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American Federalism in 1990s


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American Federalism in 1990s.

While it would be an overstatement to suggest that the average American
has a clear concept of meaning of federalism in 1994, there is some
evidence than issues, involving locus of governmental power are
important to many. For example, polling organizations frequently ask
citizens - which level of government most enjoys their trust and
confidence. The results consistently indicate, that people trust their
local governments most and their national government least. The states
drift along in the middle. So, most Americans view local government the
most favorably.

However, as is the case in most areas of our political life, attitudes
change significantly when citizens are faced with specific issues. Even
though Americans appear to be committed to federalism in the abstract,
they always seem to have lengthy list of problems which they want the
federal government because state and local governments have failed to
resolve them, or a list of services which are perceived as poorly
provided or not provided at all. It is common for individuals and groups
to respond to such perceptions by demanding that the national government
create new standards or mandates or provide direct or indirect
expenditures of money. Sometimes, they seek both.

While it is traditional to expect demands for increased national
government activity from more liberal, so-called «big government»,
elements in American society, conservatives, who see themselves as a
defenders of state’s rights and local self-government also may jump on
the bandwagon and demand national action. Thus it is quite unsurprising
that recently liberal elements in American society have sought national
legislation controlling access to firearms, as reflected in
recently-adopted Brady Bill, which requires dealers to run checks on
purchasers. On the other hand, it seems unusual, from a federalism
perspective, that conservative elements have sought national government
action to eliminate or restrict access to abortions or to permit the
introduction of prayers in the public schools.

Perhaps the best recent example of such a demand for national action
may be found in public safety area. There is a general perception, that
high levels of criminal activity made the persons and property of the
average citizen in this country unsafe. In general, however, the
definition and control of criminal behavior has historically been a
state and local responsibility. Our national officials sense that there
is a demand for them to do something in response to state and local
failures. The result is anti-crime legislation at the national level
which has been proposed by the President and which is largely supported
by members of Congress. While many of us doubt the effectiveness of the
specific legislation, few people have seriously objected to this
activity as destructive of basic fabric of our federal system.

The result is an inconsistent and often confusing approach to solving
governmental problems in a federalist concept. In terms of practical

al problems in a federalist concept. In terms of practical
politics, the system provides multiple forms of access. Various groups,
no matter what ideological view of the federal system, take a pragmatic
approach. That is, when their preferred level of government fails to
produce policy results, that are satisfactory, they seek action at
another level. None of the models of the federal systems seems to
describe this state of affairs very well.

There is also confusion about federalism at another level in the US. We
often observe this best when trying to teach about the system in our
American Government classes. For some, federalism is equated with
democracy. This is to say that they believe that unitary systems are by
definition undemocratic. These patriotic souls are skeptical of evidence
which demonstrates that some unitary systems are quite democratic, and
that some federal systems are quite autocratic in nature.

Still, others confuse federalism with the concepts of separation of
powers and checks and balances which are so important in understanding
American government. While federalism does indeed divide governmental
powers and involve some checking and balancing, separation of powers is
a term, normally reserved to discussions of the relations between the
executive, legislative, and judicial branches of our governments. This
distinction is troublesome for many of our students.

Due to my limited time I would like to state some most nuisance
problems, that became a heavy burden for every American, involved in
active politics in any way. First, we should mention the so-called
«unfunded mandate», that became the biggest bone of contention in
American intergovernmental rules. An unfunded mandate can be said to
exist when the national government requires new or improved services or
level of regulation, but leaves funding largely to state and local
governments. This permits national level officials and institutions to
establish their own policy without any considering costs. While that
seems a poor way to operate, it fits in well with some traditional
American political attitudes in which costs of government services are
either ignored or assumed to be borne by someone else.

Some examples may illustrate the reasons for state complaints. In 1993,
the Congress passed a law requiring the states to provide a system of
voter’s registration


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