Goldwater Democrats, Take 3

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The Chicago Tribune's Steve Chapman noted the federalism switcheroo late last month:

For the last 70 years, conservatives and liberals have argued whether assorted powers should be centralized in Washington or entrusted to the states. The debate is still going on, but with a strange twist. Somewhere along the line, the two factions switched sides. The result is like watching a version of "The Odd Couple" in which Jack Lemmon is the slob and Walter Matthau is the neat freak.

Chapman cites the No Child Left Behind Act, and opposition to it, as a prime example. His conclusion is hopeful:

Still, if liberals keep championing the rightful powers of the states, they may develop a lasting attachment. Lately, in two cases before the Supreme Court, they've been telling Washington busybodies to take a long walk off a short pier.

One case concerns a federal raid on a Californian who was growing marijuana for medical use, as allowed under California law. The other involves Oregon's Death with Dignity Act, which lets doctors prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill patients, and which the Justice Department wants to overrule.

In these instances, conservatives want faraway bureaucrats butting into local affairs, while liberals say that maybe Barry Goldwater was right about the dangers of big government.

NEXT: "It was such a safe, predictable world"

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  1. Still, if liberals keep championing the rightful powers of the states, they may develop a lasting attachment. Lately, in two cases before the Supreme Court, they’ve been telling Washington busybodies to take a long walk off a short pier.

    HA! I’ll believe it when I see it. The same was said 20 years ago when the Republicans were the minority party. When the pendulum swings back to the Democrats I’ll lay very good money on the fact that they’ll conveniently forget about their newfound Federalism just as the Republicans will rediscover theirs.

    Majority parties love wielding the power they have, minority parties love complaining about it. It always was it it always shall be.

  2. The National Conference of State Legislatures may have said the act is unconstitutional, but the report also demanded substantially more money under the Act, and substantially less accountability for the money.

    According to the report, if those requirements are met, the constitutional problems magically disappear.

  3. Any chance this thread will generate a more interesting discussion than the last 20 posts about Federalist Democrats?

    Majority parties love wielding the power they have, minority parties love complaining about it. It always was it it always shall be.

    Nope.

  4. I think that Libs should support Dems in this. If we can get ANY states’ rights back, said states will be likely to want to keep them when the balance of power shifts again.

    The Governers, if they were smart, woulkd band together and oppose the Fed at every turn, if for no other reason than that they would still be useful for something.

  5. Although the GOP quickly lost their love for federalism once they obtained unified control of the federal government, they spent enough time in the wilderness to attract a caucus of genuinely principled federalists alongside the fair-weather federalists of any minority party.

    (By “time in the wilderness” I refer to the fact that from the 1950’s through 1994 they never controlled the House and only sporadically controlled the Senate, and so even GOP Presidents had to face opposition from Congressional Democrats.)

    For now, the Dems are only fair-weather federalists who want federalism when the big bad feds disagree with them but are otherwise cool with a big central gov’t. The only way for a significant caucus of genuine federalists and fiscal conservatives to cultivate inside the Democratic Party is for them to spend a long time in the wilderness while the GOP remains entrenched, corrupt, drunk on power, and loose with the checkbook.

    I’m not sure I’m willing to pay that price just to see a significant caucus of genuinely libertarian Democrats emerge. Even worse, at the end of that process the GOP would no longer have a significant libertarian caucus, and so we wouldn’t even be able to claim the benefit of having 2 parties with libertarian caucuses instead of just 1.

    So, basically, I’d like some divided government please.

  6. Thoreau, even if a long period “out in the wilderness” were to create a caucus of federalists among the Democrats, why would it magically make them libertarians?

  7. Good point, Eric. I guess I should say that a long period out in the wilderness might lead to a caucus of Democrats who care about limited government at the national level, and hence might be mistaken for libertarians by those who only pay attention to national politics.

  8. Stop with the Federalist Democrat agitating already. It feels a little desperate to me.

    Start counting core issues of the Democrats, and tell me how many can be handled by letting states do what they want without Federal interference. How about almost none? Stronger national education? More free drugs for seniors? More free drugs for everyone else? Stronger EPA? Gun control? Preferences for minorities?

    Democrats are Not-Republicans, ergo it makes perfect sense that in those areas where we all know the Republicans aren’t Federalists, the Democrats will incidentally appear to be.

