“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves in their separate and individual capacities.”– President Abraham Lincoln
President Obama used this Lincoln quote in his State of the Union address as a rationalization for an interventionist government. But President Lincoln was actually promoting the virtues of restraint and jurisdiction when he said that. Today, we articulate these virtues by asking, “What is the proper role of government?”
Our Founders had the prescience to devise a system of divided powers. They believed that “communities of people, in their separate and individual capacities” would petition government, through specific branches, to address issues of the day. The US Constitution defines the 17 specific, unique and discreet powers delegated to the federal government, the California Constitution defines those powers delegated to the State Legislature, and the San Diego City Charter defines the role of the San Diego City Council.
When public officials exercise extra-jurisdictional power, they erode public confidence in their ability to execute their legitimate powers. The unintended consequences of illegitimate actions can have deleterious effects. When the San Diego City Council passed a resolution to encourage a neighboring state to repeal an immigration law, tourism (a major industry in San Diego) suffered. That seemingly innocent resolution, encouraged by a small group of San Diegans, inflicted economic pain on hundreds of thousands of working San Diegans. Those hundreds of thousands of working San Diegans lost confidence in the City Council because it exercised power not specifically delegated to it.
The Second Amendment, and interpretations thereof, is within the jurisdiction of the federal and state governments. “Communities of people, in their separate and individual capacities” then, can voice their opinions through duly elected federal and state representatives. People in power are often encouraged to “say or do something” about every single issue when restraint is the better prescription.
Tomorrow, a committee of the San Diego City Council will be voting on a a resolution to support Senator Dianne Feinstein’s gun control bill. The resolution is proposed by City Council President Todd Gloria, by request of Mayor Bob Filner. It introduces partisan politics into what should be a non-partisan body of government. More importantly, it is an extra-jurisdictional item which has nothing to do with the proper role of the San Diego City Council.
Council President Gloria and I probably share somewhat similar views about Proposition 8 and our military’s nation building role in Iraq. I’m not interested in abusing his office to advance our views though. To do so would reduce the efficacy of Gloria’s legitimate role as a public official. Todd Gloria and I can work together, through our common Assembly member and respective Congress members, to advance our commonly shared views — that would be appropriate. But to leverage his office to meddle in extra-jurisdictional affairs, simply isn’t.
San Diego City Council members can inspire confidence in City government by resisting the temptation to intervene tomorrow. When asked why they opted for restraint over intervention, each should reply that it isn’t within their delegated powers.