American Federalism in 1990s

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
      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
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 which was