What’s the Left-Wing Case for Federalism?

At the Volokh Conspiracy, George Mason University law professor Ilya Somin discusses a new article in the left-wing journal Democracy which urges progressives to give federalism a chance. Here’s how the author of that piece, liberal Yale law professor Heather Gerken, begins her case for “A New Progressive Federalism”:

it is a mistake to equate federalism’s past with its future. State and local governments have become sites of empowerment for racial minorities and dissenters, the groups that progressives believe have the most to fear from decentralization. In fact, racial minorities and dissenters can wield more electoral power at the local level than they do at the national. And while minorities cannot dictate policy outcomes at the national level, they can rule at the state and local level. Racial minorities and dissenters are using that electoral muscle to protect themselves from marginalization and promote their own agendas.

Read the whole article here.

As I observed in a November 2010 column, it’s beyond strange to hear so many liberals smearing federalism at the very same time that many of those same liberals embrace federalism on issues ranging from gay marriage to medical marijuana to consumer protection. Perhaps Gerken’s argument will help some of them reconcile their internal contradictions.

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  • URK||

    As a fully recovered liberal turned libertarian- I thought my mental path, and explaining it to my liberal friends would guide them to my destination. Not so- not even medical (or legal pot). They only understood FDR saving the country by going into war and the feds need to "do something." The could not fathom a Vermont becoming a bastion (cesspool?) of socialism and perhaps a New Hampshire right next door becoming a Libertarian paradise. States, to them, were for license plates only. One sized fits all Federal programs need only apply.

  • URK||

    Also- they were far more concerned about Alabama or Mississippi becoming racist religious backwaters that banned abortion . The fact that I was like- so what, fuck them then never sunk in. They needed to make those states in their image through Federal force. I then explained that goes both ways. Nope. Nothing.

  • ||

    See e.g. Tony below.

  • URK||

    I also brought up Vermont needing to opt out of Obamacare to go full tilt single payer. Still nothing.

  • Brendan||

    I've had seemingly smart liberals tell me that having one standard across the board is the right way to do things and not 50 different standards. They scoff at that notion when I point out that that's how gay marriage bans have been proposed by the fed gov.

    They also hand waive the fed driven war on drugs as simply the bad that goes with all the good.

    Each thing they think of as the 'good' could only be accomplished by the federal government, and only in the way the federal government did it. There is no alternative going forward for each new proposal, and each hypothetical past alternative isn't 100% perfect, so it's immediately dismissed.

    Even when the government gets it 100% wrong, that's waived off as "What, because the government isn't perfect, we have to just get rid of it?"

  • Brendan||

    The constitution is never a barrier. Each time, I'm accused of being obsessed wit the process and not the results. When I say that I don't automatically subscribe to 'ends justify the means' type thinking (which I've later realized is actually 'intentions justify the means'), I get anger and denial that that's what they believe.

    When I say that the states are more then administrative divisions of the federal government, I'm told with a tone of condescension and confidence that they are 100% right and I'm foolish, that the states aren't sovereign.

    After talking for a 30 or 40 minutes with someone like that and having had nearly identical discussions with other liberals, I began to embrace Ann Coulter's positions on liberals.

  • ||

    There is only a leftwing case for federalism if leftism is not a totalitarian ideology. Federalism means both sides get to have their enclaves not just one.

    I would guess a state or town as about as much chance of deviating from leftwing ideology and being left alone as Georgetown University has of not paying for contraception and being left alone.

  • o3||

    georgetown has private insurance for which staff, faculity, & students pay their own premiums.

    meme fail

  • Commentariat GOP Shill||

    georgetown has private insurance for which staff, faculity, & students pay their own premiums.

    And your point is...?

  • ||

    Georgetown is a private entity that is entitled to pay for what it wishes to.

  • Team Blue||

    We're working on fixing the problem of "private" entities, John.

  • o3||

    private entity w private insurance for which staff & students pay premiums so nobody is subsdizing anybody's birth control.

    >so rush & john's above analogy both failz.

  • ||

    Well, unless the students are paying the full cost of their premiums (which I can pretty much guarantee you they are not), then it is, in fact, being subsidized by the University.

