declared America’s independence from Britain, they envisioned a nation composed of 13 semiautonomous states, which would maintain a delicate balance with a central government. That Rube Goldberg gadget empowered states to declare which human beings were human beings and which were property.

And today America is a spit-and-baling-wire thingamajig of fifty-plus sets of laws governing not only how fast you can drive and what license tag attaches to your car but also how much taxes you pay, at what age you can consume alcohol, with whom you can be intimate, which bathroom you can use, how and whether you can vote, and whether you have control over your own body.

One nation, very divisible.

When Joe Biden opined during last Thursday’s Democratic debate that he was in favor of local decision-making as it related to busing to overcome racial imbalance in schools, many people cringed. Sen. Kamala Harris responded forcefully: “That’s why we have the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. Because there are moments in history where states fail to preserve the civil rights of all people.”

That’s America. And that needs to end.

Fourteen years ago, a Brookings Institution policy brief stated: “For all the hype about the country’s ‘culture wars,’ the fact is that socially and culturally, the contemporary United States has become a remarkably integrated society …”

But that’s illusionary — especially as it pertains to what we used to call “integration.” It wasn’t long ago that some states kept blacks from voting by means of a “poll tax” — now they are doing it by demanding to see difficult-to-obtain ID cards. Some states also have clamped down on women’s reproductive rights, prevented reasonable gun safety, ensured unequal education, denied workplace protection, and as affirmed by the latest Supreme Court decision, perpetuated voting districts stacked in favor of one political party or another.

More factual about the state of federalism is an analysis written during the height of the Great Recesssion by Harold Myerson in The American Prospect: “By the standards of nearly every other major nation . . . and increasingly by the standard of common sense, the United States retains a system of government that frequently subverts its own policies and enables federal and state governments to negate each other’s endeavors. Federalism has its points, but in a growing number of ways, and especially during a recession, it makes no damn sense at all.”

The Tenth Amendment expressly cedes to the states all powers “not delegated to the United States by the Constitution.” Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution grants 27 powers to the federal government, the most notable being coining money, regulating interstate commerce, declaring war, raising and maintaining armed forces, and establishing a Post Office.

But those powers don’t include ensuring that every American has the rights and privileges of every other American. That takes years of expensive lawsuits, with unpredictable results.

This Fourth of July, keep in mind that the fireworks you set off in your backyard may be illegal for your brother’s family a few miles down the road. And that’s the least of it. Happy Independence Day.

  • A few thoughts

    Mr. Lacher’s remarks are . . . not deadly accurate.

    Citing a couple of think tank publications does not change that.

    In his essay, above, Mr. Lacher goes from the Declaration of Independence to America in 2019 in two sentences. This assumes too much and says too little. It misses the fundamental information necessary to come to his conclusion that states have too many regulations and few of Iowa’s laws suit his interests so, the Federal government must make laws uniform among the several states and, presumably, discard those laws throughout the country that he does not like.

    A few thoughts and a great deal of un-bundling are required.

    First, the signers of the declaration of independence envisaged more than the 13 colonies. Historical documents support the signers’ contemplation of westward expansion. Granted, at that time, Ohio was “the west.”

    Second, Mr. Lacher leapfrogs over two significant government structure changes, about which he seems unaware. Following the Declaration of Independence, these “united states” had to figure out how to run as a country. They needed an organizational structure that would put people to work and generate revenue.

    The government, so formed, was outlined in the Articles of Confederation. The Articles of Confederation were, in Mr. Lacher’s words, a “Rube Goldberg gadget [that] empowered [semi-autonomous] states to declare which human beings were human beings and which were property.”

    The one thing Americans agreed upon when the Declaration of Independence was signed, was that they did not want a king, or a central imposing individual running the government. So, under the Articles of Confederation, there was no executive branch and there was no president.

    Has Mr. Lacher ever heard of the great founding American statesman, John Hanson? If he hasn’t, that’s okay because most Americans cannot even conceive of him or his role in our history.

    John Hanson was as close to a president as the Articles of Confederation would allow. His position was ceremonial and, beside the point. Officially, he was the president of the Confederation Congress. Realistically, he was precisely the figurehead Americans did not want. So, he had next to no powers, beyond ceremonial signing of documents in behalf of the Congress.

    This Confederation Congress, made up of individuals who, while representing their colonies, only wanted the government to provide for their colonies, and did not want their colonies to compete with the other colonies. Each colony was a sort of United Kingdom inside of an American version of the European Union.

    So, for example, Mr. Lacher discusses a government prone to failure because of the disparate determinations, among the colonies, of who was human, who not. Slaves were industry property; machines in some colonies. They were people or, 2/3 of a person if they were male, in other colonies. This was but one of many economic polarities that could not be forged under the Articles of Confederation.

