Federalism – sometimes you win and sometimes you lose
August 28, 2002
Most conversations I have with people in the area of political philosophy typically say the following line at some point, “So, you tend to be more libertarian.” That statement receives the requisite reply, “No, I am more of a federalist.” However, it is often easier to talk about your philosophy than to live by it. I recently had this brought home to me.
Federalism, put simply, is placing rule closest to the people. It is funny because when we use the term, we can’t get away from the idea of the “Federal Government.” In reality, federalism is not at all like that. True federalism takes power away from the central government and brings it to the state and even county level.
Unlike the libertarian, the federalist does believe that a community can come together to form common rules of conduct or pool resources to accomplish a common goal. To use the overused illustration, a community can vote to ban pot. Of course, the flip side is that another community could choose to allow it.
There are various levels at which federalist will draw lines for how “local” local should be. Most would not argue with a state level. In reality most arrive at a combination of fiscal statutes at the state level and quality of life statutes at a county or community level. The bottom line is finding the balance of the power that comes by uniting individuals and the freedom that comes from allowing individual choices.
Well, this morning it all hit home and I had to match my walk with my talk.
For some time now, my immediate neighbors and I have been struggling with a traffic problem. Fifteen percent of the 3000 plus cars that come through my residential street exceed the speed limit by 10 to 15 miles per hour. Some have been clocked at twice that amount of the limit.
We fought for different devices that we hoped would calm the speeding. First we tried to get stop signs at strategic crossroads. Next we tried to land traffic islands and/or medians. What we ended up with was the “single choice” of three speed humps. This proposal was given to our neighborhood and the ballots were tabulated today.
My group lost. Part of me is almost glad—I am not a fan of speed humps. However, my concern for my family made me more than willing to suffer the inconvenience of the humps. Now I do not know what to do. Several neighbors will probably end up moving and placing their houses up for sell or rent. I am very concerned for the future of my neighborhood.
Still, that is federalism. It is true that to get the devices it would take more than a simple majority (70% of the ballots had to be yes votes). We knew those were the rules going in. The community has spoken and I have the choice to adapt within the community or move to another that best suits me.
I guess I now have to start hoping all the drivers will convert to libertarianism and practice their personal responsibility and stop speeding down my street.
Then again, there is the vigilante approach. Keep an eye out on my street for a Web camera attached to a radar gun. If you speed, you and your speed could show up on the front page of The Common Voice!