Thoughts on central government

January 29, 2011|By ART CALLAHAM

Hello Washington County; did you read John Cable's opinion piece in the Sunday Herald-Mail dated Jan. 16? If you didn't I'd suggest you look it up online and learn a great lesson about the woes of centralized power, the research of Alexis de Tocqueville and the comparison and contrast between France and the United States.  

Cable's piece is short, so you will do yourself better justice by doing further research about de Tocqueville.

As I spent a little time helping the local United Way, I became aware of de Tocqueville's journal, his thesis and teachings; I believe I can say that at least Mr. Cable and I, along with de Tocqueville, believe that boosting political and governmental power is not in the best interest of the citizenry in general.  

Cable's piece was thoughtful and makes a good point about centralized power:  How will we, as individuals get our freedom back?

Another piece, "Constitution was intended to limit power" by Allen Twigg, on Jan. 18, was equally as thoughtful as Cable's. Mr. Twigg, you are absolutely correct in penning that listing a central bank as among  the government's powers is wrong.

The Constitution does not use the words "central bank."  I will not take any issue with Twigg's editorial comment; however, let me fully disclose that I do have a small government bias (Twigg intimated that you, the casual reader, would conclude that). But I would disagree with Twigg if his contention is that there should be no government, either in Washington or Annapolis.  

As each of you (including you Mr. Twigg) will see in the following paragraphs, I believe in "smaller governments" with each layer (national, state, local) having specific governmental powers with as little duplication as possible.

As some may recall, I concluded my column about who should have more power, Washington or Annapolis, by making a statement about 100 W. Washington St. (or any City Hall) being the place for more or the most governmental power.  

I for one, as a small government advocate, believe that smallness can be achieved, at least in part, by eliminating duplication of effort (read power if you wish).  

For example (and please, these are just two examples for illustrative use in discussion): What government level should have the power to raise money and determine how to educate my children here in Washington County — national, state, local, some combination of each?  Or: What government level should have the power to raise, equip and maintain an Army to defend me here in Washington County — same choices?

One of the two examples is humorous, for I don't believe anyone out there in newspaper land would like to see Mayor Bob Bruchey's face on a recruiting poster asking young men and women to join the "Northern Avenue Division of the Army of Hagerstown." So we can easily strike "local" in terms of where governmental powers to raise equip and maintain an Army should be vested.  National or a combination of National and state is a better choice (some duplication of effort is inevitable).

The education example is problematic. Today, each of the levels of government play a role in raising money for education, defining how children are to be taught, and what children should be taught and a myriad of other roles.  

Each level exercises some degree of power or effort in the public (and in some cases the private) education process/function. It is in processes/functions like education where well intentioned "small governments" grow into "behemoth governments." Take a look at the size of the federal department of education. Our forefathers, in drafting the Constitution, intended to limit federal powers.  

The federal or national government was to be small with very specific powers and has grown into a large government with duplicative powers absorbed from state and local governments. This absorbing of powers has even occurred in state government and to a lesser degree with local government.  

In the end, "the people" have been the loser in terms of individual rights.

Mr. Cable (and even Alexis de Tocqueville and I) lay this absorption, or centralization, of power or rights off on human nature.  

Mr. Twigg seems to say that we as "the people" acquiesced to government domination and we should return to "living a quiet life in pursuit of happiness" (with no government domination). Both Cable and Twigg are not wrong — a quiet life with little or limited government at any level controlling our lives is a more perfect world. However, life without government in this chaotic world in which we now live would be anarchy.  There is a point between anarchy and our centralized and often duplicative levels of government in which our individual rights and freedoms will not be abridged — this point, I believe, is where the drafters of the U.S. Constitution intended "the people" to reside.

Art Callaham is a Hagerstown resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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