  9. Good point, Eric. I guess I should say that a long period out in the wilderness might lead to a caucus of Democrats who care about limited government at the national level, and hence might be mistaken for libertarians by those who only pay attention to national politics.

    I don’t think you have to even resemble a libertarian to be interested in Constitutional restructions and federalism – some conservatives handily do that.

    It’d probably be a good thing if there were significant Democratic voices who cared about the Constitution beyond selected parts of the Bill of Rights, but it would take some long interregum before that could have a chance of developing – and I’d expect them to move in quite the opposite way.

  10. Apparently, there are others who are encouraging Democrats to employ the Tom DeLay approach to power-grabbing.

    Matthew Yglesias has a post on the American Prospect’s TAPPED about amending the California constitution to have all state Representative delegates be state-wide elected. Presumably he wants this to result in a Democrat deathgrip on power.

    What the hell is in the water over at the American Prospect? What DeLay did was wrong because it’s wrong, not because it was in service to the wrong party.

    LINK:
    http://www.prospect.org/weblog/archives/2005/03/index.html#005666

  11. I say “others,” to contrast the rise of so-called “Goldwater Democrats.”

  12. What, “all the other ones”? 🙂

  13. Eric,

    So it seems.

  14. I should be clear — I don’t think “Goldwater Democrats” quite yet, um, exist. I *wish* they did, though even then I’d have no confidence that they’d stick to those principles if they ever re-acquire power. (I also have no confidence that Republicans will stick to their long-professed principles, either.)

  15. Jason makes a good point. This Democrats as Federalists talk is getting a little nausiating. Democrats are NOT Federalists. They oppose the No Child Left Behind Act not because it comes from Big Brother, but because it involves testing and so called accountability rather than more money for the teachers union. They side with Oregon not out of respect for states rights, but out of respect for the particular thing Oregon is doing. You really think it would be about “states rights” if this was about abortion legislation and not euthinasia legislation? The Republicans have within their tent a group of people who are legitimate Federalists (the Disband the Department of Education Wing). The Democrats have no such minority within their tent. And the Federalist minority within the Republican tent seems to be getting smaller and smaller every year. All in all, there is nothing to be optomistic about.

  16. I’m with Scot. All we have amongst the Democrats are Federalists of Opportunity, i.e. they only like federalism when it suits them on their issues. Truthfully, that’s most of the federalists in the GOP as well, but the GOP boasts a small (and, sadly, shrinking) caucus of more principled federalists. The only way such a caucus could take root in the Democratic Party is if the GOP enjoys a long period of corrupt hegemony.

    I’m not exactly excited at such a prospect. Corrupt hegemony is corrupt hegemony no matter which party label it wears.

  17. I thought I had something clever to say but instead I’ll just say that Scot is absolutely right.

  18. Scot is right (and both major parties are evil, because most people are evil–if not actively, passively).

  19. All we have amongst the Democrats are Federalists of Opportunity, i.e. they only like federalism when it suits them on their issues. Truthfully, that’s most of the federalists in the GOP as well, but the GOP boasts a small (and, sadly, shrinking) caucus of more principled federalists.

    So the decision is between Federalists of Opportunity and Federalists of Ignorance?

    I hate to remind you people of this, but libertarianism isn’t neccessarily about Federalism. To me, at least, it’s the pursuit of individual liberty. As a result you can make the distinction that Federalism, to allow individuals to enslave blacks or to control a woman’s womb or to beatup on gays, is wrong, while supporting the fact that individuals should be able to decide where and how to school their children without requiring the Feds to have a say in the matter.

  20. Whenever I have seen any of these recent threads on Federalism, I wonder to myself how man LIBERTARIANS support federalism…if it contradicts their policy preferences?

    How about you thoreau? Do you oppose roe v. wade?

  21. How about you thoreau? Do you oppose roe v. wade?

    Actually, yes. I’ve gone back and forth on abortion throughout my life. I haven’t always been a libertarian, and even while calling myself a libertarian I’ve struggled with the abortion question. The one thing that I’ve always thought is that Roe vs. Wade makes no sense, because the Constitution seems to be silent on the issue or issues involved.

