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Rediscovering the Wonders of Federalism in the Gulf

In reviewing the chaos, confusion, and bureaucratic snafus associated with the response to the BP oil spill, David Brooks discovers that “we have a federalism problem.” He observes:

All around the region there are local officials who think they know their towns best. They feel insulted by a distant and opaque bureaucracy lurking above. The balance between federal oversight and local control is off-kilter. We have vested too much authority in national officials who are really smart, but who are really distant. We should be leaving more power with local officials, who may not be as expert, but who have the advantage of being there on the ground.

Umm, we have a president — who came highly recommended as “really smart” — who has decided to federalize health care and the car industry and would like to do the same with industrial emissions, financial regulation, and almost anything else he can get his hands on. And “smart,” as we have learned the hard way, doesn’t mean smart about managing a crisis, or smart about economics, or smart about the medical profession, or smart about any other area of governance. In sum, the people in Washington, especially the president, may be glib and polished, but they possess no monopoly on “smart”; rather, they have an acute shortage of common sense and business experience.

This is a good reminder to be wary of giving the federal government tasks outside its expertise — which includes more than cleaning up an oil spill.


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