  • ||

    Umm...has someone rediscovered why federalism was invented in the first place?

  • The Chistmas Atheist||

    Umm...has someone rediscovered why federalism was invented in the first place?

    My POV: It was a step back from the original Articles, which made the States into little more than an alliance. And that was the product of the States being suspicious of each others' various christian sects. Thus the Bill of Rights was essentially a step back toward the Articles.

  • o3||

    and 10thers need to 'splain how states rights is all better now vs the failure under the articles of confederation.

    >ooh, maybe cause states cant print em sum monies now eh?

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Just come out and say it, stOOOpid... you want state legislatures to be dissolved, and have all decisions made at the federal level. Tony feels the same way.

  • Commentariat GOP Shill||

    The fact that there are abuses of state power does not mean that the State Power Counterweight to the Federal Government is a bad idea. After all, you would certainly agree that there are abuses of power on the Federal level, and I assume you aren't calling for the Congress to be dissolved.

  • Commentariat GOP Shill||

    I'll just reply to myself because I have more thoughts:

    The States are a check on the powers of the Federal Government. Even though the Congress or the President and even the Supreme Court can and have done things that violate the rights of the national citizenry, that does not mean that we should throw the whole thing out and subordinate ourselves to the nearest strongman. The States should be thought of as a quasi-fourth-branch.

  • The Chistmas Atheist||

    The States are a check on the powers of the Federal Government. ... The States should be thought of as a quasi-fourth-branch.

    They were. Direct election of Senators ended that.

  • The Christmas Atheist||

    Wow. A typo in my own handle.
    Do I get to blame this on the arthritis?

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    No. Maybe it is God punishing you, you fucking heathen!

  • ||

    Damn right. Punish the unbelievers, oh great and chaotic Discordia! Smite them!

  • Tony||

    I'll accept that there are some issues that do not cross state or local borders and thus should be dealt with by those local governments. Now will the libertarians/neoconfederates accept that there may even be global issues that must be handled by global governance? Lines on a map are not barriers to pollution, and interconnected economies require the efficiency of common rules.

  • ||

    Tony that is gold plated stupid even for you. Think about what you just said. Because everyone agrees that some things don't cross borders, we must agree that some things cross all boarders? Ah no.

    And stop blowing smoke up our ass. The liberal jihad against Catholic employers is proof that no one will ever be left alone to live their lives if liberals have their way.

  • Tony||

    So in a globally interconnected economy, there are no issues that cross national borders? What are you saying?

    The "liberal jihad against Catholic employers" could also be characterized as a perfectly reasonable accommodation for religious institutions without letting people opt out of any law or rule they want (such as healthcare coverage rules) just because they have a stated personal problem with it. FOX News rots the brain dude. It's like you guys just pretend that Obama didn't make a compromise on that issue that said that employers don't have to pay for the coverage.

  • ||

    Obama made no compromise. His compromise was, "we will have the insurance companies hide it in the bill". That is not a compromise.

    Face it Tony, there isn't a single aspect of anyone's lives or beliefs that you and your ilk don't think ought to be under the control of the federal government.

    It is your right to be a totalitarian scumbag. But you owe to yourself to be honest about it.

  • Tony||

    So a compromise to your mind, like a good Republican, is to give everything the most extreme elements want and then shut the fuck up, I gather?

  • ||

    My compromise is for the government to leave people alone.

  • Tony||

    So that skyfairy believing CEOs can impose their authoritarian will on employees, right?

  • ||

    Yes dipshit. Just like they can impose their will on what time people show up to work and how much money they make. If you don't like it, don't work there.

  • Tony||

    Fine, if you don't like a certain law of the land, don't live here.

  • Carston||

    Which is why we are trying to make the federal govt actually follow federalism, and the 10th Amendment.

    Federal govt only does national defense and federal courts, while all else that the people decide the government needs to handle, is done at state or local levels. Then, if you dont like what the city/county/state does, vote with your feet.

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    if you don't like a certain law of the land, don't live here.

    Why don't you take your own advice and move the fuck out of the USA to one of your superior socialist utopias?

  • sarcasmic||

    If you don't like it, don't work there.

