The Forgotten Stars
September 21, 2009
By Humphrey Stevenson
The other day, I saw a promo for Jay Leno's upcoming new comedy program. In this promo, Jay is standing outdoors with a young woman. Leno points to a U.S. flag flapping in the breeze and asks the young woman, "How many stars are on that flag?" The woman replies that she cannot count the stars because the flag is moving too much. Now it could be that the question simply caught the woman off guard and she just didn't think before answering, but it also could be that the woman had forgotten what the stars represent.
In many ways I think we today don't remember what the stars on our flag represent. During the days of our founding of our union, people thought of themselves as Virginians or Georgians or Pennsylvanians and not so much as Americans. Today, that has changed; people think of themselves as Americans and for the most part do not identify with the state in which they reside. I'm sure that some of this has to do with the mobility of our modern society. But, it is also true that people think of the Federal government first and not their state. Just look at election turnout. National elections garner much larger turnouts than state and local elections alone. This due to the fact that people feel that national elections are more consequential than state elections and that is because people feel the Federal government is more consequential to their lives than state government.
That is not the way it was supposed to be. Our Founders gave us a federal system of government in which power is divided between the central government and the states. Our Constitution grants the central government specific, enumerated powers and those are the only powers it is to have. All other powers are granted to the states. If you read Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, you find the powers given to the Congress focus mainly on foreign affairs and the interaction between the states. Very little power to govern the individual citizen is given to the Congress. That responsibility is granted chiefly to the states.
I like to refer to the Tenth Amendment as the "Oh, by the way …" Amendment. The Founders spent the bulk of the Constitution outlining the specific powers of the Federal government and the rights of the people. Our Founders, in order to avoid any confusion as to their intentions, wisely gave us the Tenth Amendment which can be interpreted to say, "Oh, by the way, if you can't find a power specifically granted to the Federal government by this document, that power belongs to the states or the people."
The states have been losing their individual identities. Washington seems to want to dictate law so as to provide uniformity from state to state. While this is certainly convenient, it does not provide the citizen the maximum ability to live their life the way they want. On many issues, the desires of the citizenry of one state would vary greatly from that of another state. As long as the Constitutional rights of the citizens are upheld, the state governments should be free to govern as they see fit. That way if a citizen is unhappy with the laws of one state he can move to another state where the laws are more to his liking.
This loss of identity truly got started with the ratification on the Seventeenth Amendment. Prior to this, Senators were elected by each state's legislature and not by a vote of the people. While I'm all for the people having a greater voice, the Senate was intended to be the states' voice in the Federal government. The people have their voice in the House of Representatives and Federal government has its voice in the President. As it is now we have basically two Houses of Representatives with the states' legislatures have little or no say in Washington.
Never forget how our Union came into being. Prior to the Revolution we were thirteen British colonies. Then the Declaration of Independence declared those colonies to be "free and independent states." Those states saw the need to create some central authority to act as an agent of the states. Washington has lost sight of the fact that it was intended to be the servant of the states, not the other way around. So the next time you see a U.S. flag, I hope you remember what those stars represent.