With so much attention on the turf war between Congress and the President, it’s easy to overlook another…
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Federalism on the Firing Line

With so much attention on the turf war between Congress and the President, it’s easy to overlook another, equally disturbing separation-of-powers crisis – the swift erosion of federalism.

Just as the U.S. Constitution assigns certain powers and duties to the three coequal branches of the federal government (legislative, executive, and judicial), so too does it differentiate lines of responsibility between the federal and state governments. This latter idea is known as federalism, and it’s in pretty bad shape according to a thought-provoking essay by Richard Epstein and Mario Loyola.

In particular, the practice of conditioning receipt of federal money on capitulation to federal regulations is turning states into mere enforcement officers.

“Federal officials exert enormous influence…[more]

July 31, 2014 • 02:46 pm

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America’s Fascist Moment Print
By Troy Senik
Thursday, September 05 2013
Civil society can’t meaningfully exist with a state so expansive that it sees plucking the cheeseburger out of your child’s hands as a legitimate application of government power.

In an age prone to political overstatement, words have a tendency to lose their currency. How many times in the 21st century have we heard words like “tyranny” or “totalitarian” thrown around in reference to the essentially stable world of American politics?

When the rhetoric clearly outpaces the reality, such pronouncements become meaningless – and we begin to assume that anyone who talks in such foreboding terms is at least slightly unhinged.

The danger, however, is that dismissing the Chicken Littles will lead us to reflexively ignore even legitimate concerns if they’re sufficiently dire – and that’s a problem because some of our national challenges really are that dramatic.

Case in point: the rising tide of fascism in American life.

To properly understand the threat, we must first strip the word of its non-essential connotations. One of the reasons that “fascism” has become such a toxic term is because of its deep-rooted association with Nazi Germany.

While Adolf Hitler’s reign certainly rested on a fascist substrate, that doesn’t mean that there’s anything going on in modern America that even remotely resembles the undiluted evil of the Third Reich. Nor is it necessarily of a piece with Benito Mussolini’s Italy. Those were aggressive, expansionist, malevolent forms of fascism. If anything, ours is a bland, therapeutic iteration.

So what then do we mean by fascism?

In essence, the fascist system is one that rejects any limiting principle upon government. In Mussolini’s famous formulation it stands for “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” That notion, of course, is irreconcilable with the conception of America advanced by the Founding Fathers. Theirs was a government of limited powers, with decision-making decentralized through federalism and the protection of individual liberties.

The fascist notion essentially assumes the infallibility of the state. The American alternative – recognizing that “the state” is nothing more than the flawed human beings who administer it – not only assumes fallibility, but also designs the entire system of government to quarantine its effects.

The more time goes by, however, the more those ramparts are breached. Beginning with the Progressive movement of the early 20th century, there was a concerted effort to erode limits on government power. It continued through the New Deal and the Great Society, and manifests itself in the present day in the government expansion overseen by President Obama and his liberal acolytes around the country.

We should note here a key distinction: Not all expansions of government are necessarily indicative of fascism. The hallmark of fascism is destroying the space that exists between the individual and the state; it’s a desire to crush civil society, the mechanism that allows free people to voluntarily organize on their own terms for their own purposes.

Particularly in America, such efforts usually don’t stem from people explicitly lusting for power. Rather, it’s often the work of do-gooders whose desire to create a better society inevitably leads them to strip away the freedoms of those who don’t share their vision.

Take, for instance, the increasing attacks on the right to free association. The New Mexico Supreme Court recently found that an Albuquerque couple that refused to photograph a lesbian commitment ceremony on the basis of their Christian beliefs had violated the state’s human rights law. An analogy can be made with ObamaCare’s insistence that religious employers provide access to contraception for their employees.

In both cases, one could disagree with the underlying views without accepting the notion that individuals should be compelled, by force of the law, to violate their deepest religious beliefs to satisfy government’s notion of “The Good.”

The freedom of religion is an essentially meaningless concept if that freedom is only operative in situations where it aligns with the values of the governing class.

One sees this impulse for the state to order private relations at every turn. What is ObamaCare if not an attempt to get doctors and patients – which is to say everyone in the country – to conduct one of life’s most private activities, medical treatment, along the lines of government dictates? What is Common Core, the proposal to create national educational standards, if not an attempt to snuff out competing views on what children need to learn to become fully intellectually formed?

The reach of government even goes so far as dictating the offerings and calorie content of school lunches under First Lady Michelle Obama’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (which is currently touching off a rebellion in schools throughout the nation).

That may seem a trifling example if you’re thinking of fascism in terms of brownshirts. For our purposes, however, its marginal importance is precisely the point.

Civil society can’t meaningfully exist with a state so expansive that it sees plucking the cheeseburger out of your child’s hands as a legitimate application of government power.

The Founding Fathers gave us a limited government of enumerated powers, constructed around the notion of protecting individual liberty. What we are currently cultivating, however, is a government that presumes to overrule the church on matters of faith, to overrule your doctor on matters of health, and to overrule parents on matters of childrearing. “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” 

Question of the Week   
Which of the following merged to form the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) within the Department of Homeland Security?
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"Immigration has emerged as perhaps President Obama's worst issue -- definitely for today, and maybe of his entire presidency -- when it comes to public perception.  A new poll from AP-GfK shows more than two-thirds of Americans (68 percent) disapprove of Obama's handling of the immigration issue in general. Just 31 percent approve -- down from 38 percent two months ago. When you separate those…[more]
 
 
—Aaron Blake, The Washington Post
— Aaron Blake, The Washington Post
 
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Is significant, proven plagiarism sufficient to disqualify, in the minds of voters, any candidate for public office?