Why Federalism Matters

Hmm. Not sure this blogging hiatus thing is going well, but … I had another thought on the election.

Right now, a lot of the liberal echosphere is in a tizzy because Trump, with a Republican Congress, might undo a lot of the things that Obama has done. I think such panic should be reserved until he actually, you know, does stuff. Right now, all we have are rumors of potential cabinet appointments (some of which, I agree, are alarming).

But … I do understand what they’re on about. Much of Obama’s legacy, such as it is, is fragile. But that’s in part because of the way he bypassed the process. The Iran Deal and the Paris deal, whatever you think of them, can be undone because they were never ratified by Congress. TPP can be rejected because Obama never bothered to get it through Congress. Obamacare could be undone because it was passed through reconciliation and has serious problems.

But here’s the thing: a lot of this “progress” could have been insulated from Trump had it been done at the state level. You want cap-and-trade? Try it out in your state. Socialized medicine? You can try, although Vermont and Colorado both rejected it decisively. Protections for LGBT Americans? Do it at the state level and Trump can’t touch it. Radley Balko has a great article in the WaPo about how criminal justice reform at the federal level may be dead, but is moving forward on the state level. And really, if mass incarceration is what worries you, the states are where you should be working since most prisoners are confined at the state level. Free college? Well, California once guaranteed free tuition at its universities. No reason it couldn’t do it again if balanced its books and got costs under control.

States can address police misconduct. States can address poverty. The only things states can’t address are foreign relations (trade, immigration, treaties) which are a federal concern.

You know why the Republican Party is so strong right now, controlling most of the states and Congress? Because they’ve been doing things at the state level. I don’t agree with all of the things they’ve done (e.g., abortion restrictions). But in doing so, they have built up formidable state political machines. And that has paid off not only in state and federal elections but in creating a deep bench of potential president candidates that could have run in 2020 had Trump lost (and will run in 2024).

The Democrats got lazy, too convinced that Obama was their deliverer and that they would control Congress and the White House forever. They thought they could deliver policy from on high. If they really want a “legacy” they need to embrace federalism. There are fifty states where they can try out their brand of progressivism. And most of it can’t be touched by Donald Trump or Paul Ryan or anyone else.

Federalism. It’s a good thing. And as a conservative-libertarian, I’m happy to devolve as much power to the states as the Left wants.

Update: A great tweet-storm from Iowahawk says this better than I could:

(For those of you not on Twitter, click that tweet and scroll down to read the whole thing.)

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