Two-legged stool

By Leo K. O'Drudy, III
web posted June 26, 2000

At least it felt the need for lip service. Although it passed yet another bill last week, illegitimately expanding the reach of the federal government into state and local affairs, the US Senate, with breathtaking gall, chose to call the legislation "the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act of 2000." This was, of course, a "hate crimes" law; this time expanding a list of federally protected classes to include homosexuals.

Now, even the leading "gay rights" group, the so-called Human Rights Campaign, admits on its website that there are already two federal "hate crimes" laws that apply to homosexuals. But that kind of concern has never stopped today's federal government, which believes that if having one job training program is good, then it's that much better to have dozens and dozens.

So the ominous growth of the Leviathan of the Potomac continues apace. Some may wonder what happened, why it has been so easy lately. Why is the momentum always on the side of the expanders? It's especially puzzling for those who know what the Founding Fathers were trying to do when they set up the Constitution. They knew history and human nature. They were wise to set up a system of checks and balances designed to ensure that the natural desires of politicians for power and glory could be harnessed to serve the cause of liberty. Officials, when firmly separated into executive, legislative, and judicial branches, would each jealously guard their powers and privileges, beating back all efforts by other branches to usurp them.

And thus preventing a dangerous concentration of power in one man or faction.

This kind of arrangement, hashed out by debate and compromise and based on centuries of observation of real people in real situations in the real world, is far superior to earlier and later experiments in republican government. Too many were founded on idealistic flourishes, ideological fervor, or idiocy, plain and simple. They attempted to impose good results on reality through good intentions unencumbered by respect for the wisdom of experience. And they were spectacular failures, producing tyranny, misery, starvation. But we avoided that. Our Constitution contains the distilled lessons of centuries, filtered by a clear-eyed knowledge of who Man is and what he is capable of (hint: very bad things).

So where did we go wrong? Why are we steadily sliding closer to living under a super-powerful centralized regime that recognizes few if any limits on its vast power and which slavishly obeys the dictates of an ideology totally at war with our civilization, the ideology of Political Correctness?

Obviously there were many steps, many bad decisions from then to now, but in my view, one major misstep was the Seventeenth Amendment to the US Constitution. We all learn about checks and balances in school, but one check we never hear about anymore is the check that the states once had on the federal government. This was the election of United States Senators by state legislatures. Today of course, US Senators are elected directly by the people of their states, just as US Representatives have always been.

This change came about as a result of the 17th Amendment, which was ratified in 1913.

There are few things that anger politicians, such as state legislators, more than infringing on their power. And few things politicians, such as US Senators, fear more than losing their jobs. For the majority of American history, then, any Senator who voted for a bill that would anger his state legislature would have to fear defeat when re-election time rolled around, just as Representatives have always had to keep on the good side of the people.

So if a state legislature feared that this or that bill in Washington would intrude upon its rightful turf, all it had to do was call upon the US Senator it had sent to DC and make it clear that he had better vote "No." Multiplied around the country, this process would help keep the Senate in line ... and the federal government's mitts out of state issues. Now, however, this crucial leg of our constitutional system has been kicked away.

Our constitutional stool only has two legs. Is it any wonder that the balance in our system of government is seriously akilter?

Today the US Senate is little more than another US House of Representatives with bigger districts, looser rules, and a soupcon of hauteur. And it cheerfully waves through bill after bill to make the federal government steal more and more power from the states and the people. How will we ever set things right again? Maybe all we can do is add the Seventeenth Amendment to the already overstuffed "It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time" file.

It's easy to imagine the TV ads attacking anyone trying to restore this crucial check on the feds: "Jim Jones wants to take away your right to vote for your Senator and give it only to some politicians in the state capital" - cut to footage of old fat cigar-chomping white men in suits guffawing as they slam a fancy door in the face of the camera.

In an age where it's hard to get self-proclaimed conservatives in Congress to stand one hundred percent united on what should be easy, popular issues like killing the gas tax or stopping partial birth abortion, this one doesn't look as if it has much hope.

But stranger and more improbable things have happened. Very few, Ronald Reagan and Paul Weyrich among them, ever thought that the Soviet Union was vulnerable and could be overthrown in our lifetime. Maybe someday we'll be marveling at the collapse of the federal government's unconstitutional excesses. But only if we educate ourselves and others, for a start.

Leo O'Drudy is the Free Congress Foundation's Direct Mail Coordinator.

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