    I know, I know, everybody here probably has his or her notion of what the salient issues are, and if you want to you can conveniently find answers on those issues in the Constitution (or, more accurately, your interpretation of it), but most of those answers are rather indirect. And when a lot of generally decent and intelligent people disagree on what exactly the salient issues are, that’s a sign that maybe the Constitution can’t provide absolute guidance on this issue. So it will have to be decided by the legislative process.

    As to federalism as a general matter, I’m a pragmatic federalist: I don’t view it as an absolute and sacred principle, but I am willing to accept that, for the most part, decentralization is a good thing. I’m willing to accept a certain amount of bad law-making from the states as the price of decentralization, although there are lines that should not be crossed. Now, where to draw those lines is a thorny question, and I might not draw them in the same places as others, but I do accept the basic notion that states should, in many cases, be allowed to enact bad laws.

  22. You can be all in favor of abortion rights, and think Roe is a terrible decision.

    Any time your appeal to the Constitution rests on the emanations of a penumbra, just give it up and admit the Consitution is silent on the matter.

    The Roe decision did enormous damage to the political and civic culture in this country, ranging from creating a festering wound in the body politic that has poisoned both parties and political discourse, to enshrining the Court as the legislature of last resort.

    Dreadful decision, even if you think women should be able to abort to their heart’s content.

  23. Well since you asked, thought I’d weigh in on the libertarians view of Federalism issue (and I mean philosophically libertarian, not LP)..

    I would generally agree with thoreau on this in that I’m a pragmatic federalist that sees it as a useful tool for preventing too much centralized power in Washington (in theory, though no longer in practice) but not an end in itself. As such, I would typically prefer a federalist result even when I would personally disagree with the law in question (Roe would be a good example, as pointed out by R C Dean).

    This is primarily for two reasons. First, I think it’s easier to oppose laws on a local level than on a national one. Second, and more importantly, with 50 states each dealing with the issue in question it increases the chance that some states will be better than others. That allows for the possibility of moving to the more favorable environment and if enough others feel the same way it may force the more egregiously offending state to reconsider it’s over-reaching.

    That means that I certainly do not give a green light to whatever is done at the state level simply on some federalist principle – not even close. I would prefer a drastically reduced government here in my state. It’s just that I would prefer not to use the federal government to achieve that on any one issue because the overall cost of giving Washington that much power is worse in the long run.

    Anyway that’s this libertarian’s two cents on federalism.

  24. Brian-

    The ability to move in response to lack of freedom is easier said than done. However, the ability to learn from policy experiments in other states and bring those comparisons to bear in policy debates is a very realistic advantage of federalism. Even Bill Clinton once referred to the states as the “laboratories of democracy.” No, I’m not saying he’s a federalist hero by any stretch of the imagination, but he made a good point there.

  25. Yes, I certainly agree that moving is easier said than done for any given individual. I was thinking more in the aggregate long run and of the example of companies leaving states with onerous regulations. But your point is well taken that if states see another state prospering that may be incentive to change.

    And, ti looks like the current administration is trying to make Clinton look like a federalist hero.

  26. Federalism exists as a check on the power of the Federal and the state governments. There is nothing inherently less dangerous about either the government in D.C. or in your statehouse.

  27. Gary,

    I agree completely, which is why I’m only a pragmatic fedralist, for the reasons above, not for some inherent benefit of fedralism.

  28. WSDave: [The Governers, if they were smart, woulkd band together and oppose the Fed at every turn, if for no other reason than that they would still be useful for something.]

    Not. If the Govs opposed the Fed they’d have to raise their own taxes to pay for their schemes instead of getting “free” federal funding.

    Thoreau: [However, the ability to learn from policy experiments in other states and bring those comparisons to bear in policy debates is a very realistic advantage of federalism.]

    I think you’re presuming that “learning” will trump “policy.” Consider that the Democrat who was “reasonable” on gun control, Dean, said that Maryland needed tough gun control because of its high crime rate, despite the fact that the state has prided itself in having the toughest gun control of the fifty states for two or three decades and obviously still has one of the highest crime rates.

    There seemed to be a disconnect with the other part of his statement, that Vermont could be allowed to have lax gun control because it has a very low crime rate.

    The other Dems ran (stealthily) on the platform that all fifty states need to adopt Maryland’s enlightened gun control policies.

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