The well of the American political imagination has run dry. There is not a single novel proposal being seriously pushed by any elected official in regards to any of the exigent crises which face the nation. Old, tired ideas that obviously had no merit the first time they were proposed and implemented, elsewise the issues they were designed to settle would not continue to crop up like a perennial weed choking the public discourse.
In response to financial instability, political leaders have talked of reinstituting Glass-Steagall, a New Deal era regulation that separated commercial and investment banking; it would give sweeping new powers to the federal government, create new regulations, thus driving up the cost of business, and severely limit the amount of money available for loans, which would make upward financial mobility even more difficult for the poor. To rectify perceived trade imbalances, the administration has voiced support for protectionist tariffs on foreign imports in the style of Smoot-Hawley, which precipitated the Great Depression. Through executive action, the president has created the White House Office of American Innovation, a council that bridges the gap between the public and private sector and looks for more efficient ways to create jobs, a program reminiscent of the National Recovery Administration.
Neither is it just the executive branch whose policy agenda seems to have been transported from the mid-20th century. Speaker Ryan’s “Better Way” initiative to rebrand the GOP and focus its efforts on streamlining government so it better serves the needs of the people bears remarkable similarities to the “Contract with America” pushed by Newt Gingrich when he held the speakership under Bill Clinton.
It seems those in Washington can do nothing but regurgitate what has already been tried; there is, after all, a safety in political traditions which does not unsettle voters in the same way new and radical approaches to governance tends to do. This is not to say old ideas should be dismissed simply because they are old, but neither should they be imbued with any sense of traditional reverence. It is merit, not age, which ought to be the primary focus of political attempts to craft policy. And it is precisely an emphasis on merit which is lacking.
Then again, perhaps the reason the federal government cannot get a firm handle on durable political solutions is because they are grappling with issues which were never meant to be within their purview.
Constrained by the Constitution, not only does the federal government lack the authority to direct policy, particularly where economic matters are concerned, it lacks the ingenuity to think outside the strict, delineated corridors of power. And that, if individual rights are to be protected, is how it must be. There has certainly been an erosion of the constraints of checks and balances, which has only accelerated as time passes, particularly within the executive branch, but only in the breadth of issues over which the federal government claims authority. The ways and means available to executive bodies and regulatory agencies remains unchanged. This has empowered government but left it inadequately provisioned to discharge the duties it has assumed, thus compounding the dangers of federal abuse.
The answer, then, is to scale back the breadth of issues over which government claims authority, which means returning power to the states. Since federal bureaucrats and elected officials are hardly going to cede power of their own volition, this going against their survival instinct, the answer is to unmuzzle the voices of states, whose prerogative it is to oversee many of these issues anyway. A convention of states is necessary to curtailing the impotence of the federal government.
There is no tenable solution to a bevy of national political issues at a federal level, particularly those which touch upon economics, finance and jobs because federalism exists in economics in much the same way it was originally intended to exist in America. Standards of living, the makeup of markets and even the resources available are at variance across the nation; this is something to celebrate as it speaks to the richness of the individual productive capacity. However, only a pluralistic system of government, one that allows ample opportunities for alternative views and approaches to problem solving, can serve this richness; the imposition of one will over all others, such as occurs when the federal government reigns supreme, is stifling.
Political control must be devolved to state and local levels. There are two parts to political success in the American system. Not only must a policy address an existing need, it must do so in a way that accommodates multiple perspectives. This means there cannot be one-size fits all solutions to policy. If flexible political solutions are applied at a federal level, ample opportunities for abuse emerge. Rather, control must be returned to locales where individuals living in proximity to government shortcomings are able to assess the most exigent need and prioritize strategies which can accommodate the natural differences which exist between citizens.
Also published on Medium.