I feel like a broken record, but the Constitution is explicit about what the federal government can and cannot do. Article I of that document lists seventeen powers that the federal government has to do things. The Tenth Amendment was designed to dismiss any notion that the federal government had broad powers beyond those laid out in Article I. The founders' agenda was clear -- very restrictive powers for the federal government and vast powers to the states and local governments.
Thomas Jefferson may have summed it up best when he wrote in 1816 that "The way to have good and safe government is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the function he is competent to. Let the National Government be entrusted with the defense of the nation and its foreign and federal relations; the State governments with the civil rights, laws, police, and administration of what concerns the State generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties, and each ward direct the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great national one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man's farm by himself; by placing under every one what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best."
In other words, freedom is found in the dispersion of power. Dividing powers among various levels of government is just another one of the checks and balances the founders had in mind in order to preserve our liberties.
Instead of doing the things it is suppose to do, the federal government has pursued the role of being a panacea in all areas. It has abandoned the few -- but necessary -- elements of a strong government capable of keeping its people safe and free. We daily experience poor governing in several different areas listed in Article I, Section 8. This article will focus on just a few.
"To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries..."
Charles Knobloch, who is a patent attorney in the Houston area (and a partner with the firm, Arnold & Knobloch) has been a frequent guest on my radio show. Knobloch has stated often on my program that intellectual property rights are among the most neglected areas of the Constitution. "Three years is the average length of time it now takes to get a patent processed," he noted. In addition to failing to make the protection of intellectual property a timely process, the U.S. has had a spotty record at best when it comes to defending U.S. IP rights around the world. Intellectual property rights are crucial if you are going to enjoy increased technology, tools, medicines, entertainment, and more.
"To establish post offices and post roads..."
Post Offices are on life support and the number of days they are even open or delivering is soon to be dramatically reduced. Later this year, post offices will eliminate a day of delivery. The federal government has failed to make this a truly competitive institution and its decline is now looked forward to with anticipation by many (if not most) that support the cause of free enterprise.
"To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water..."
The founders never intended the U.S. to become an international police force. Changes in the way foreign policy is conducted have led to police actions and the deferring to the president powers historically required to be voted on by the legislative branch. The current approach of regularly deferring authority is cowardly and costly (both in dollars and lives). This is not to say that the U.S. can afford to be isolationist and pretend it can be a "fortress America," but it does mean that the nation should choose its battles properly. One way that people will know a war is worth fighting is if Congress has the intestinal fortitude to vote for it. We have not cleanly won many conflicts in the decades since a declaration of war from Congress has not been required.
"To coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures..."
Essentially, Congress was responsible for our currency. Because of the genius of the founders, the federal government really had very little to spend on (for a complete list, see Article I, Section 8). Meanwhile, the states had huge powers in many areas, giving them the power to spend freely. But, without the power to make money, they were limited in their expenditures. With such a situation, our government wisely made sure the currency was backed by precious metals and not the "good faith and credit" of a government out of control, as it is today. We had virtually no inflation from the end of the 18th century until the 1930s, because our dollar was honest and our expenditures were relatively few. Now, the government tries to monetize its irresponsible and unconstitutional expenditures and create a "tax" on all money through inflation.
We were given a very special national government. One that was small, but strong. Its purpose was well defined, its objectives were few, and its accomplishments, substantial. Again, quoting Jefferson, we enjoyed "A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned - this is the sum of good government."
We replaced this with a government that is out of control and does a poor job in virtually every area.