Ah, federalism! Debate over the appropriate balance of power between states and the federal government has been a mainstay of American politics for much of our history, of course. So, is this topic another one of David’s civics 101 discussions, or is something big and new in the field of federalism?
Big and new, and most people don’t know it. In our hyper-polarized politics both sides often champion federalism. Yeah, they often do it just opportunistically, like when the other side has power in Washington and a state is doing something they like. (See the blue state marijuana or red state abortion debates.) In everyday use, certainly, federalism is more of a political marketing buzzword than a philosophy of government.
But, it’s really more than that. In the last 20 years, federalism has been re-animated as a legal and political philosophy, first by the Right in the 1990s and now by the Left. In the ’90s (and a bit before) conservatives acquired enough control of the courts to make some inroads into limiting federal power over the states, even as liberals managed to expand federal reach in health care, environmental, and education policies. More recently, liberals have embraced federalism to justify states’ liberalization on culture war issues like gay marriage and also on some “blue state” economic policies. And, as we discussed recently, Tea Party states governments have created their mirror images, and far
I’ll open on Monday by trying to sum up where we stand on federalism issues and how we got here. Then, we can debate the notion of whether more state and less federal power is the answer to our polarized society.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- What is federalism? Is it “states’ rights,” or something else?
— How is federalism justified by reference to the Constitution and its benefits to our country?
— Is federalism a coherent legal or political philosophy, or a convenient justification for the policy outcomes people want?
- History, legal: How important has federalism been in American law in the last 20 years? How have the Rehnquist and Roberts Courts advanced federalism?
- History, results: What’s changed in the balance of power between the Feds and the states, in terms of
- Regulation of the economy
- The social safety net,
- Culture war issues, and
- Other major areas, like education policy?
- Is more federalism the answer to our polarized country’s political stalemate?
- Should progressives embrace it? Should conservatives?
- What is “federalism” and its U.S. history? (Wiki – sorry)
- Federalism is popular – at least in principle: The public wants decentralized government more than it used to.
- But, is federalism just used opportunistically? Recommended.
- Conservatives say:
- Let the culture wars be decided state-by-state. Recommended
- Stop smearing the term; federalism is good for the country. (Reason Mag.)
- Liberals should embrace federalism:
- [Added – long, but the best single link] Federalism is a must in a diverse country like ours. It’s even the way forward in immigration policy!
- Federalism is good for liberalism if it’s about empowering local governments.
- Or [link fixed] constraining concentrations of private power. (long 16pp pdf) Recommended.
- No, liberals should oppose federalism.
- It’s being used to justify “repealing the 20th century.” Recommended
- It rarely leads to progressive outcomes. Recommended
- Federalism makes many of our problems worse and/or unsolvable.
- And, states make lousy “laboratories of democracy” these days because state Dem/GOP parties just mimic their national parties – they don’t experiment much anymore.
Next Week: The Future of Progressivism after Barack Obama (!!)