    Are you implying that there is a difference between CEOs imposing their will on employees and government imposing its will on citizens because employees can choose to work somewhere else?

    You forget that when you were born you explicitly gave government your permission to impose its will on you by not being born somewhere else!

    Social contract!

  • T||

    Still wiating on that countersigned copy, sarcasmic. Until I get it, fuck the social contract. A contract one party can revise at will with no recourse isn't a contract.

  • sarcasmic||

    T - You signed it when you didn't move away and renounce your citizenship.

    Not doing something is the same as doing something.

    Inaction is action.

  • Commentariat GOP Shill||

    As totally flawed as the "social contract" concept is, it is miles better than the Divine Right of Kings or Because I Said So or any other theory of why governments should be permitted to govern.

  • sarcasmic||

    When "shall not be infringed" in practice means "shall be infringed under arbitrary circumstances to be determined at the whim of men in a black robes", or "shall make no law" in practice means "shall make laws under arbitrary circumstances to be determined at the whim of men in a black robes", Rule of Law may as well be Divine Right of Kings.

  • Tony||

    It's not my fault that people happen to usually be born in a specific jurisdiction and not on some ethereal plane from which they get to choose which government they want to live under.

    Usually when facts of life make your worldview inconvenient, you alter your worldview.

  • Zeb||

    Yeah, Tony, it's really hard to move to a different state. Only millionaires can do that.

  • ||

    Actually, with the divorce rate what it is, parents need to stay with their children or lose custody rights. So, yes, moving to another state really isn't possible in today's family values standards.

  • ||

    Because everyone is divorced with children, right?

  • There's one thing...||

    Face it Tony, there isn't a single aspect of anyone's lives or beliefs that you and your ilk don't think ought to be under the control of the federal government.

    Ass fucking. Tony's a libertarian on that. Except when it comes to paying for the diseases he catches, of course.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    Though the sentiment is pretty much right on, I'm pretty sure the utter dickishness of this comment is.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    So in a globally interconnected economy, there are no issues that cross national borders?

    Diplomats! How the fuck do they work?!

  • Suki||

    To hell with diplomats, how about free markets.

  • ||

    This is why I call you out Tony. John disagrees with you so it automatically means he watches FOX and is a closet republican. I think you just like being contrarian. I bet if John came on here and said something that you adamantly agree with you'd call him an MSNBC watching democrat.

    What's that? You wouldn't even respond? Shut the fuck up.

  • Tony||

    Surprise! John wasting more tax payer money, commenting on blogs when he should be working. You know, you may actually make me rethink my position re: public employees. Maybe they are all layabouts who can't get a real job.

  • ||

    Sorry the truth hurts so much Tony. But we only beat you with it for your own good.

  • Tony||

    I only want the government to micromanage your life for your own good.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Spoof, but truthful.

  • NotSure||

    World government, what could possibly go wrong ?

  • Matrix||

    We just need TOP MEN™, and everything will be okay.

  • ||

    No, they must be TOP TOP MEN™; that's TWO tops.

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    Now will the libertarians/neoconfederates accept that there may even be global issues that must be handled by global governance?

    Yup. See interstate and multi-state compacts; treaties.

    There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of them out there. Individual, separate governments working together towards a common goal, but not as a common government.

    Who could have imagined such a thing might be possible?

  • ||

    You heard it here first everyone. Tony wants a One World Government.

  • The Chistmas Atheist||

    Perhaps Gerken’s argument will help some of them reconcile their internal contradictions.

    I don't think they're looking for help with their contradictions any more than I am with mine.

  • Commentariat GOP Shill||

    If you respond to Tony-troll, you get what you deserve.

  • ||

    I know. I fed it.

  • Commentariat GOP Shill||

    I don't think all dissenting voices are trolls, but to heckles us as "neoconfederates" is a clarion call for responses and nothing more.

  • ||

    Tony sometimes isn't a troll. He tries. He is such really stupid and narrow minded. He is not trolling. He really is that stupid.

  • Commentariat GOP Shill||

    Sometimes, John, I think that your "bless-your-heart" condescension to our resident morons is the best way to deal with them.

