The Federal Gov’t Isn’t #1 In Our Lives

Can we agree that the most important government entity in our daily life SHOULD be our local government…meaning our city, county, and school district elected officials and employees?  What other elected officials could possibly know us and our family’s local situation better? 

Speed limits, property taxes, school policies, zoning, police & fire protection, building codes, snow plowing, trash collection, water & sewer service…the list goes on and on.  By driving just a few miles, most of us can attend council and board meetings and talk directly with our local representatives on a first name basis.

Wouldn’t you agree that we spend 95% or more of our time conducting our daily life within 25 miles of our home?  So why do most of us pay so little attention to local government matters, compared with our infatuation with national matters?  I’ll bet most of us, myself included, split our political attention like this: 10-20% local vs. 80-90% national.

Historically, what do you think the local vs. national split of attention was for most Americans fifty and a hundred years ago?  My personal hunch, doing no research, is 50% local vs. 50% national fifty years ago, and 70% local vs. 30% national a century ago.

OK, so maybe I’m shamelessly exaggerating the rate of the trend to bolster my point.  Still, would anyone seriously deny that America’s public discourse today is trending towards greater and greater hype about the actions and policies of the federal government?

Why is this trend occurring?  I think many would say that Cable/Satellite TV and the Internet are the causes.  I would respond that these are certainly catalysts, but they are only technologies that deliver ideas to us.  A better question is: What are the sources of these “bigger-government-is-better” ideas we are bombarded with every day?

My answer: Politicians and political activists who are unconstrained public policy setters.  And also the like-minded members of academia and the dominant news media establishment who agree with and promote the “bigger-government-is-better” philosophy.

Coming out of this wellspring of unconstrained ideas about the necessity of big government, we hear famous statements like this: 

  • “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”  Barack Obama, 7/13/2012 
  • “It’s going to be very, very exciting. But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.”  Nancy Pelosi, 3/9/2010 
  • “These two entities — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — are not facing any kind of financial crisis. The more people exaggerate these problems, [and] the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing.” Barney Frank, 9/11/2003 
  • “This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights….  They were our rights to life and liberty.  As our nation has grown in size and stature, however…these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness….  In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed….  All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.”  Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1/11/1944

I believe it is now an undeniable reality that lofty unconstrained solutions to every societal issue aren’t affordable.  To me it’s clear that not every problem can be solved, and not every worthwhile solution should attempt to be comprehensive.  As with our household budget decisions, we must make tradeoffs.  We must accept that we can’t afford massive national solutions to every issue.

How do we begin to stem the tide?  How can each of us reboot our hard drive to establish the mindset needed to push back against the steadily creeping growth of big government reliance?

I assert that we should go back to first dealing with our local problems locally wherever possible, within our households or via our families and non-gov’t community organizations.  We should resist the addictive urge to instantly look to the federal government to prevent or solve every issue for every person.

I also assert that we should stop our minds and our mouths short whenever the phrase “our leaders” tries to emerge.  As in “our leaders in Washington.”  Those words roll so easily off our tongues…but every time we say them, we implicitly buy into the big government mantra.  They aren’t our leaders, they’re our elected representatives.  Politicians and government employees, no matter how popular or effective, shouldn’t be viewed as a ruling elite class…they’re public servants.  They literally work for us, the voters and taxpayers.

I will wrap up by offering a politically neutral idea, though it is certainly not philosophically neutral:

We frequently hear it said that “The President of the United States is the leader of the free world.”  Well…unless you are a soldier or an employee in the federal executive branch, I invite you to repeat after me:  “The U.S. President, no matter who it is, is not my ‘leader.’  He/she is the elected chief executive of the USA, and serves only by the consent of the voters.”  This is not intended to be disrespectful towards the President – rather it is first and foremost intended to be respectful to ourselves and our natural unalienable rights.  See my previous post.

If you are offended by the sentiment I have just expressed, I would venture to say that you probably lean towards the unconstrained philosophy of big government.  You and I will probably have to agree to differ about the necessary and proper role of government.  However, if you’re unsure about the proper size/charter of gov’t, I fervently hope you will continue to follow the constructive discussion here in this space.

