Government closest to the people in times of crisis

By Brad Jones Whenever crisis strikes America, as on the Gulf Coast this week, I am reminded of how brilliant our Founding Fathers were. We don't pay enough homage to their theory of governing that has been so broadly emulated around the world – one that has kept us safe and unified in the toughest of times here at home.

The Framers' distrust of big government had the result of strengthening its effectiveness in the toughest of times. While states' rights have eroded significantly over the years, mostly in the last century, we still enjoy a highly decentralized system of government as compared to the rest of the world. The old joke holds true that Americans are fond of elections, from President to dogcatcher. This abundance of representation stems from one simple truth that guided our forefathers: government should remain closest to the people it serves.

Civics classes have since moved on to preaching the virtues of the "elastic clause" and Federal power, but the Constitution enshrines this principle in its deference to the states and the people. The central government was designed to do what was necessary to maintain order in the market and national security – and that was about it. The very limited powers given to Congress have more to do with guaranteeing cooperation and diversity amongst the States than it does with solving broad social ills. Those problems are regional; setting up a central currency and establishing a national post office aid that goal.

This message rings true now more than ever in light of the devastation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Who is better equipped to deal with the basic needs of a state battered by Mother Nature, the Governor of Louisiana or President Bush, all the way in Washington?

It seems the states bear little to no responsibility in today's Federal dependency state, as evidenced by Anthony Nata's comments to the CBS Evening News: "You can go into Iraq and come in with big helicopters and set stuff up for people, but you can't do this for us? Come on, Bush. You can do better than that."

Where is the anger over the State of Louisiana's equally weak response to the crisis? The National Guard is under the Governor's control; police officers in New Orleans are virtually non-existent: they left the city in the hands of thugs and tyrants.

Of course there is a role for the Federal Government in disaster relief. But the Constitution set up a system whereby the states would tell Mr. Bush what to do, not the other way around. After the reconstruction, this should be one lesson we take to heart not only in the Gulf Coast, and not only in times of crisis.