Most Americans agree that balancing the federal budget is important. For many, however, it’s not the issue that really stirs their passions and makes them march in the streets.
Those — for and against — are abortion, gay marriage, marijuana legalization, school prayer, and gun control.
Unfortunately, we can’t get what most of us want, a balanced budget, because so much of our focus is on trying to get what only half of us want. Fortunately, the Constitution provides a solution, if we’ll only follow it.
Here’s what I mean. While we fight over the details, most of us would agree that the government can’t keep going into greater debt indefinitely. Eventually, a crisis will force a grand compromise. We’ll decrease spending a lot while increasing tax revenues by some. I hope it happens before it’s too late, but I’m not confident of that.
Compromise, however, is harder on those other issues that I mentioned in the second paragraph, and in some cases it’s impossible. Those issues speak to conflicting worldviews. They’re personal, even spiritual, though I consider the debt we are leaving our children to be a sin as well. Everyone said the last election was about jobs and the economy. It wasn’t. It was about personal values.
This environment is one of the reasons — and not the only one — why members of Congress cannot reason together and make tough choices to balance the budget. Those social issues create a storyline of heroes and villains, with the roles reversed depending on where one lives. So, partly because of that, we’re stuck in neutral. During the two minutes it will take you to read this column, the $16.4 trillion national debt will increase by $4 million, and we can’t seem to do anything about it.
That’s where the 10th Amendment comes in. Adopted in 1791 with the rest of the Bill of Rights, it says, in only 28 words, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”
The 10th Amendment has been eroded since the nation’s founding. It justifiably got a bad rap because it helped make slavery and racial segregation possible. Now it’s pretty much ignored. A consensus has been created — left, right and center — that most problems should be solved at the national level. Freed from the 10th Amendment’s restrictions, nine Supreme Court justices have been able to change the way we live, decision by decision. People don’t like that.
Re-awakening the 10th Amendment may be our best hope to prevent a debt-driven economic collapse and once again be a united United States. The federal government should be in charge of those areas of shared American values, such as the protection of commerce and the defense of freedom. These very divisive social issues should be brought down to the state level, where there will be more of a consensus.
I think we can all figure out where Arkansas would stand on most of these issues. A state like Massachusetts probably would be the opposite. A western state like Colorado would be somewhere in between.
But then citizens of those states would have a much greater say in changing their laws than they do now. In Arkansas, the state Capitol is only a three-hour drive for even the most far-flung of us. Those who cannot live with the results can move to another state that fits them more comfortably while still pledging allegiance to the American flag.
This would mean that Arkansans would have to respect the choices made by Oregonians, and vice versa. But isn’t that better than a one-size-fits-all edict handed down from Washington, D.C.? For crying out loud, if people in Harmony Grove, Ark., want to pray before a high school football game, they ought to be able to do it.
Would this lead to the end of the United States? I don’t think so. We’re still united by so many values, and those should be the focus of our national policies. We don’t need a divorce, but we do need a little space. As it stands now, we can’t have a reasonable discussion about balancing the budget, and so we’re on a path toward an economic collapse and the loss of some of our freedoms to a foreign power.
We should all agree that can’t happen. So how about this for part of the solution? Let’s remain first and foremost Americans, but consider ourselves Arkansans a little more than we do now.
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Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be followed on Twitter at @stevebrawner.