About Necessary and Proper

Jeff believes in the Individual's ability to excel when liberty and freedom of choice are protected. Also believes in the Community's ability to take care of the vast majority of its own issues and needs when the federal government leaves the Community's resources and sphere of control alone. State and local choice produce better results than centralized federal control.
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11 Responses to The Federal Gov’t Isn’t #1 In Our Lives

  1. Jeff,

    This is just fantastic. I congratulate you.

    My two favorite passages:

    “To me it’s clear that not every problem can be solved, and not every worthwhile solution should attempt to be comprehensive. As with our household budget decisions, we must make tradeoffs. We must accept that we can’t afford massive national solutions to every issue.”

    and of course

    “The U.S. President, no matter who it is, is not my ‘leader.’”

    I look forward to the next article.



  2. davidwithastick says:

    I think a good next question is, “WHY are we so fixated on the Federal Gov’t and not our local?”

    I submit that it’s because of the lure of celebrity. It’s far more interesting to be paying attention to things that everybody knows about and talks and tweets and posts pictures on facebook about. Paying attention to local government is mundane and lacks the sparkle of national interest. It’s so…pedestrian.

    It’s also the lure of great power. This can be illustrated by how two children often prefer to deal with conflict. Rather than working out their differences on their own, it’s easier to call on Mom to mediate. That way winner gains vicarious power from the “ultimate authority” and the loser has no recourse. So, too, do people often look to the Federal Gov’t to trump local power, especially when they know they could never convince local people who understand the situation thoroughly to decide in their favor. Better for the schemer to appeal to a Federal power that has little understanding of local details, and whose decision is instantly final.

    Human nature is so predictable, don’t you think?

    Which then begs the next question: “What, if anything, can we do about that?”

    P.S. I also love the idea of remembering that the President is not my leader.


    • I would add that the federal government is the ultimate authority over the taking and redistributing of resources. Everybody who wants some program enacted in their favor, which seems to be most people nowadays, wastes their time in appealing to inferior powers.

      How can we change this? A long, multi-generational, educational effort teaching our young people that the government is not the answer to their problems. I fear that oldsters are too stuck in their ways to have their minds changed. Lots of blogs and articles are needed, parents who share this outlook need to inculcate their kids with it, and each of us has to live in a way that proves the success of our position. We need to be respectable individuals that our neighbors admire and strive to imitate. That, and faith that the truth always wins out in the end are our only arms in the battle of ideas.




      • davidwithastick says:

        I completely agree with you, Adam, but is that enough? You can’t trust a populace to follow your lead simply because you’re a good role model, can you? Sure, your kids will be fine, but what about your neighbor’s? I think we need to enact legislation that requires good civics courses in all high schools, and have the Department of Education keep the schools accountable to this American value, with the possibility of withholding funding if schools choose not to educate the children properly.



    • David, you said “What, if anything, can we do about that?” Please see my latest post, “How to Train a Political Animal to Restrain Itself.”


  3. I’ve frequently heard it said that you can’t legislate morality. I tend to think that may also be true of legislating “good” civics courses, and withholding funding if kids aren’t educated “properly.” Those are subjective words, open to policy interpretation that is tainted by ideology. Plus I believe education policy decisions should be a local matter, not the business of the far-away DOE.

    I would rather see legislation at the state and county level that fully authorizes school vouchers that parents can use to help defray the cost of enrolling their kids in any public OR PRIVATE school they choose. This would encourage innovation and variety in school offerings. All schools (private AND public) would be free to offer curriculum that appeals to different families, and the demand for “good” civics courses by tradition-oriented parents would be met by a growing number of affordable private schools perceptive enough to supply such desirable courses.

    If the reaction to these private school offerings is an initial decrease in public school enrollment, then the public school administrators would certainly be free to innovatively adjust to the changing market conditions just like any enterprise should do in the real world. That’s a market-based approach to achieving the same goal, but I believe it’s better because it leaves the judgement of “good” and “proper” in the hands of parents, not education bureaucrats.

