Why the Philadelphia Eagles Need a Little Federalism

by J. Wesley Leckrone

Assistant Professor, Political Science

Widener University

The end of the Andy Reid Era in Philadelphia cannot come soon enough. Perhaps the current sad state of the Eagles could have been avoided if Jeffrey Lurie would have heeded the philosophy of the Founders that designed the American governmental system.

As Jeff McLane noted in yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer:

In 1999, when Lurie last looked for a head coach, he had director of football operations Tom Modrak and team president Joe Banner to aid him. The new coach would have to defer to Modrak in personnel matters and Banner when it came to contracts and the salary cap.

Now most of the power is consolidated in Andy Reid’s hands and the responsibility for the decline of the franchise rests in a pattern of ill conceived decisions that he has made over the last several years. Reid made the decision to bring Michael Vick on as the franchise quarterback. Reid hired a defensive line coach with a gimmicky “wide-nine” formation before hiring a defensive coordinator. He then promoted his offensive line coach to defensive coordinator despite the fact that Juan Castillo had no defensive experience in the NFL. Castillo was replaced by another gimmicky offensive line coach, Howard Mudd, who’s scheme has failed to protect the quarterback. The list goes on….

John Boruk of CSN Philly defines the problem:

Clearly, the on-the-field product has suffered as a result of poor drafting, bad free-agent signings and an overall lack of identity, and the dual responsibilities Reid currently juggles should be separated moving forward.  Giving one person that much power and authoritative control hasn’t produced the desired results.

The Founders warned against such concentration of power and designed a system of government that would prevent one person from obtaining too much decision-making capability over the country. James Madison described these safeguards in Federalist Paper #51. The first method of dispersing powers is adding checks and balances to our system of separation of powers. Subsequently each of the three branches of government (legislative, executive, judiciary) are given the power to impede the activities of the others. Madison argues that

it is evident that each department should have a will of its own; and consequently should be so constituted that the members of each should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of the members of the others.

The Founders realized that separation of powers was not enough because over time one branch could consolidate power over the others. Consequently they put several checks in place to avoid this scenario. Madison states

the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others….Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place.

Federalism provides the second method to prevent the consolidation of power. Madison makes the argument that while

all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.

The problem for the Philadelphia Eagles was that they initially created a system that divided power between equal and rival interests within their decision-making apparatus. However, as Andy Reid achieved success Jeffrey Lurie was lulled into believing that the head coach should administer the reigns of the organization with little or no checks. Reid installed staff dedicated to his football philosophy that were unwilling to expend their capital to challenge him because they were his proteges. Madison specifically warned against this:

It is equally evident, that the members of each department should be as little dependent as possible on those of the others, for the emoluments annexed to their offices. Were the executive magistrate, or the judges, not independent of the legislature in this particular, their independence in every other would be merely nominal.

The solution is to FIRE ANDY and create a new system of organizational governance that divides coaching, personnel, and contract negotiations into separate and rival interests. Of course, that could lead to the mischief of factions. But that’s an argument for another day when we examine Federalist #10.

The Founders and State Representation in Congress

A number of commentators are supporting reforms designed to give state legislatures more authority over their congressional delegations. These are rooted in a concern that the federal government has preempted too much state authority and imposed expensive unfunded mandates. In a future post I will examine the most popular of these proposals: the repeal of the 17th Amendment (direct election of U.S. Senators). However, to start the conversation about the utility of potential reforms I thought it might be interesting to return to some of the Founders’ thoughts on who should have the most control over members of Congress: the states or the representatives’ constituents.

One interesting insight into this question is a debate over whether members of the new “national legislature” should be compensated by the states or the new federal government. The following deliberations come from James Madison’s Notes on the Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787.

Supporters of letting the states provide compensation argued that there were different standards of living throughout the country and that individual states would be the best judges of a salary. A less benign argument claimed that the interests of the poorer states would be different than those of the “old States” and the latter should not have to “pay the expenses of men who would be employed in thwarting their measures and interests”.

This rationale that Congress would be nothing more than a battleground for the naked interests of individual state legislatures was rejected by the rest of the Convention.  Edmund Randolph (VA) argued that “if the States were to pay the members of the National Legislature, a dependence would be created that would vitiate the whole System. The whole nation has an interest in the attendance & services of the members.” James Wilson (PA) “thought it of great moment that the members of the National Government should be left as independent as possible of the State Governments in all respects.” Alexander Hamilton (NY) concurred and “was strenuous against making the National Council dependent on the Legislative rewards of the States. Those who pay are the masters of those who are paid.” Alexander Hamilton distinguished between “the feelings and views of the people – and the Governments of the States arising from the personal interest and official inducements which must render the latter unfriendly to the General Government” (italics in original).

The aforementioned comments are derived from the debate about pay for the House of Representatives. What about the state-based Senate whose members were originally chosen by state legislatures? An amendment to have Senator’s salaries funded by the states was rejected by the Convention.  James Madison (VA) argued that this would make the Senate “mere Agents & Advocates of State interests & views, instead of being the impartial umpires & Guardians of justice and general Good.”

The debate over pay is only one aspect of the Founder’s vision for state representation in Congress. However, it shows that they envisioned a national legislature that would rise above the parochial interests of individual state legislatures and deliberate on a common good for the whole country. The House was designed to respond to the needs of its citizens, rather than individual state legislatures, and even the state-based Senate was expected to be objective when considering conflicts between states.