If I Led the United States

July 19, 2011

I spend some time on Facebook, as many of us do. I have friends decidedly right-wing, who spend alot of time railing against Obama and the present administration. I have friends also who are decidedly left-wing, blasting any view or commentary that originates from the right-wing view.

 And there is me. I have never fit either of these categories very well. I’m reminded of a theology professor who stated in class, “You know, I disagree with many of the conservative viewpoints, but I don’t mind telling you, I stand shoulder to shoulder with them on abortion. I think it’s dead wrong, except in certain circumstances.”

I don’t care to share my views on abortion in this little epistle. It’s not relevant to my topic. I do mention my professor’s words because he brings out a good point. He was saying, in effect, “Don’t hold me to the party line. I make my own decisions about things, thank you very much.” Amen to that!

To an extent, that is me. I personally think that most folks who vote a straight Democratic or Republican ticket have traded their brains for a bumper sticker mentality. Only rarely have I met someone who can state views backed by research on each and every topic brought before the body politic. The one who can say, “Liberal, liberal, liberal, no—conservative on that one…” is one I tend to respect more highly. They show evidence of thinking, and even more than that, integrating their thoughts with who they are as people. I find that commendable.

 Thus what follows is neither conservative nor liberal, nor necessarily in-between. It is my thinking of what I would do if I were leading the country. Note, I don’t say “President.” Because what I am suggesting here may well fall outside the realms of legality for the office of the Presidency, or at least the reach of it. So, let’s just say I was the leader, even a behind the scenes leader. What would I do?

The very first thing would be to allow the government to come to a halt. Allow Social Security to be paid, Medicare to function, our military to remain in place. Federal law enforcement would continue for the moment. What then?

I would first outline a plan to bring as many of the current drains of federal tax dollars (overseas aid, funding studies that don’t save human lives, worthless make-work programs, etc.) to the table. And I would begin the painful but necessary cutting and removing of those programs and aid dollars. To be frank, as far as foreign aid goes, I do not see the necessity when we can’t even take care of our people at home. If the people of Pakistan get a free handout from the good old US of A, then surely John and Jane Smith on Main Street do, too. Next I would then begin the process of decentralizing the federal government, returning these programs to the states, should they choose to keep them alive.

The main focus here is a return to the states’ powers to function as true states. In other words, strip the United States of its power, and return that power to the individual states.

We seem to have gotten away from that, and there was a time when the states ruled supreme; Washington was more an afterthought. When people wanted something done, they spoke to the governor. Why not return to that mode of thinking? If Virginia sees something worthwhile about Pakistan, for example, they would be welcome to send money there, if they have it.

Gone would be the IRS, INS, so many agencies and bureaucracies that penny by penny, drain the American taxpayer. Each state can have its own set of rules and enforcement procedures. If they want no immigration, for example, they can set up their own set of rules for determining who is granted citizenship and who is not.

I think that ultimately, these issues are the right of the people to decide. While our founding fathers may have been wise in creating a republic, and not a true democracy, it is painfully obvious to me we have not had any real say-so in what goes on in Washington in a long time. Liberals cling with desperation to outmoded programs of entitlement that permit the idle and lazy to receive benefits and cash and perpetuate a do-nothing lifestyle. Conservatives likewise have their own pet friends and causes, and one truly abhorrent one is their cozying up to Big Business and Big Bank. And Big Business has shown us all just what kind of friend they are: in their ever-increasing zeal to keep profits sky-high and costs low, they have sold us out. They take gargantuan tax breaks and then lay off entire US workforces, hiring Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, and other nationalities to benefit. Another thing: they also manage to stuff trillions of dollars into off-shore accounts. Tax free.

Friends and neighbors, this is not a pretty picture. We have two sides who can’t seem to find any common ground, and is it any wonder? They are both clinging to false idols, idols who laugh quietly behind their backs and continue to insist on their dollars for federally funded programs or tax breaks so they can shaft us some more.

I, for one, have had enough.

The problem for me, as I see it, is the entrenched District of Columbia political machine, so powerful no one can seem to touch it. It is like some dangerous, powerful creature lurking in the seas, giant tentacles touching every facet of American life. Decisions are made over whiskey, and tea, and coffee, in hallways and houses. Who has time for the average citizen when, by God, there’s a Power Meeting to go to?