    – Jeff


  4. adamsgmweb says:

    I’m not sure if living your life the right way and raising good kids is enough, but I think that its all that any of us really have control over. One thing that I’m certain about is this: more legislation is not the answer. The internet can provide a top notch education to any student almost for free. Check this out: www. The trend is toward the elimination of brick and mortar public schooling. Instead of trying to design the best way for the government to manage schooling, why not get government out of the schooling business altogether? That way our children won’t be subject to the whims of some bureaucrat’s ideological bent. Even private schools rely on the government for accreditation and therefor are forced to comply with certain curriculum requirements. Personally, I am going to homeschool my kids and offer to homeschool the kid’s of any other family who would like me to educate their children. The government is not the answer.



    • davidwithastick says:

      Actually, the only thing about my post that I was serious about was that I agreed with you, Adam. The rest was an illustration of exactly what we’re talking about in this thread: Appealing to legislation at the federal level in order to effect the change we believe in with our pet projects and beliefs at the local level instead of simply doing the work we can and should do at home.

      I find it interesting that it’s such a common jump to that kind of thinking that both you and Jeff took me seriously, especially since at least Jeff knows I’m of the “severely conservative” persuasion. Of course you both articulated the belief that I share, that gov’t is not the answer (we have, in fact, educated our own children at home). It might be a good discussion to explore why that happened, but part of it may be the fact that you don’t want to hurt my feelings.

      Two things occur to me as a result:
      1. Couched in “American Values” terms, many things can be advocated through legislation, and at this point in history that doesn’t sound radical at all. Neither of you agreed with what I said, but neither of you called me out on the hypocrisy and inconsistency of my two statements in this thread. It wasn’t a trap, really, but for the record: critically challenging each other’s thoughts does not equal intolerance for the person. That is a “Facebook Fallacy.” I invite anyone to challenge me on the merit of what I say, without weakening your point of view by using relativistic modifiers like “it could be that…” or “I believe that…” or “in my opinion…” In this world of sparring with each others’ ideas, I think it a safe assumption that every sentence could begin with, “In my opinion…” We do a better job, however, of supporting and presenting our ideas if we dispense with equivocating our positions. Stand or don’t stand.

      2. (And more importantly) I’ve been chagrined by the liberal argument that we conservatives, particularly social conservatives, are no better than they are in our rush to legislate what we think should be the norm, when at the same time we decry liberal judges for judicial activism, or defend prayer in schools or displays of the Nativity on public property.

      This is a concept with which I am currently struggling, and here’s why. So much damage (from my point of view) can be done to the country in a short period of time by doing the very thing we’re talking about – legislating at the federal level, superceding all local power when possible. Are we really saying here that the way to fight that is to be role models to our children and our neighbors by NOT legislating at the federal level? There are so many caveats that leap to my mind here that I know are beyond this thread, so I’m glad we have a great deal of time to discuss them here in subsequent posts. But really – how do we stem the tide of ever-expanding government without appealing to government, while at the same time actually making a positive impact?


  5. Pingback: 10/30/2012 - What are Human Rights, and Where do They Come From? | Well Spent Journey

  6. Pingback: 2/18/2013 - Barack Obama: Our Public Servant – Not Our Boss | Necessary and Proper Gov't

  7. Jeff, you say it so well: “I also assert that we should stop our minds and our mouths short whenever the phrase “our leaders” tries to emerge. As in “our leaders in Washington.” Those words roll so easily off our tongues…but every time we say them, we implicitly buy into the big government mantra. They aren’t our leaders, they’re our elected representatives. Politicians and government employees, no matter how popular or effective, shouldn’t be viewed as a ruling elite class…they’re public servants. They literally work for us, the voters and taxpayers.”

    I about had a coronary listening to the radio the other day…one of the conservative talk-show hosts (nameless to protect the guilty–actually, I just don’t remember his name 😉 ) said the phrase “our masters in Washington,” not oncPnot twice, but about ten times. Whooo! I was so upset.

    I take your assertion one step further: using the phrase “our leaders/masters in Washington” is tacit consent to be governed as those ill-informed leaders see fit. No thinking proponent of liberty would want to be caught dead giving consent to such a statist idea…so yes, let’s not give implicit consent by using their words.

    Great post…as always!



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