Under Barack Obama, leftists relentlessly pursued national laws to address every possible issue, from health care to gun control. But all of a sudden, pieces in left-leaning publications indicate that some leftists, faced with a federal government controlled by Republicans, are starting to muse about the merits of states’ rights.
And I think it’s wonderful. Amusing . . . but wonderful.
We’ve seen the spectacle of Jelani Cobb at the New Yorker citing the example of the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions from 1798-1799, for crying out loud, in defense of state nullification of federal laws. In a similar spirit, Jeffrey Rosen writes in the New York Times:
Having lost all three branches of the federal government again, progressives are now concluding that they have no alternative but to redouble their efforts at the local level. . . . [S]ome important progressive victories have already occurred in blue and red state referendums. On Nov. 8, voters in three states (California, Nevada and Washington) voted for stricter gun control. Four states (Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington) voted to increase the minimum wage. Four Trump states (Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota) passed ballot measures allowing or expanding the use of medical marijuana, while California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada voted to legalize the use of recreational marijuana.
. . . .
Whether the Republican White House, Congress and Supreme Court allow progressive federalists to get away with that will depend on whether Republicans prove as devoted to states’ rights now that they control the federal government as they were when they were the ones in the wilderness.
Many Republicans will indeed shed their devotion to states’ rights, of course — because (like many leftists) they care more about their preferred policy outcomes than about the constitutional structure of our government.
But some of us are willing to help the left make structural changes in favor of federalism — if the changes are designed to outlive the Trump administration, and rein in the left as well as right.
Some of the proposals by leftists are inappropriate, such as urging locals to establish more sanctuary cities and resist federal efforts to enforce anti-immigration laws. Immigration is one of the few issues that is national in character, and efforts to resist our federal laws are not rooted in federalism.
But, by contrast, if the left wants to enable states and local communities to make decisions that the Constitution leaves to the states, I’m all for it. If they suddenly want to help us make long-lasting structural changes to our government that favor states’ rights, I’m in. If they want to help set precedents to rein in the federal government at all times, and not just when Republicans are in charge, I agree.
One of the less shrill and more reasonable arguments has been made by conservative Democrat Joel Kotkin at the Daily Beast, who appears to have a principled view of the possible benefits of local power for both the right and the left:
What Americans across the political spectrum need to recognize is that centralizing power does not promote national unity, but ever harsher division. Enforced central control, from left or right, polarizes politics in dangerous ways. The rather hysterical reaction to Trump’s election on the left is a case in point, with some in alt-blue California calling for secession from the union. Had Clinton and the Democrats won, we would have heard other secessionist sentiment, notably in Texas.
This is no way to maintain a “United” States. Under Obama, conservative states resisted ever expanding federal executive power; now it’s the progressives’ turn to worry about an overweening central state.
. . . .
In his drive to make America “great” again, the new president needs to revitalize our flagging democracy not by doubling down on federal power but by empowering local communities to determine what’s best for them. Anything else gives us a choice between ideological despotisms that can only enrage and alienate half of our population by forcing down their throats policies they can’t abide, and, in most cases, should not be forced to accept.
I, for one, welcome our new friends in resisting our federal overlords. The sentiment isn’t going to last long; the second the leftists think they can regain federal power, they’ll chuck federalism overboard. Let’s strike while the iron is hot.
Let’s make the changes structural, so they can’t change them back when they feel like it. Let’s start with an Article V convention to carry out some of the proposals made by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, like “Allow[ing] a two-thirds majority of the States to override a federal law or regulation” or “Prohibit[ing] administrative agencies—and the unelected bureaucrats that staff them—from preempting state law.”
Come on, progressives! Let’s do this! Call it opposing Donald Trump if you like. That’s fine with me.
Hurrah for decentralization!
P.S. If these ideas appeal to you, consider joining my group the Constitutional Vanguard, which supports liberty, the free market, and the Constitution. We have a private Facebook group and a private forum to promote those issues. Join us!