One of the great features of our constitutional democracy — one that was thoroughly intended by our Founding Fathers as they drafted the Constitution — was that they carefully diffused power throughout government. After rebelling against a tyrannical king, the last thing they wanted was to concentrate power in any one place, so they made sure to create a balanced system of government. The most famous example of this is the division of the federal government into three separate branches, but it’s not the only one. The Founding Fathers also ensured that states had a great deal of power in the new system, giving them their own constitutions and in turn empowering them to create local governments.

That system of governance has worked well for over two centuries now, producing a strong civil society that has enabled the country to survive a variety of crises. We’ve seen all over the world that when civil society breaks down, democracies can falter or even collapse. This balance has not only ensured our stability, it’s kept various factions from implementing a number of radical ideas over the years.

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Many of the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates seem to have little regard for that history. They seem hell-bent on the federal government not only taking control over huge portions of our economy in order to enact their ideological agenda, but also on usurping the authority of state and local governments as well. It’s not just on one issue here or there, either — it’s on a whole variety of issues in different policy areas.

Take a gun control, for example. One of the most common refrains among the Democratic candidates is for universal background checks — that is, requiring that all gun buyers be pass background checks even when purchasing weapons through a private sale. On the surface, this seems like a simple enough fix: apply the same regulations for private sales that you do at dealerships.

Gun dealers, though, are federally licensed, so they are able to perform these checks in a secure national database. Individuals can’t just sign up to get access, so they’d have to go to a federally licensed dealer — or directly to law enforcement — to complete the sale legally. It would essentially dragoon every local law enforcement officer into helping to enforce background checks, and completely usurp the authority of states to make decisions for themselves on public safety.

Democrats are pushing to usurp local government in other areas, too, like in education. Bernie Sanders is proposing a nationwide starting salary of $60,000 for teachers. Given the enormous authority local school districts and states have over education spending, setting a national teachers’ minimum wage would require both a massive reworking of the entire system and a huge infusion of federal spending. This would effectively strip away local control in a policy area where it’s often been considered sacrosanct, and could well alienate whole swaths of mainstream voters all over the country once they take a closer look at it.

Such a policy could well help some districts in the short term, encouraging more teachers to consider working in poorer school districts and more people to consider the career in the first problem. One of the many problems with this approach is that, if it only imposes a minimum wage with federal funding, it leaves the upper end of the range wide open. That means wealthier school districts would simply spend more to continue to attract the top talent, continuing the spending disparity at a much higher level. You’d either have to set a national salary cap for teachers as well or really get into the weeds and enact a national teacher contract with a standard pay scale. That would not only end local control, it would be an enormous giveaway to a key Democratic constituency: the teachers’ unions.

Of course, such grandiose, impractical approaches to public policy are unlikely to get anywhere in Congress no matter which party is in control. Campaign promises are, like White House budget proposals, often largely fairy tales. It’s telling that Democrats are largely taking a federal approach towards solving every problem with a top-down approach, instead of the traditional approach of incentivizing states towards certain policies. Even if their ambition is scaled back, it shows that they’ll be trying to impose policies centrally from Washington, rather than encouraging states to be a laboratory of ideas. It’s the wrong approach even when it’s for good ideas, and when it’s for terrible ideas it could well be disastrous.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: jimfossel

 


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