Summoning the Ghosts of Blue State Federalism

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Leftist critics are correct in questioning the authenticity of the right’s renewed interest states’ rights (an awkward term) and federalism (a better one). Conservative chattering heads didn’t seem to care much for the idea back when they were calling the shots from Washington.

But the discussion also reminds me of the encouraging pro-federalism chatter we heard from the left shortly after the Democrats were trounced in the 2004 election. For all the heat he’s taking, Texas Gov. Rick Perry might want to consult with MSNBC analyst and former West Wing writer and producer Lawrence O’Donnell, for example, who favorably used the word secede on the McLaughlin Group back in November of ’04. O’Donnell helpfully pointed out that secession needn’t necessarily be violent, explaining that, “You can secede without firing a shot.”

Lefty pubs like Salon, the Nation, and the Stranger ran think pieces that called for (sometimes begrudgingly) a new debate over the benefits of more parochial control. A couple of lefty-penned op-eds in the New York Times also argued for decentralized control and weakening the federal government’s ability to influence local policy.

Alas, it was all rather short-lived. Nothing invigorates interest in federalism like losing a national election. And nothing smothers that interest like winning one.

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14 Responses to “Summoning the Ghosts of Blue State Federalism”

  1. #1 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Now we call it seceding when one of the States wants to leave the union, but there was a time it was referred to as winning independence from the mother country. In fact, when it happens elsewhere in the world, it’s still called winning independence.

    Apparently whether it’s independence or secession depends on who’s doing it.

  2. #2 |  perlhaqr | 

    Secession is non-violent.

    It’s the war imposed by the country that doesn’t want to let people go that’s a violent bloodbath, usually.

    If Texas leaves the Union, it will be the Union that fires the first shot, or arranges events to make Texas do so.

  3. #3 |  Decentralisms of Convenience « Upturned Earth | 

    […] rights and even utterances of the s-word from the likes of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Radley Balko recalls the days when the tables were turned: For all the heat he’s taking, Texas Gov. Rick Perry might want to consult with MSNBC analyst and […]

  4. #4 |  Mattocracy | 

    Oh c’mon. It’s painfully obvious that people change there opinions about power once they have it. Authority is one of the cancerous causes of hypocrisy.

    I’m a die hard Libertarian. Unfortunately, I have met more than few of my kind that would be guilty of the same thing if we ever took majority control of congress or got into the white house.

  5. #5 |  Tokin42 | 

    Nothing invigorates interest in federalism like losing a national election. And nothing smothers that interest like winning one.

    I’d love to be able to disagree with that assessment, but can’t.

  6. #6 |  random guy | 

    I’ve never liked the term states rights, because it always seems to imply that the state is an independent entity deserving its own freedoms not related to the rights of individuals. From what I know of history its almost always been used as an excuse for the majority to impose rules on a local minority.

    Segregation, miscegenation, abortion, the death penalty, and plenty of other issues were fought over on (and some won) based on a states rights argument. The problem is that its usually just a distraction because all of these issues had to do with whether or not an individual had rights. States rights disputes always follow the logic that an entity composed of citizens has more rights than some of the citizens themselves, which to me is un-American.

    It only ever seems to come up when an issue has almost reached a national consensus and someone deeply dissatisfied with the outcome starts talking about ‘states rights’ in the hopes of setting up some local tyranny. Its like the call to circle the wagons, at least let us oppress this minority in our own state!

  7. #7 |  Mike T | 

    If Texas leaves the Union, it will be the Union that fires the first shot, or arranges events to make Texas do so.

    If Texas leaves the Union this time, the Union will end up suffering a far higher body count. If the rest of the South goes with Texas, then so goes half of the US military and much of the US military’s advanced weapon systems production capabilities. They can have their gunsmiths, since we’ll have their nuclear warship-producing ship yards :)

  8. #8 |  Mike T | 

    Just a modest proposal… let’s fix the Articles of Confederation and throw out the US Constitution. We got it mostly right the first time.

  9. #9 |  PogueMahone | 

    Mike T: If Texas leaves the Union this time, the Union will end up suffering a far higher body count. …

    Your comment might have a bit of tongue in cheek to it, I can’t tell for sure. But one thing is for certain, if Texas and much of the South secede again, then they will lose most of the economic might they enjoyed while being apart of the Grand Ole USA.
    It’s hard to wage war if you ain’t got no money. And as the South found out the first time round, all the toughness, bravado, and fighting spirit does you fuck all if you ain’t got the cash.