Who needs this? They quit listening to us a long time ago. And my question is, who will listen? I don’t know, but I would put a lot more money on Raleigh, NC than I would Washington, D.C.

Is it possible for us to rethink the whole thing? To return that power to the states, giving them control of their financial destiny? I think, in reading the Constitution, that the original framers had something like that in mind from the start. Remember, the states weren’t all that excited about a Federal government to start with. Having just defeated one tyrant, they were fearful of creating another. And that issue kept the federal government small indeed. It provided leadership in the international arena, armed forces to protect us, and courts to appeal to when needed.

It wasn’t until the twentieth century that the current ideas of taxation really came into play. In 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution, giving Congress the right to levy income taxes for the first time, although the government imposed tariffs and other taxes up to that point. But it snowballed from there into a huge give-and-take mess. Corporations worth billions are given complete tax breaks (see G.E., for example) while the average citizen (me, for instance) is struggling to pay a $1600 tax bill, complete with threatening letters from the IRS.

In my view, I would abolish federal income tax, and with it, the IRS. Instead, I would then allow the states to levy a proper level of taxation. Honestly, as I have said before, ten percent should be plenty. Or a graduated tax rate, zero for the truly destitute, five percent for those in poverty level, ten percent for those of comfortable middle class, fifteen percent, and so on. I’ve never believed it to be constitutional, or fair, for the government to impose a fifty-percent tax rate on someone just because they make a lot of money. With the states responsible for income tax, they can then send a portion to fund the federal government, or what remains of it.

And each state knows better than the federal government what its citizens need. The poor and destitute could be helped by welfare in New York, for example, and with work programs in North Carolina. Or whatever suits the states’ fancy. In other words, the power and the money to make and implement those decisions and programs resides with each state, not the federal government.

The same would hold true for natural and cultural resources, police agencies, prison systems, and so on. I would eliminate the federal court system, insomuch as it exists for federal crimes. The federal courts would be for appeals beyond the state level, only. All these agencies we have taken for granted in our lifetime would then become properties of the states, with the states tasked with adjusting them and carrying them out on the local level.

Of course, this is all just a pipe dream. And I am not advocating a Tea Party type of reductionism. I have seen nothing in the Tea Party ideas to indicate they have a much better proposal. While the idea of reduced government is laudable, it isn’t possible. Again, the entrenched District power-beast lurks beneath the waters, snaring any and all who attempt to effect change. My idea, in effect, is to kill the monster, not wound it.

No, my idea is best understood as removal of federal powers, not reducing them. Reducing government’s power is only a short-term solution, one that will take just a few years or maybe decades to grow back to and exceed the previous levels. Removing that kind of power makes better sense to me. Every state has a pretty firm grasp on what it needs and what it wants to accomplish. And they would be in the best position of all to determine their futures.

Yes, it is true, some states would be very rich. New York, Texas and California would lead that pack, no doubt. And some would be very poor. But they would not be as poor as they are now. Their hard-earned money would stay in the state, for the most part. And, again, they can then move forward to meet the needs of the populace without interference from Washington.

As I see it, it is Washington that is now the problem. They have catered long to the well-lined pockets of lobbyists and big business, resulting in a stalemate that permits no palpable progress to be made. Change is bad, absolute change is lethal to the District life. The federal government thrives on stalemate and opposition. And as one who dutifully paid taxes for years, all I can do is wonder precisely what I am getting out of it. More importantly, I wonder what my children will get.

This little essay came about as the result of a Facebook page: one of my friends listed her political views as “Impeach them all!!” She was joking, of course, but those words took root in my mind, and as I began to reflect, I wondered what would happen if indeed the federal government was removed from the center stage. I think we would need to retain the State Department, the presidency, the Supreme Court, and Congress, as well as a national military presence. The states would forward a percentage of the income taxes raised to fund those entities. We do need a national face and a working staff to deal with international matters. But it is the states where I believe the true power belongs. It was that way once, and I honestly believe the time has come when we need to embrace that ideal once again.

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