Conservatives’ faith in local government is misplaced

May 16, 2012

Peter Scheer


The closer government is to the people, the more government is controlled by special interests.

In America today, conservatism’s one clear fault line, cutting across cultural and socioeconomic schisms, aligns conservatives based on their views about the relationship between government and its citizens.

On one side are born-again libertarians, like supporters of perpetual presidential candidate Ron Paul. Believing that governmental power and personal freedom are always and everywhere inversely related, born-again libertarians are hostile to government at all levels: national, regional and local. (And don’t get them started about multinational entities like the IMF.)

On the other side of the line are mainstream conservatives, by far the larger group, who are selective in their anti-government animus. Mainstream conservatives, exemplified by Mitt Romney, don’t hate all government. They fear and loath the federal government, which, in their view, can do nothing right, while they simultaneously favor, even wax nostalgic over, state and local governments, which, purely because of their smaller scale and proximity to individual citizens, can do no wrong.

This division is illustrated by the debate over President Obama’s health care reform. To Democrats, health care is a national issue that can only be managed by forcing all providers, consumers, employers and third-party payers (insurance companies) into a single national market, with the feds creating uniform standards and policing all participants.

To born-again libertarians, any government mandate is anathema: citizens should be free both to forgo insurance and to suffer the consequences of their stupidity. (Ron Paul has been nothing if not consistent in this regard, saying during one presidential debate that hospitals should not be forced to rescue critically-ill citizens who opt not to purchase health insurance.)

Conservatives also oppose the federal mandate — the requirement that all citizens have insurance, whether individually or through their employers. However, their argument against it is not that government in general is without authority to force citizens to buy insurance, but that the federal government has no such power.

This is how Romney rationalizes his opposition to Obamacare with his authorship of “Romneycare” in Massachusetts, which, like the federal program, mandates citizen participation in the state-managed health care system. It is also the ideological tap dance of the Supreme Court’s conservative justices.

They have questioned whether Congress infringes state sovereignty by dictating that citizens purchase medical insurance. By implication these same justices are saying — and may, in fact, rule later this spring — that, while the feds lack power to impose the disputed mandate, state governments do not. State governments, according to this view, may do whatever they wish in the healthcare arena.

Conservatives’  blind faith in state governments is naive in the extreme. Sixty-five years ago, this deference to state government, championed then by another Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater, ignored the tenacity and insidiousness of racism in state legislatures and judiciaries (and not only in the South). Today, this faith ignores the corruption in state governments across the country.

By corruption, I don’t mean the hard crimes of bribery and extortion — although there’s no shortage of those, as revealed again and again in undercover investigations mostly conducted, notably, by the FBI (not state and local police, who tend to look the other way). I’m referring to the soft corruption of legislators and regulators who are bought and paid for by special interest groups, which are able to operate openly and with impunity at the state level.

The truth is that state legislatures and regulatory agencies are sewers compared to Washington, D.C.; Washington is an Athenian idyll compared to Sacramento (or Albany, Trenton, Boston et al).

Washington may have the highest concentration of lobbyists in the world, but their comings and goings are observed by the largest concentration of national and international news media in the world. In Sacramento, by contrast, the press corps, never big in the best of times, has been decimated by cutbacks in staffing levels at all the major news organizations.

While special interests in Washington are well represented, well funded and not shy about wielding influence in the legislative process, they are also held in check by competing special interests. The predations of Wall Street investment banks are countered by Main Street banking interests. Hollywood’s campaign for laws to stop online movie-pirating is offset by the high-tech industry’s fear of increased regulation of the internet. Big Pharma is neutralized by generic drug manufacturers. Health insurers, forever seeking higher rates, are blocked by Fortune 500 corporations that have to pay their policy premiums.

At the state level, however, entrenched special interests always prevail because they stand to gain more from a given change in the law than the costs imposed on any competing special interests — the costs, at the level of a single state, are dispersed too broadly to generate effective opposition, even though those costs, cumulatively, may be crippling to the state.

This is why public employee pensions in California and other states are unsustainable, while pensions for federal employees are not. This is why prison guards, public school teachers, insurance companies, police and trial lawyers are able to dictate their legislative agendas in Sacramento and other state capitols, but have have far, far less clout at the federal level.

Mainstream conservatives love shifting power from the federal government to states because they believe that the closer government is to its citizens, the more responsive it is to those citizens. They could not be more wrong. In today’s America, the closer government is to its citizens, the more responsive it is to special interests (and indifferent to citizens’ interests).

