by Conor Friedersdorf

Nick Gillespie reflects on the folks at the Glenn Beck rally:

For much of the new century, and certainly for all of the past three years, there has been nothing but uncertainty in the economy and a good degree of uncertainty in the political arena. The people we talked to felt something like cogs in a machine whose shape and size they didn't even understand. They were not rabid xenophobes or racists or even haters in general, but they were pissed off that their individual actions did not seem to mean much. They were not conspiracists (few if any brought up Obama as a Muslim or a foreign national, for instance), but they felt cheated and frustrated that their individual lives seemed to be controlled by larger forces and institutions over which they had little or no control. And to the extent that they talked about government, the focus was generally upon government spending that they assumed threatened to destroy the future, for them and their kids or grandkids.

One cause of this feeling is the steady trend toward giving greater power to the federal government at the expense of states and localities. Tell me that my city has done something I don't like, and I can go speak to the person who cast the deciding vote face to face. In less than a month I can attend a public meeting where I make my case to elected officials and fellow citizens. If that doesn't help, and it's an issue I care enough about, I can back a challenger during the next election, or run for office myself. All these remedies are realistically available to every single citizen. And even the citizen who loses on an issue, having exhausted every remedy, doesn't feel powerless. They feel as though they made their case in the democratic process and lost.

Our states are big enough that it's much harder to impact the process at that level, compared to something that is decided at the local level. But if California does something that upsets me enough, I can initiate a campaign for a ballot initiative, or run for the state assembly... or I can move elsewhere: Oregon has some nice Pacific coastline, and New Mexico offers lots of sunshine and decent avocados. 

Federal legislation is a different beast.

One cannot remain in the country without being subject to it. Getting an audience with one's senator is unlikely, and even one's congressperson is often away or else busy with other business. Reversing legislation at the federal level is exceedingly difficult, one cannot speak before the relevant body or even attend its sessions with any ease, its rules are complicated and opaque, and trying to influence it, a single citizen hasn't a chance (unless he or she can afford a good lobbyist).

Now take an issue where the country is evenly divided. If it is handled at the federal level, half the populace is unhappy. Handling it at the local level affords a chance for a lot higher percentage of people to live under the rule they prefer. It is vitally important and entirely proper that the federal government protect the constitutional rights of every citizen, and carry out its enumerated functions. Beyond that, however, there are good reasons to decide things at as local a level as is practical, and one of them is the fact that local control empowers Americans to shape the institutions under which they live.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.