Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Dark Side of Federalism

American Federalism, in simple terms, is maintaining the balance of power between the States and the federal government.  It's long been touted by conservatives as a pillar of liberty and, as such has been plastered on pretty much anything they don't like about liberal policies.  "It's a State's Rights issue," they say.

Since the 2016 election, Democrats finally woke up to realize that they were surrounded.  That state legislatures and governorships were overwhelmingly red, and that, by ignoring local races, they've lost tremendous swaths of influence (not to mention a ready pool of candidates for national office) across the country.  They've also lost connection with the electorate itself.  

Speaking for myself, I truly believe the cliche that "all politics is local."  And I'm happy to see the Dems finally getting a dose of a little "old time religion" and turn their attention once again to state and local issues.  But, that's not to say that Federalism is somehow inherently virtuous.  In fact, for much of our history, it's been used as a shield to protect some of the ugliest and most shameful aspects of American society.  It's important, going forward, to call out the difference between being connected and engaged locally, and a political pivot to justify fear and hate.

"State's Rights" protecting hate since 1787
The origin of Federalism sounds noble enough.  On one hand, it was intended to prevent tyranny from a single, centralized ruler.  In the early days of our nation, nobody actually knew whether George Washington would actually step down at the end of his term.  People were terrified at the idea of leaving one monarchy just to create another one in America.  But that's only part of the story.  

From the earliest days, the issue of State's Rights was also very much a North vs South argument.  Northern states opposed the practice of slavery and wanted it abolished.  The South argued that their "peculiar institution" was a state issue, and none of anybody else's business.  For nearly 200 years, the pattern of advocacy of State's Rights has been inextricably tied to those who opposed the advancement of civil rights and the elimination of second-class citizens.  The name of the party may have changed over the years, but the agenda has always been the same.  "You can't make me change."

To counter this, progressive elements have always sought to override local hatred with national policy, whether through the federal government or the courts.  Since the 60's, that work has fallen to the Democrat Party, pushing the nation forward, kicking and screaming, to respect individual rights, dignity, and justice.  Election cycle after cycle, this process has repeated itself, until Democrat leadership became almost exclusively nationally focused, while Republicans took on the mantle of federalism and started building from the ground up. 

Keep your eye on the ball
In today's politics, the State's Rights argument is still used to thwart civil liberties.  From marriage equality to voting rights, issues that can't win on the national stage are stamped with the "State's Rights" label to preserve the status quo.  Just last month, the transgender access to school bathrooms order was rolled back, using this very justification.  But, as bad as these things are, there's an even darker side to it all:  the utter co-opting of state politics by corporate interests.  And that, my friends, should anger conservatives and liberals alike.  

While the average American's eyes are glued to national cable news networks, state legislatures, fueled by corporate-sponsored bill farms like ALEC, are quietly pushing through BOATLOADS of identical legislation in dozens of states, right under our noses.  Politicians, bought and paid for through these lesser-known avenues, are trumpeting "small government" and federalist principles, all while making national policy, one brick at a time.  Simply put, nobody is minding the store.  Here in Arizona, those "small government conservatives" introduced 1,100 bills in the course of three months.  Can you imagine that there are over a thousand laws we need that we don't already have???

Yes, we should at least try to address as many issues as possible at the local level.  Each state has different strengths and challenges and one size rarely fits all.  Much of what needs to be done probably isn't government's job at all. But, more than that, liberals and progressives need to take their seat at the local table to expose and put an end to puppet politicians who are too busy lining their pockets to actually lead.  How do we do that?  Get organized.  Get informed.  Get involved.  And run for office.  

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