Peter Scheer, Executive Director of the First Amendment Coalition (FAC), is a lawyer and journalist. The views expressed here are his alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of FAC’s Board of Directors.


While I agree with Scheer in his comments about the corruptibility of state and local governments, his attempts to minimize the corruption in DC are laughable. It just goes to show that distortions and presentations of personal opinions as fact are not characteristics unique to the right wing propaganda machine.


I’m so dizzy from Pettie’s SPIN on this I think I’m going to throw up!!!!

I LOVE his spin on the pensions of teachers, prison employee’s etc. Hum Peter at what time has the Fed taken care of this type of stuff?? I can’t remember a time that Fed got involved on this kind of stuff.

The part that REALLY floors me on all this is that you want to blame all the conservatives for this. I can’t think of any that have supported prison, teacher, at al, of the growing costs. And all this has gone on in a heavily controled blue state!! I’ll give you credit for one thing Pete, you sure have BALLS to blame the conservatives for all this.

Oh and one last to the readers, I love that Pete is a Lawyer and Journalist. NUFF SAID!!!!

Ted Slanders


Lest we forget “W’s” medicare part D that will cost us ONE TRILLION DOLLARS, and along with two fraudulent wars, all UN-FUNDED!


blood of innocent victims crying out from the ground


The Medicare part D was simply needed to deliver Florida for the Republicans. It was and shall continue to be a travesty for them. Everything Bush seemed to do horribly bad, Obama doubles-down on, but gets to say “it was Bush’s fault”

When we elect empty suits, we should not be surprised they cannot deliver on anything except more of the same. Lock-step ideologues are no good whatever side they are on. Actually, they’re all on one side: their own.


At least the label ‘opinion’ is accurate. What drivel!


Conservatives have ‘faith’ in phony economic platitudes and racist traditions, and NOT ON GOD.

That is why they are so SO wrong ! There are the Pharisees of today and the American Taliban.

Furthest worthless nobodies that have NO relation to Christ !

Ted Slanders

Brother SF,

Once again you prove to the GOP’ers in how phony they are relative to true Christianity that they hold so dear! There’re only a few of us that realize that when they hold the Christian God’s flag high, that if they actually followed His word in the bible, they would all be in prison!

Barring the fact that they blatantly go directly against Jesus’ teachings ad infinitum, and by doing so, they become hypocrites, phonies, and the like. The Christian God will sort them out in the end, so let us praise His revengeful and killing ways!


Yes Brother T…and WE know what level they are going to: LEVEL 8, the Malebolge, where all hypocrites land with the thieves, seducers, pimps, the barraters and simonists. They struggle to walk around in lead overcoats, while suffering from pustuled boils and leprous like scabs. They scratch their own skin off with no relief excepting bathing in pools of excrement.


Ted Slanders

Brother SF,

Amen, and amen!


Anyone ever get the impression that these wonks are sitting across from one another in some basement in their underpants?

Just sayin…

Ted Slanders


Conversely, I can picture you sitting behind your monitor sweating profusely and thinking, how can I refute Brother Ted’s biblical knowledge and remain intelligent looking in the aftermath?!

Just sayin…..


I dare say that this entire piece is wrong because it is based on incredibly faulty assumptions about ALL libertarians thinking one way, ALL conservatives thinking another way, and ALL liberals thinking yet a different way. ALL of them don’t think one way. Come to think of it, most of the political comments espoused by the posters on CCN make the same mistake. It would be nice if we could have a decent conversation here once in a while rather than the rabid name calling and the playing of the incessant blame game.


SLO county backs Obama and the Dems 100%, who back unions and the Andy Stearn’s of the world (hope and change) yet the residents of SLO are screaming bloody murder about unions and pensions and public worker salaries. For that matter the entire state is in the hole and going down our leaders keep giving themselves more pay and perks. Where else can you run your state or town into the ground and get a raise….why Calif of course. SLO county is the most corrupt county in the country quite possibly. Much of the corruption unearthed right here and handed to the public to deal with yet nothing changes in SLO county.

The Dems are as corrupt,lawless and special interest influenced & brown nosing as the conservatives so who’s bluffing who here?

These are the views of a non sheep who dosent believe in any of the party’s integrity, motives or honesty. Show me a town,county or state in the USA in the red with good roads and general services and maybe I’ll show you a honest politician not in it for him or her self one way or another.