  • ||

    It's a sockpuppet, John, designed specifically to suck you in. If you fall for it, you're being stupid. It is designed to press your buttons, designed for you to go "oh my god that's so stupid I have to respond".

    Don't, and you win.

  • ||

    Maybe so. But every time I think Tony is a sock puppet and can't be real because no one is that stupid, I read the comments at Slate. And that gets me thinking he is real again.

  • Commentariat GOP Shill||

    Come on John. He said "neoconfederates". It's the same kind of thing MNG does to push your buttons, and you respond every time.

  • ||

    He's not real, stop feeding it. Seriously, it's idiotic to respond to it.

  • o3||

    win what exactly epi?

  • robc||

    As much as I love screwing up the occassional joke handle, registration systems get rid of this kind of sock puppetry. And make banninations so much easier.

    And makes threading work, as new posts will be marked as such.

  • Tony||

    You posts are more interesting when all you do is repeat TEAM RED TEAM BLUE over and over like you're making some great discovery.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    It bears repeating because it's true, Tony... both Teams suck in the giving-a-shit department. They're both all about the power.

  • Tony||

    Obviously Epi had a bad experience with teams in elementary school gym class, and his worldview inevitably followed.

  • o3||

    so epi was that guy left over after picking skins vs shirts?

    'splains alot

  • Mr. FIFY||

    You're only saying that because you defend your Team, Tony... right or wrong.

  • Suki||

    They never go away if you feed them.

    OT: That B. Hussein Obama poll we talked about yesterday - most of the people polled who said Obama was Muslim were non-Republican.

  • ||

    They don't go away.

    Nevermind if we didn't argue with "trolls" who the fuck would we talk to in here? I'd rather us not be an echo chamber.

  • Tony||

    A substantive smackdown that's twice as lucid as anything you have to say when I've barely finished my first mug of coffee?

  • sarcasmic||

    If I had coffee in my mouth when I read that it would have ended up on the monitor!

    Substantive smackdown?

    Lucid?

    That's hilarious!

    Will you be here all week?

  • Tony||

    No one can match the lucidity of your endless supply of randomly chosen freshman logic vocab words.

  • Ska||

    I think I'd rather watch Bill Murray sing Star Wars for a week.

  • fish||

    NOW....I'm spitting coffee!

  • ||

    It's cute that the left thinks it in any way supports "dissenters". Hey, go protest an Obama speech, and tell me about that again.

  • o3||

    which "left"?

    maybe sum "theys" would help eh?

  • ChrisO||

    Progressivism is, at its heart, about control, not policy. Thus, control over a larger region is inherently preferable to control over a smaller region.

  • sarcasmic||

    It's about both.

    Progressives love policy. The more policy the better. Because policy means not having to think or make a decision. Just do what the policy says.

    Obey.

  • sarcasmic||

    it’s beyond strange to hear so many liberals smearing federalism at the very same time that many of those same liberals embrace federalism

    What is strange about that?

    Hypocrisy and doublethink are liberal S.O.P.

  • ||

    Hypocrisy and doublethink are liberal S.O.P.very common human failings

    Let's be fair about this.

  • Zeb||

    Yeah, this.

  • ||

    Leftists pretty much have no interest in policy/political variation (dare we call it "diversity") for its own sake. Unlike, say, libertarians, who recognize that variation and diversity will naturally arise when government power is strictly limited.

    If you have no philosophical opposition to pretty much unlimited government power, then its hard to see why you wouldn't want the central government to have that power.

    It seems to me that a leftist would only want to protect "dissenters" against the national government if the leftist feared the national government would not tow the leftist lion. And their confidence in their ability to control the national government seems unlimited; leftists never seem to understand the implications of Me today, you tomorrow.

  • Brendan||

    They sure don't. The idea that 'their freedom is your freedom' is also completely lost on them.

    To them (person A), there's always an non-logical, emotionally driven reason why person B should be denied their rights, but 'I' (Person A) should be allowed it because I'm not causing a problem.

    They never get that what they can do to their neighbor, that neighbor or another neighbor can do to them.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    You blew your wad with the "libertarian/neoconfederate" bullshit slur, Tony.

