Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Let's make job of president doable again

Published: Sunday, June 15 2008 12:00 a.m. MDT

Frank is on vacation with his family (can you say "aloha!"), so I'm going solo this week.

I support John McCain for president, but in one sense I'm not sure it matters who is elected. Whoever wins, the next president is doomed to fail in many ways. The reason is that the job description for president has become impossible. Any president is set up for failure because the expectations of the job are so enormous as to be unattainable.

Over many decades, the federal government, contrary to the clear intent of the nation's founders, has invaded every aspect of our lives. It has become immense in size, reach and expense. Every problem anyone faces has become a federal problem. Presidential candidates (except quirky Ron Paul, who says he doesn't want to run your life, your business, the economy or the world) make it worse by promising to solve every problem, usually by further expansion and expense of the federal government.

Under the system of balanced federalism created by the founders, the job of president was doable. The role of the federal government was supreme but limited to specific duties delegated to it by the Constitution. A president could successfully fulfill the responsibilities of his office.

The states were protected from a potentially ambitious and overbearing federal government by the 10th Amendment, reserving any power not specifically delegated to the national government to the states and the people. It is part of the Bill of Rights, designed to defend the basic rights of the people. States refused to ratify the Constitution until that amendment was in place. States were also protected by the fact that U.S. senators were elected by state legislators. Any senator who voted to usurp state authority or impose an unfunded mandate would be jerked back home in a hurry.

Today, balanced federalism is dead and gone. It's not even an afterthought. No one even talks about federalism any more. Candidates don't even think about the roles of federal, state and local governments and what services can best be delivered by what level of government. We just assume federal supremacy in every aspect of our lives and society.

Years ago, when I worked on federalism issues with former Gov. Mike Leavitt, federalism was at least on the agenda. Former Interior secretary and Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, a loyal Democrat, frequently used a great quote: "Hamilton and Jefferson would certainly ask ... how have we allowed their creation — a carefully layered construction of federal, state and local responsibilities — to become scrambled into one great undifferentiated amorphous omelet by a cook in Washington?"

The nation's complete capitulation in allowing and expecting the federal government to solve every problem facing society is a disaster. The solution to many of the toughest problems is the opposite of more federal intervention. The solution is to get the gridlocked, ultra-partisan Congress and the incredibly expensive and massive federal bureaucracy out of the way and allow states and local government to keep their money at home and tackle the problems according to local circumstances.

There are many national problems. But they don't all require federal solutions. The best way to address them is usually in states and local communities.

Who really knows best — 535 people in Washington, insulated from the real world and puffed up in self-importance, or tens of thousands of state and local leaders in neighborhoods and communities, close to the pulse of the people, more accountable to voters, who interact with their neighbors, shop in local stores, work in real jobs, breathe the air, drink the water, drive the roads, and who actually deliver the most important government services anyway? Who really knows best? Do we want bottom-up government, with buy-in from citizens? Or top-down mandates from federal bureaucrats?

Many advocates of central authority will disagree with me on federalism. They will say that in today's complex society, where commerce, technology and homeland security know no jurisdictional boundaries, that we have to look to the federal government to establish the rules or there will be chaos.

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