Well.of course, BOTH conservative opinions of government are wrong. Wrong in concept, wrong in practice. Factually, either kind of ‘conservative’ government is disastrous to society, and always has been. Only the rate of destruction differs.

The uber-libertarian “rootin’-tootin’-shootin’, every man for themself philosophy of minimalist government ends up with unregulated criminal gangs being virtual slavemasters and Old West lawlessness.

The corporate conservative wants just enough government to be able to control it. To them, government is just a business…like the Mafia.

These are the DIVIDERS….the type of people that separate government FROM the people.

TRUE representative government recognizes that it is the Commons, the people that ARE the government ( or should be ). This is what is stated so clearly in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and in magnificent speeches such as the Gettysburg Address, JFK’s Inaugural Address, and MLK’s “I have a Dream”.

Conservatives HATE these, because they affirm our ONE NATION identity, instead of being a bunch of divided clans fighting amongst each other.

When the rest of us unite, THEY LOSE.


the man who speaks the truth is chased from nine villages

Ted Slanders

Brother SF,

Mly God, you’re on a roll! Subsequent to reading the enlightenment that you proposed, I fell to the floor with arms trembling and raised skyward as if the Christian God was speaking in our behalf!!!

The Gimlet Eye

You can’t equate “conservatives” with Libertarians. Two very different critters. It was back in the mid fifties that most conservatives betrayed the “Old Right” and the two went their separate ways. William F. Buckley was of this ilk. His reputation as a fighter for liberty is completely undeserved. He was a totalitarian bigot. The Old Right eventually became the Libertarians. Murray Rothbard broke with the “conservatives” in the mid fifties and never looked back.

Libertarians don’t want to conserve anything but liberty. They want to overthrow the alien regime that has taken hold of the country and restore respect for the Constitution. They believe in the free market as a creative mechanism to improve society. They favor a restoration of the gold standard, decentralized government, and peace and friendship with all nations (as George Washington wanted).

Compare the above with “conservatives,” “neo-cons,” and the like:

They favor war as a means They are soft on executive dictatorship. They consider economics rather trivial compared with the struggle against international foes. They have found new uses for the state in the domestic realm as well. They like the CIA, the FBI, and no amount of military spending is enough for them. A leader of the movement—William F. Buckley—even called for a “totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores” so long as Russia, which had been an ally in the war, had a communist system.


While this SHOULD be the case, it is not. On the political compass that grades politicians, political philosophies, and broad ideas and theories; it not just a left/right scale. A point map of Authoritarian and Libertarian on north/south axis is also determinative.

As such, classical Libertarians such as Adam Smith, Voltaire, Milton Friedman are right leaning Libertarians; but have much more in common with Left Libertarians such as Thomas Paine, Nelson Mandela, even Noam Chomsky.

As with so many other examples, the right has so corrupted the language and usurped and co-opted the concept of ‘freedom’ ; that Authoritarian rightists such as Ron and Rand Paul, Margaret Thatcher, and Gary Johnson are somehow labeled ‘libertarian’. Objectivist greedheads Ayn Rand and Alan Greenspan are also listed as ‘libertarian’…even when the ‘liberties’ they espouse extend only to themselves.

BTW, I took the test and scored between Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and FDR… a libertarian liberal..

You might want to take the test and find out if you are a true libertarian, or just another Republican that wants to smoke dope and get laid.


To continue and bring the subject back to current politics, our President, Barack Obama is almost in the direct center, but still just slightly to the Authoritarian Right.

This would make him a Moderate or Centrist Republican …if viewed historically.

Willard Romney ranks closest to another historical figure…just a little to the right of Adolph Hitler. Again, Don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself.

Oh WOW! I just retook the test. Did it as fast as I could for as completely honest a result.

My results are Economic Left/Right: -9.12 … Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -7.38

Which makes me far more to the left and Libertarian of Ralph Nader, Gandhi.( -5.5~ -2.8 ).even the Dalai Lama ( -4.7 ~ -5.5 ).

Jack L

I myself have great faith in magic underwear (‘garments’) the conservative republican presidential candidate no doubt will be sporting. See these two links for a heads up to bolster your faith in conservatism in the White House. I hope your mind is now at ease with our economic future and well being…~*~


Beats the spend every last dollar America can print socialist sitting in the white house now.


someone has to be responsible for keeping up with the interest payment on the national debt from the predecessor’s military “crusade” (s) and namesake tax-cut .