After years of extraordinary growth, driven by popular if financially unsustainable, policies, the bubble burst with the 2008 Lehman Brothers bankruptcy.
The Bush Administration and Congress, responding to the special interests in the financial services industry, engineered a $700 billion Wall Street bailout. Having gotten us into this mess by ill-advised subsidies and regulatory “reforms,” the federal government believed it could get us out by payoffs to the banking interests—and by assuming more power.
Within months, Wall Street experienced its worst recession in 70 years. Under Barack Obama, Congress and the President accelerated spending and regulation accumulating even more power through health care and financial-services “reforms,” and deficits of $1.4 trillion-plus per year. This led to joblessness, drops in consumer confidence, a sluggish recovery and mounting hopelessness.
This was utterly predictable. For decades, federal spending and control have increased, with politicians and bureaucrats involving themselves in all aspects of our lives. The nation, teetering on the edge of a fiscal abyss, is quickly nearing the point of no return.
We are all to blame. There has been no sinister conspiracy to deny Americans their participation in a self-governing system. Too many of us have willingly granted to the federal government and its special-interest friends powers that previous generations would have recognized instantly as imprudent and, in time, disastrous.
The time has come for us all to be active citizens again—and not just passive subjects. We must wrest control of our government from the special interests and, in that way, regain control of our lives. We will do this by reclaiming for ourselves powers exercised by incumbent lawmakers, unelected bureaucrats, lobbyists, media personalities and the special interests that make up the entrenched elites of Washington, D.C.
To accomplish these ambitious goals, we must revitalize government at all levels, with special attention to those closest to home, where we enjoy greatest access to elected officials; where elected officials are most familiar with their constituencies’ special concerns; where elected officials are more easily monitored and held accountable; and where we can experiment with a multiplicity of solutions to our common problems.
Self-governance requires us to reconsider the assumption that in a society of 315 million people, the more practical solution to any given problem can be found in Washington, D.C., designed by career politicians and administered by unelected bureaucrats. Millions of Americans have always understood that our strength lies in our diversity—our diversity of cultures, concerns, special circumstances and unique abilities—and that this diversity should find expression not only in our private lives but in our public life. We should always remember that, while we are individuals, we are also citizens. We are members of a community, bound by shared values, challenged by common problems.
It is time for all of us to step up and reclaim our rightful role as citizens of a self-government republic. The Alliance for Self-Governance will help seize this historic opportunity.
The deep yearning Americans now feel for “a sense of belonging, of shared purpose and enterprise,” in Goodwin’s words, represents a serious crisis of community. At the heart of what the political philosopher Michael Sandel calls “democracy’s discontent” is the recognition that “individually and collectively, we are losing control of the forces that govern our lives.” Americans are haunted, Sandel says, by the sense that “from family to neighborhood to nation, the moral fabric of community is unraveling around us. These two fears—for the loss of self-government and the erosion of community— together define the anxiety of the age.”
Our sense of shared purpose can be restored. Its restoration, however, requires an understanding of its cause. What the historian Robert Nisbet calls “the slow but inexorable destruction of the traditional communities in the West” is the direct result of the steady displacement of voluntary, local, cooperative and democratic associations—the mediating institutions of family, neighborhood, businesses, churches and schools, local and state governments— by the centralized, administrative state.
Ours is a realistic undertaking that does not look backward. It is rooted not in nostalgia for forms of association that cannot be wished back into existence—idealized notions of small-town life as we would like to think it existed in the nineteenth century, for example—but in a confidence in the character, resourcefulness and creativity of the American people. What we seek is to make it possible for new forms of community that reflect the realities of contemporary life to thrive. These new forms of community will be, again to quote Nisbet, “by their very vitality, effective barriers to further spread of unitary, centralized political power.”