Donald Devine explains to readers of The American Spectator that President Reagan supported as much “decision-making authority as possible kept at the local level.” Reagan saw America as a “a federation of sovereign states.” This effective strategy has worked as The Swiss Way, and has proven itself one of America’s best design features during the coronavirus. Devine writes (abridged):
The pandemic proved the emperor had no clothes, that central government wizards cannot so easily hide behind a public relations curtain in a real crisis.
Even the mainstream media noted that CDC wizards had spoiled an early test that could have alerted the nation to the pandemic at the very beginning; then delayed taking action for weeks; consistently reversed previous advice (on closing schools, wearing masks etc ) .
How can this confusion enhance the myth big government knows better?
Rather than fostering New Deal centralization, the coronavirus crisis has proven the absolute necessity of federalism, local governance, and private resources.
Every state pursued a different plan and necessarily so.
A majority of coronavirus causalities were in the single New York City metro area, with many states and counties in Middle America hardly touched. In many counties including my own (with 71%) a majority of deaths were in retirement homes.
Even large states like Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Florida were less affected and were able to ease restrictions earlier. Not decentralizing policy would have been disastrous.
The bitter pill for modern New Dealers to swallow is that Ronald Reagan will have won the battle.
From his Inaugural forward, the center of his critique rested upon the Tenth Amendment recognizing the roles of states and peoples separate from Washington and insisting decentralized federalism was the very “secret to our success” as a government of “we the people.”
“Our task today, this year, this decade,” he urged, “must be to reaffirm those ideas,” a “system of government that was unique in all the world — a federation of sovereign states with as much law and decision-making authority as possible kept at the local level.”
Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies.