Listen the next time you hear a political debate. Pay attention to the partisanship in Washington. If you listen carefully, you will find that all of our “hot button topics” have been subverted to serve a specific political battle. A battle over power.
This battle was initiated by our founding fathers, and today we see it becoming increasingly polarized, threatening to tear our nation apart. What is the battle? It boils down to a turf war between our states and the federal government. Who should make decisions? Where should power be consolidated? Should government be big or small? These questions were on the minds of the founding fathers, and as some of our nation’s greatest thinkers, they established a system to keep these questions in perpetual struggle.
They believed those with power would always try to gain more. They feared a state or federal government too powerful would begin to act in self-interest, subjugating the people and hurting the nation. A battle between the two, our founding fathers thought, would result in a balance. Neither side would gain full power, and a happy medium would be reached.
This struggle was front and center at a recent Constitution Day event I attended. NDSU’s Center for Public Choice and Private Enterprise hosted a “Recreating the Constitution” simulation designed to emulate the debates surrounding key issues at the Constitutional Convention. This event provided a platform for me to understand the political process without being clouded by the emotions of our present-day environment.
An example from the event: a delegate supporting states’ rights insisted only “educated people” should serve as representatives, and thus we should have very few delegates. The delegate argued that the best system would have the same number of representatives for every state. Although the actual wording made it sound quite reasonable, it was really an emotional appeal to a hot button topic of the time. The goal was to justify more power for the smallest states in the union.
Looking at modern politics, we see similar conflations happening over and over. People argue, “The states should be able to decide Y.” Or, from the opposite side of the aisle, “We should all participate in X.” Any argument containing these basic ideas is more focused on the issue of power than the topic at hand. In fact, it is almost certainly an emotional appeal to justify the consolidation or distribution of power.
I look at political discourse today and think that at some point we forgot the original struggle of American politics. We forgot that people in power — democrat or republican, president or senator — will continue to seek one thing: more power. We forgot the central balance of our political system: to protect the people and not the politicians.
So next time a politician talks and you feel yourself getting fired up:
Take a deep breath and remember: If you ignore their fear mongering, YOU win.
Meet the Author
Zachery Tiedeman is a Mancur Olson Research Fellow at the NDSU Center for the Study of Public Choice and Private Enterprise. He is an undergraduate studying biotechnology, chemistry and economics at North Dakota State University.