Friday, January 29, 2010

State of the Union vs. State of the Country

When the president of a club reports to the body on the state of the organization he leads, he focuses on the organization’s administration, finances, membership and activities, not on the condition of the personal lives of the members. Similarly, when the Secretary General of the United Nations delivers the State of the U.N. speech, it is expected that he address the condition of the organization he leads, not the collective condition of the 192 members of that body.

But when modern presidents deliver the State of the Union address, there is little surprise that they spend much of their speech discussing the collective condition of the states, instead of focusing strictly on the federal Union.
Modern presidents focus on the American economy, which is not the responsibility of the federal government, or what plans they have to benefit this or that group of citizens. If a club president strayed so far from where he is supposed to focus, the members would be shocked and demand that he focus on fulfilling the responsibility with which they had entrusted him. If a UN Secretary General were to loose such focus, Americans, who are protective of their sovereignty, would rightly object. But they are not shocked when the President of the United States strays equally far from where he is supposed to focus. Indeed, they expect it and, at times, they even encourage it!

As I have noted in previous posts, the United States of America is not a country, but a union of states. In other words, it is a union of countries, which are sovereign independent states. The Constitution that created the U.S. requires the president to report annually on the State of the Union. That same document limits this federal union to certain enumerated powers, all of which are federal in nature. While the United States (the United States is the name of the federal union) has responsibility for defense and foreign affairs, as well as a few other common matters (e.g. commerce between, but not within, the states of the Union, naturalization, currency, copyrights and patents), domestic matters such as the macroeconomic conditions or health insurance are left to the sovereign states, just as member states of the U.N. have sovereignty over their domestic affairs. Put another way, the United States does not mean the 50 states that have been admitted to the Union, but only the Union that those states have formed, just as the U.N. does not mean its 192 members, but the organization they have formed. In short, the United States is not a place, but a federal union, just as the United Nations is not a place, but an international organization.

Therefore, the State of the Union means only the condition of that Union, not of the states that have been admitted to it. This distinction is critical to understanding the principle of federalism. It is imperative that conservatives maintain this distinction in language, as well as all such federalist distinctions, in order to educate their fellow citizens. Avoiding terms that erode the principle of federalism, examples of which I have cited in earlier posts, helps to restore the system established by the Framers of the Constitution that is a safeguard of liberty against the centralization of power.

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