In October of 2018, Hillary Clinton argued that states, not the federal government, is where social justice warriors should focus their efforts. The recommendation was in response to the new “conservative” direction of the Supreme Court, and a Trump administration that is quickly using the largess of executive power to reorganize the federal government’s priorities.
It was a moment of federalism from an otherwise well-known cheerleader for an ever-bigger federal government. She wasn’t alone. Across the nation, and even here in Nevada, Democrats have increasingly suggested that, given the GOP control over the nation’s executive branch, states should tackle issues such as healthcare, welfare and “social justice” on their own. Certainly, in many cases this rhetoric is likely temporary. Should Democrats regain power of the White House and Senate in the next election, it can be safely assumed the federalism streak within the party will dry up faster than one could say “universal healthcare.”
However, it still offers us a valuable lesson in what government actually is. Government is not some abstract entity—it is a political body, run by politically motivated individuals. As a result, the power that is given to government is, in essence, power given to the politicians who happen to be controlling things at the time. Instinctively, politicians seem to know this—even if most voters fail to connect the dots.
The political power that comes with increasing the size and scope of government—for the party in charge, that is—is immense. And it explains why, over the decades, there seems to be little distance between the major political parties when it comes to their zeal for expanding government’s control over the economy.
Here in Nevada, we ought to know this better than most. With a fully Republican government in 2015, taxpayers were nonetheless burdened with the state’s largest tax hike, a crony “economic development” model and a growing bureaucracy. In 2019, the Democrat controlled legislature is sure to embark on their own slate of big-government proposals, increasing their political influence over even more of the economy.
This ever-increasing zeal for greater government control over our lives (from both parties) is easy to understand when one puts it in political terms.
After all, what is a government, other than a collection of politicians? Put simply, control over a big and ever-increasing government is a fairly big boost to one’s political opportunities. It therefore only makes sense that political factions should resist the temptation to reduce government’s control over “we the people” while they control the reins of power.
And because no political victory is ever permanent—just ask Democrats reeling from the 2016 election, or Nevada Republicans still licking their wounds from 2018—the power given to one faction through big government is, eventually, controlled by another. The result is that the issues over which government gains control soon become political footballs.
Education, healthcare and even retirement are consistently and relentlessly used as battlegrounds for partisan sparring. Not because these are the issues Americans are most eager to address—rather because those are areas of our lives where government (that is to say, politicians) have unprecedented levels of control.
With the increased political bitterness and pettiness in modern America, this means more and more of our lives seem subject to the partisan squabbles taking place in statehouses and Washington D.C.
As politicians wrangle for their turn to control vast swaths of the American (and local) economy, it’s the citizens who find themselves in the middle of a tug-of-war. Instinctually, Americans know to distrust politicians. And yet, many of those same Americans turn to “government”—i.e.: politicians—to solve their problems.
Democrat voters are currently clamoring for government-run healthcare. But maybe someone should ask them if they’re truly comfortable with Donald Trump’s administration having control over their health.
Likewise, Republican voters are increasingly eager to give government the power to regulate and impose free speech on private tech firms such as Google, Facebook and YouTube. Perhaps someone should ask them if they’re truly comfortable with Nancy Pelosi drafting such rules.
When we talk about government getting involved in an aspect of our life, we should instead be asking if we want politicians to take control. And given the bitter, partisan, political times in which we live, that might just be the best argument of all for having government simply leave us all alone.
Michael Schaus is the Communications Director, Nevada Policy Research Institute