Time to roll back the Progressivism of a century ago
The Progressives were the opposite of what we need today. They believed that centralization of power and professionalization of government service were the most important items on the reform agenda. To some degree, today’s reformers will need to undo the work the Progressives did. The original Progressives harnessed new techniques of management and information control to create large, professionally-administered government bureaucracies. Today we need to use new techniques and technologies to break those bureaucracies down, to make small units of government more powerful, and to make government at all levels more responsive and more user-friendly. In virtually every case this will involve taking on government employees, reducing their numbers, eliminating their job security and cutting back on unsustainable retirement and other benefit levels.
Many intellectuals today, hypnotized by the Progressive state and the blue social model, look at Tea Partiers and anti-government protesters as enemies of all that is holy and good. I think not; I think they embody a spirit of populist revolt against centralized power that on balance makes sense.
I believe that the time has come when we urgently need to move power and policy from the federal level back to the states and localities — not to weaken or undermine the strong federal government that we need, but to improve and defend it. Vermont and Utah are very different places with very different ideas about social, educational and economic policy. They have different needs and different priorities. Only rarely can the federal government make the people in both states happy; more usually, the compromises built into federal policy and programs will irritate the residents of both states. Left to themselves, the people in Utah and Vermont would develop very different policies on matters ranging from drug use to abortion to gay rights to education. Within some very broad limits (and with special attention to race given its special constitutional status) I don’t see why, they shouldn’t be free to do so.
It’s vital to the continuing health of American democracy that Mae West goes home, that power drifts back to the state and local level. The federal electorate is so large, and the ability of voters and communities to affect federal election outcomes is so small, that individual citizens will inevitably feel frustrated and powerless before it. To preserve both the reality and the appearance of self-governance, to give individuals the experience, maturity and sense of participation that comes from playing a serious part in serious political events, it is necessary that some important issues be decided closer to home.
Read the whole thing. An excellent essay.
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