Our country may just need a Rally to Restore Comedy after this past Saturday’s spectacularly unfunny Rally to Restore Sanity on the National Mall. But “The Daily Show” host and rally organizer Jon Stewart may have stumbled upon some truth in his closing remarks: “We hear every day about how fragile our country is — on the brink of catastrophe — torn by polarizing hate and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done, but the truth is we do. We work together to get things done every day. The only place we don’t is here or on cable TV. Americans don’t live here or on cable TV.”

The “here” Stewart is referring to is Washington, DC, the seat of federal power in this country. Since 1900, except for a brief dip in the 80s, Washington has taken more and more power away from the rest of the country. Then, almost 60% of government spending took place at the state and local levels. Today, the federal government spends more than twice as much as all other levels of government combined. This trend has only hastened under President Barack Obama, including: government-owned car companies, government-run health care, government-dominated mortgage markets and national school standards. With so many decisions being made for millions of Americans in just one city, is it any wonder that the country has become so politicized and polarized?

As President Ronald Reagan said in his First Inaugural Address: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?” By assuming more and more tasks in more and more areas outside of its core responsibilities, Washington has greatly damaged American self-rule. The federal government’s extended reach has weakened the states and pushed traditional social institutions into the shadows.

We can do something about this: devolve power away from Washington to the states and the people. The Heritage Foundation’s Solutions for America has a number of specific policy proposals to cut Washington down to size:

  • Unwind Government Intervention: The government should end the interventions it has made since 2008, starting with abolition of the TARP program. It should then abolish Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and repeal all U.S. government regulatory measures that interfere with mortgage markets. Congress should also repeal the Sarbanes–Oxley Act, which discriminates against small firms and reduces competition. Companies should be allowed to fail, and laws and regulations should create no expectation of a future bailout.
  • Spend Less: Congress should enact a firm cap on the annual increase in total government spending, limited to inflation plus population growth. Lawmakers should exert all effort to keep overall federal spending to less than 20% of U.S. GDP, the historical post–World War II average for federal spending. Congress should take entitlement spending off autopilot and subject it to the discipline of the budgetary process through long-term budgets that Congress regularly reviews. This would force entitlement spending to compete politically with other spending priorities.
  • Devolve Responsibilities: Education, health care, transportation, criminal law enforcement and homeland security—all issues that in recent decades have become federal concerns but are better dealt with at the state and local levels of government—should be devolved to the states. State and local governments can tailor programs to make them more efficient and can experiment with new approaches to reduce the overall cost of government.

“It is no coincidence that our present troubles parallel and are proportionate to the intervention and intrusion in our lives that result from unnecessary and excessive growth of government,” Reagan said in January 1981. “It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the Federal establishment and to demand recognition of the distinction between the powers granted to the Federal Government and those reserved to the States or to the people. All of us need to be reminded that the Federal Government did not create the States; the States created the Federal Government.” That’s a fact Stewart and the current administration should think about.

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