    Fuck off, you AND your one-world-government jackoff material.

  • NotSure||

    Its a spoof, he does not really want world government, since that would mean that India and China would be the two main decision makers.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Liberals love the Chinese government model - though they probably loved the way it USED to work, back before they started giving dribs and drabs of freedom to their citizens...

  • NotSure||

    Actually what I was getting at was that since China and India have the biggest populations they would also have the right to make the decisions, Tony could never openly defend America running the world government simply because they had the most money, that would contradict everything he tried to argue for.

  • Suki||

    They never gave any freedom to their slaves. "Freedom" of which shoes to wear from the dorm to the factory is no freedom at all.

  • ||

    When did this become the Rush Limbaugh channel?

  • T||

    If we're neoconfederates, does that mean we get a battle flag and uniforms? Because from my aesthetic viewpoint, the various Confederate battle flags and the grey uniforms were much better looking than the Union versions.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Mint juleps and slaves for everyone!

    /sarc

  • ||

    I thought it was "Mint juleps and slaves for the white males. Miniature confederate flags for everyone else."

  • Mr. FIFY||

    I missed that meeting. I was buying a new pair of spats and had a barbershop quartet practice session.

  • KDN||

    Agreed. That's why I'm hoping Columbus moves an AHL team to Richmond and calls it the grey jackets. Who could possibly object?

  • Suki||

    I am not becoming a Democrat again for anything.

  • Hugh Akston||

    It's a widely-believed fact that federalism is only for people who want to reinstate slavery.

  • ||

    As well as banning abortion, making Christianity the national religion, and forcing schools to say the pledge every morning.

  • Some Guy||

    As I observed in a November 2010 column, it’s beyond strange to hear so many liberals smearing federalism at the very same time that many of those same liberals embrace federalism on issues ranging from gay marriage to medical marijuana to consumer protection.

    Let me explain it to you. Pretty much everyone is in favor of federalism for issues where the federal government disagrees with them, and against it for issues where it agrees with them.

  • Dylan||

    All you need to know about what liberals really want is contained in the quoted paragraph:

    "they can RULE at the state and local level."

    emphasis added

  • led||

    Well if you've read the article, it's about Minority Rule versus Majority Rule. The article is all sorts of uncomfortable, such as it saying that what we term as modern segregation in districts can actually elicit more progressive change and that by using words like "diversity" we actually hinder progressive change by maintaining the minority remain the minority.

  • Procrustes||

    Come lie in my bed...it's soooo comfortable.

  • FTFY||

    it’s beyond strange completely typical to hear so many liberals smearing federalism at the very same time that many of those same liberals embrace federalism

    win by any means necessary

  • Dick Fitzwell||

    In fact, racial minorities and dissenters can wield more electoral power at the local level than they do at the national.

    Isn't this true of everyone? Every citizen has more control over gov't as you get closer to home. Right?

  • mad libertarian guy||

    The rest of us don't matter. So long as minorities have electoral power, fuck everyone else.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    As I observed in a November 2010 column, it’s beyond strange to hear so many liberals smearing federalism at the very same time that many of those same liberals embrace federalism on issues ranging from gay marriage to medical marijuana to consumer protection.

    Is it really "beyond strange?"

    Doublethink is a staple in Team Politics.

  • protefeed||

    Perhaps Gerken’s argument will help some of them reconcile their internal contradictions.

    What's contradictory about wanting federalism when it helps your pet causes, and not wanting it when it helps Team (insert color here)?

    Loathsome, yes, but not contradictory.

  • Yup||

    It always seemd natural to me to understand that with the smallest federal governmental impact possible, towns and communities would be able to form whatever the fuck they wanted to form to get the job done according to the wishes of their population. This town wants communism? No problem, bro. But you have to let others partake in politics as they see fit as well. Libertarianism allows for any body to create any type of government its wants. This, I think, should be shouted by any libertairan leaning candidates. We don't want to control you, and we don't want you to control us either. Decentralize it, form whatever you want, provided it does not harm others.

  • Sanjuro Tsubaki||

    The left-wing case for federalism is "socialism in one state", but I haven't heard it espoused yet.

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