Email #204: “limited government”?

I thought conservatives believed in limiting the powers of the federal government in favor of local control.

Paul Kengor explains in “11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative”:

“Reagan felt … the federal government had subsumed far too many roles and duties that should have been left to the private sector or to local and states governments.”

The American Conservative Party expresses the same attitude:

“American Conservatism stands for small, limited government … where individuals take on duties to take care of their own communities, and where Government is the resource of last resort.”

And Gene Veith writes in his essay “Big state government vs. little local government”:

“In classic conservative political theory, the most significant form of government is what is closest to the people; that is, local governments in which the people select their neighbors to govern the community.  As levels of government get farther and farther away from the people who elected them, political involvement becomes ever more abstract and the distant government gets potentially ever more problematic, especially when it usurps power from the officials closer to the people.”

So why have you introduced a bill that reverses that principle?

Your No Sanctuary for Criminals Act would take power away from local governments and give it to the federal government. You say that the bill “withholds certain federal grants from jurisdictions that violate federal law by prohibiting their officers from communicating with ICE,” but these local governments are not violating any federal laws. Your bill expands the federal government, removing decision-making from local communities. Currently jurisdictions have the power to decide whether they should spend their resources enforcing federal immigration laws. Some jurisdictions feel that approach undermines effective policing.

Democratic whip Rep. Hoyer argues: “If you have crime and people who are victims of crime are afraid to come forward and report that, then law enforcement believes it is undermining its ability to keep safe neighborhoods and safe communities.”

You may personally disagree with Rep. Hoyer, and you may personally disagree with each local jurisdiction that has adopted a sanctuary policy. But the conservative pillar of limited federal government requires you to step back and allow those differences in opinion to stand. It’s not up to you and Congress to tell local governments how to run their police departments. That’s a local choice.

You said  Tuesday: “I believe the overwhelming majority of people of any ethnicity support the government being able to get cooperation to enforce the law because after all, it’s in these communities that people will be kept the most safe if those who commit crimes are sent out of the United States or put in jail.”

But if doesn’t matter what you “believe” local communities do or do not support. These communities are telling you directly. You and other members of the GOP have criticized “big government” for decades, and yet you move to expand federal power now because it happens to suit you. If you can cast aside one of the most central conservative principles so easily, in what sense is it a principle at all?

I know the House is scheduled to vote on the bill today, and I know you will be voting for it. But I hope you will at least pause a moment first and recognize how contradictory and literally unprincipled your action is.

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Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an assistant professor of English at Washington and Lee University where he teaches creative writing, contemporary fiction, and comics. He has published two novels, Pretend I'm Not Here (HarperCollins 2002) and School For Tricksters (Southern Methodist University 2011), and two nonfictions, On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa University 2015) and Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury forthcoming 2017).

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