    The Articles of Confederation did not allow for interstate commerce and, as the result, local communities had road systems with turnpikes, that forced tolls on travelers going back and forth (or sometimes just forth), between towns or counties or states. This inhibited interstate commerce and the states couldn’t (wouldn’t) work together to do something high-minded or with a view toward the long-game..

    I will tie this together shortly.

    Before I get there, all of this history explains why the Declaration of Independence was signed on 4 July 1776, but the United States Constitution was not ratified until 4 March 1789, and George Washington’s inauguration was not until 30 April 1789. This is also why most Americans have never heard of John Hanson and that November 15, 1777, the date the Confederation Congress adopted the Articles, or that March 1, 1781 are not historical bench marks in many histories written about America.

    The Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation. “The framers of the Constitution” came together to figure out how to form a government, representative of agriculture and business, of small and large states, and which allowed a Congress made up of representatives to make pretty much all of the rules that expanded commercial trad and created an executive to, among other things, officially represent the country..

    The Supreme Court was created. Many of its early and landmark cases regarded the boundaries of the three branches of government, but also decided issues of trade and education, all of which, to a greater or lesser extent, grew the country. The larger the country the more divided it became, because of economics. Slavery and the Civil War were not about individual liberty, they about labor costs.

    Mr. Lacher’s point seems to be that when you have a situation like the one in Iowa, where he lives, where state elections over the past three decades have resulted in a current executive and legislative administration annually curtails individual liberties (like, for Mr. Lacher, setting off fireworks), the Federal government has both the ability, and the duty, to level the playing field and restore individual liberties. Mr. Lacher’s view ignores the limitation on Federal power.

    (It also creates an ideological stalemate: the one side says, “We don’t think labor unions are good for business; the other side says, “We ARE labor unions.” How does the government level the playing field? Whose “side” does it take? Does it come in whenever there is an imbalance, and reset the sides? And, how does that translate into representative government? Doesn’t that suggest wholesale disenfranchisement of voters which, at this point in time, is something Democrats detest?)

    Mr. Latcher discards roughly 250 years of history to make his point about being the mechanism to bring about change that popular voting fails to bring about. Ignoring the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution, Mr. Lacher describes 2019 America as America under the Articles of Confederation. He refers to a “spit-and-baling-wire thingamajig of fifty-plus sets of laws governing not only how fast you can drive and what license tag attaches to your car but also how much taxes you pay, at what age you can consume alcohol. . . ”

    Mr. Lacher may feel that way but, his reality is devoid of the context of American history, in particular the United States Constitution (which, again, he confuses with the Declaration of Independence).

    The truth is, and the Constitution limits the Federal power, in, among other places, the 11th Amendment, which says that those powers not entrusted to the Congress remain in the States. With respect to Mr. Lacher’s piece, Congress (the Federal legislature) was not Constitutionally entrusted with public schooling (or private schooling). Congress does not, for example, control state funding of public schools. Congress doesn’t govern school board elections. Certainly then, Congress does not dictate how to integrate schools to provide a diverse student body to all students in the hope that integrating children of all backgrounds would broaden their minds and hearts so that together they would make a more robust and competitive country, superior to all others.

    Mr. Lacher seems to think, as Kamala Harris suggested in her harangue about busing, that the Federal government required busing and busing didn’t work so the Federal government should have stepped into the breach and fixed whatever was wrong with busing. Vice President Biden accurately (though nobody cared about accuracy at that moment) stated that busing and education are local issues and that the success or failure of busing, as a concept or as implemented in California, rested with the school board or, maybe, the State government.

    The Vice President was correct because the Federal government did not mandate busing. The Federal government — the Judicial branch, the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, and several other rulings — mandated integrated schools based on the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. It said, “separate but equal [schools] are inherently unequal.”

    Beyond saying that, the Court left the states to figure out how to integrate children so they all would get the same education, together. The states were supposed to provide not only equal access to education, but equal education, through the mixing of the advantaged children with the disadvantaged children.

    The states overwhelmingly decided the solution was busing Black and other minority children to White neighborhood schools, and White kids to Black neighborhood schools. That might have worked well in theory. But in reality, school boards had control over busing and, school boards are made up of parents from the district where the school is located. They were not keen on busing of kids out of, or into, “their” schools. So, the kids, who as kids are always looking for a foil, and who were articulating the prejudices of their parents, were idiots to the kids who were bused to their schools and the school boards did little to curb that bullying because the school boards were the parents giving the messages to the kids.

