Federalism in Flint

On Federalism, and on the Flint Water Crisis: Is There a Federal Solution for Every State or Local Problem? Should There Be?

By Ken K. Gourdin

A few months back, there was a giant uproar about the discovery of unsafe levels of lead in the culinary water system of the city of Flint, Mich. This issue highlights questions of federalism, and federalism concerns whether, how, and to what extent state and federal (and, in this case, local) government should share power. One would think that the fiscal consequences alone, let alone considerations of possible federal overreaching (since the federal government already is $20 trillion in debt) make it impossible for the federal government to intervene in all such matters.

For some time now, States and (in some cases) smaller political subdivisions largely have been treated as organs of the federal government. Apparently, the Tenth Amendment, which reserves for resolution by the States and/or by their citizens all issues and matters not explicitly entrusted to federal stewardship by the Constitution, is a dead letter. Those who think so ought to stand up “on their hind legs” and call for its repeal.

Another poster excoriated the presumed position of Senator Mike Lee (R – Utah) that solving such a problem fell to officials of the city of Flint and of the state of Michigan, since it was not a federal concern.

The Preamble to the United States Constitution reads, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Another poster wrote in part (capitalization as in original):

Children, as well as the rest of the population of Flint MI, are being poisoned by lead. There is no cure for lead poisoning, just long term palliative care. In the PREAMBLE [sic] to our Constitution, which the likes of [U.S. Senator Mike] Lee [R – Utah], [U.S. Senator Ted] Cruz [R – Florida], and the rest of the Constitutional Nazis hold to be the ultimate authority, there is the phrase “…to promote the general welfare…” I’m sure when Lee is asked, his tiny little brain will respond with: “Flint Michigan is a State, not Federal, responsibility,” ignoring the Preamble.

I responded:

I understand why you are upset, and I understand that you disagree with this point of view, but, arguably, “general welfare” means that the federal government is responsible for those things which affect the United States and its citizens and residents as a whole, while the state of Michigan and the local government of Flint are responsible for those things which affect citizens and residents of Flint. There is plenty of blame to go around: Did the local health authorities of Flint know about the problem? Did Flint’s mayor know anything about it? Did anyone on the city council know about it? Did Michigan state health authorities know anything about it? Did Michigan’s governor know anything about it? If none of these people knew anything about it, why not? Does such ignorance make them, in any way, derelict in their duties? If they did know about it but did nothing, that knowing inaction definitely makes them derelict in their duties. Why, then, are they, apparently (at least in your book) deserving of none of the blame?

About kenngo1969

Just as others must breathe to live, I must write. I have been writing creatively almost ever since I learned to write, period! I have written fiction, book- and article-length nonfiction, award-winning poetry, news, sports, features, and op-eds. I hope, one day, to write some motivational nonfiction, a decent-selling novel, a stage play, and a screen play.
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