Friday, November 12, 2004

Federalism, if you can stomach it 

All the talk of secession is vaguely amusing rubbish, of course, but Nick Schulz writes about another idea whose time has come - at least for the liberals:

"In a democracy, where 50 percent plus 1 takes home all the political marbles, there are bound to be people who strongly dislike political outcomes. In a nation as large as the United States, that means millions and millions of people won't like the outcome.

"There is a way around the disunity problem and it's a solution the nation's Founders devised. It's called federalism - devolving political decision-making as close to voters as possible, to the states and local municipalities. It's an old idea, but one that might be rejuvenated in the wake of this election...

"During the 20th century, political liberals have generally opposed federalism and devolution, preferring Washington and the federal judiciary to impose liberal policies on the entire country, from abortion rights to environmental policy to gun control laws. That's fine for them when liberals are in power. But what about when conservatives become firmly entrenched?"
Indeed, but federalism provides only a partial consolation for the liberals - after all, some of today's most hotly contested areas of politics (foreign policy, defence, homeland security) would still remain the exclusive domain of the two GOP-controlled branches of the government. Affecting some social policy outcomes at the local level is the best that the liberals can hope to achieve under the federalist paradigm, whether it's the question of stem cell research (successful in California) or same-sex marriage (unsuccessful anywhere else). While seeing half of your agenda (if you're lucky) implemented is better than none, ask yourself how many liberals you know will really be happy that they have more weddings to attend and paraplegics can walk again, while our country continues to bomb people of color overseas, and anatgonise the French and that nice Kofi fellow.

Also, I'm not sure how happy the liberals would be with federalism as a kind of uncertain ceasefire across the battle-scarred no-man's land. Many among the conservatives, particularly the religious conservatives, strike me as having developed a siege mentality over the last few decades, feeling themselves to have been under unrelenting assault from the powerful liberal-secular establishment. As such, while ideally they would like the whole of the United States to be remade in their image, they are quite happy just to be left alone and hold on to what they can wherever they can. The right has largely given up on trying to change New York or California and is quite happy just to see their own backyards - be they in Georgia or Texas or elsewhere - stay as they are. Their's is a defensive creed - but the liberal is still a crusading and missionary one.

I don't think the liberals are quite ready yet to live and let live. I don't think they have quite given up yet on the idea of bearing an enlightened multicultural man's - and woman's - burden to civilise the savages in the south and the mid-west. Deep down, the liberals don't want the divorce; they still want the custody. So while we might see an increase in the number of liberal converts to federalism, I doubt whether that conversion will really be sincere.


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