    While busing was a short-sighted, unrealistic segregation model, developed by average people who were elected to school boards, and had no expertise in education, or social integration, or the lives of minority children, busing was brutal on the first generation of kids. It was less so, and more accepted, when the second generation of children were bused out of their neighborhoods into other neighborhoods.

    Senator Harris stated she was part of that second generation.

    We have talked, now, about Congress, and its role in the Federal government. We’ve talked about the Federal judiciary and its role in the Federal government. We have now discussed the reality that neither branch of the Federal government plays a role in public education as it applies among the several states.

    We haven’t yet talked about the Executive branch and its role in education.

    The Executive branch includes the President, and his cabinet, consisting of secretaries for various constituencies, and the Attorney General, who decides what Federal laws to enforce and which of his staff will argue cases in front of the Federal courts as the United States Solicitor General.

    Among the cabinet secretaries is the Secretary of Education. She runs the Department of Education. The Department of Education is, for all intents and purposes, a funding source for education in the states. Traditionally, it has been in charge of funding public schools, since public schools are government mandated institutions that are supposed to educate our children with a spirit of making our country not only competitive in world markets and in science and the arts, but superior to all other nations.

    (Lately, the Department of Education is focused on using its money to pay for self-interested private forms of education, many of them not educating anybody for any purpose other than to keep them from interacting with a diverse student body).

    The Department of Education puts strings on its funding. For example, in the past, the Department of Education has threatened to, or attempted to, cut funding for schools that refused to integrate, or for schools that taught sex education, or for schools that did not teach sex education, or schools that refused to provide so-called, “healthy” foods to children. As the bain of existence to state departments of education, the Federal government has threatened to withhold funding for schools by setting up unrealistic, often unattainable educational standards, which are measured by standardized tests. The problem with this sort of approach is obvious: what if several kids in a district don’t test well using standardized tests, but write well and reason well? What do you do with a limited amount of school funding in a certain location so that you cant’ make the kids proficient in some of the areas the examinations test on? Do the standardized tests ask questions general enough to apply to all children or, for example do they ask questions about social media to which poorer children have never been exposed?

    The point is, the Federal government, in the Executive branch funds public education. So, looking to the President to fix busing was a futile gesture.

    In short, no branch of the Federal government could have addressed inadequacies in the manner with which states integrated their schools, let alone the specific method, busing.

    To the extent Senator Harris, a member of Congress, believes the Federal government should have eliminated busing or, improved busing or, taken any action regarding busing, she — a lawyer — knows better. She knows busing was a local matter. Senator Harris, the former attorney general for the state of California, know this.

    Senator Harris, the POLITICIAN, had two goals in mind with that red herring busing issue during that the so-called, “debate.” The first was, take out Vice President Biden, who up to that night, was the frontrunner, having kept a low profile yet, was the most well-financed person on the late date that he entered the race.

    The second goal of Ms. Harris’ was to contemporaneously run a Twitter feed with photos of her as a little girl getting on a school bus, so that the photograph of her as a cute little child — some innocuous photo from a family album — could be manipulated to invent a narrative, and move her up in the rankings as the person of color subjected to unknown disenfranchisement and indignity because she was bused to a White neighborhood where the education was superior.

    Senator Harris succeeded.

    In the process, she convinced Mr. Lacher and others like him that — because she is a lawyer and a Senator she knows these things — the Federal government is the big brother who slaps the little brother states around when they misbehave. That is THE Democratic narrative that compelled, and propelled, Ronald Reagan’s Republican campaign and presidency. His key — and still quoted — phrase was, “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

    The political points scored by Senator Harris during that televised event last week was a double-edged sword at that level of sophistication. She surged in the polls and the exposure brought money into her campaign. She is now better positioned than she was the day before the event.

    Should Senator Harris become president, though, she will be confronted with the reality that what she implied about big government solving all civil liberties issues is a fundamental lie based upon the Constitutional government of which she is already a member. The unfortunate and lasting result will be a generation of young people of color who will hang on that big “debate” moment, and grow up only to find out that one of their own lied to them.

    On more subtle, yet very fundamental, level, President Harris will have invoked ignorance regarding civics to kids who believe they’re living a civics lesson with her in office. They will not understand how our country was formed, how our institutions of government work, and what to realistically expect from the Federal and state governments.

    At this moment, Senator Harris is (and a dozen other Democrats, and one well-financed Independent are) running against an incumbent President who does not understand how government works. His presidency, most conventional American news sources and historians agree, exists because the average Republican voter shares his ignorance and lack of historical perspective.

    To the extent Senator Harris led Mr. Lacher to believe the Federal government will fix what ails the people of his State, shame on Senator Harris. That Mr. Lacher was capable of being misled, because he himself has a blind spot with respect to American civics, establishes a credibility problem for his posts, and this post, particularly.

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