    And don’t think that the North doesn’t have the guys with piss and vinegar. I’ve known lots of tough motherscratchers from the North… tough as any redneck I’ve ever met here in Texas.
    Riding a bull doesn’t necessarily make you tough … stupid maybe … but not tough. Go to south Boston or south Philly and kick around the idea that northerners aren’t tough, and then you’ll see what the local concrete tastes like.

    Most of my life has been spent in the South, and the last ten years here in Texas. And there’s one thing I know as sure as I know the love of my family: If Texas ever secedes from the USA, the first thing I’ll do is get the fuck out of Texas.
    I’m not willing to give up the fight for causes of liberty in the USA just because one joker in Washington replaces another.


  10. #10 |  seeker6079 | 

    Let’s face it, outside libertarian circles like most posters on this blog, “federalism” is in its usual (rather than theoretical) use a bullshit code word for “states’ rights” which is a bullshit code phrase for “to hell with civil liberties right wing viewpoints triumph”. When you hear a person sing the praises of either “federalism” or “states rights” it means in almost all cases that there is something that they want to do without civil rights getting in the way or letting people have freedoms they don’t agree with. It has bugger all to do with actual local rights.

    You don’t see those asswipes leaning towards a libertarian and anti-repressive drug policy, or freedom for a given state to try a Canadian style health care system if it really wants to, or letting a state recognize the humanity and civil rights of its gay citizens. No, when that bleating about “states’ rights” starts it is almost always on a partisan, right-wing basis. One can criticize the American left but, simple fact is, a lot of its philosophical core lies in the economic dislocations and cruelty of the dirty thirties and the civil rights and antiwar movements of the sixties; the part of anti-federalism that is bred in their ideological bones is that the feds gave a shit in the depression and tried to help, that they made sure that blacks couldn’t be murdered and oppressed with impunity and that the government has got better things to do than spending billions of tax dollars bombing people half a world away.

    A lot of people on the right have never gotten over their anger at the dirty fucking hippies and the niggers a-gettin’ a say in how things are run. When their intellectual inheritors talk about state or local rights they aren’t talking about local control which accepts a libertarian premise that localities be free to try what suits them best, they’re talking about local control to ensure that dem queers remain marginalized, to ensure that women and men are sufficiently obedient to the cops and fundamentalist christians. They love things like DOMA and DEA raids and the like, and if that means the feds do it then they will let “local rights” go under the wheels of an authoritarian state.

    Say white you like about the American left, but when it comes for you it’s almost always just for your money. When the American right comes for you it’s with tasers, lawless cops and a whole list of things of basic civil rights it doesn’t think that people who aren’t Real Americans (TM) should have.

    When people on the left talk about states’ rights its usually along the line of musings at best, as the linked articles show; they had enough of the feds so they considered the concept and talked about it, and that’s about it. When people on the right talk about local rights they mean the freedom to fire gays, give massive corporations every unfair legal and regulatory advantage they can get away with, and throw honest people in jail for having a joint or too much cash in their pocket. Period.

    If America is going to move to a looser model, where local authorities are going to have more freedom to go where they want (absent shuffling dark folks back into ghettos, one would hope and require) then the first step is NOT using the phrases “federalism” or “states’ rights” or “local rights”; they have been too far suborned by the right wing to be salvageable.

  11. #11 |  Tim | 

    About time. Last time I brought up the vaguest sense of this idea, I was asked “if I thought the civil war was justified”, and while I was stammering over the non-sequitur, called a racist. I’m glad to hear it’s gaining currency, and even better from the left. I’m all for more variance and less bias.

  12. #12 |  seeker6079 | 

    “I’m all for more variance and less bias.”

    If you put that laudable goal beside your earlier experience you can see why the phrases themselves have to be jettisoned in favour of something new. Those phrases have been euphemisms words for racism and rightwingnuttery for so damned long that their actual meaning has been subsumed under the code language. If we want states and cities and other localities to be more at liberty to craft their own paths (that naturally don’t violate human or civil rights) then we shouldn’t use phrases that — whatever their original, technical meanings — were co-opted by the southern racists and modern anti-freedom types.

  13. #13 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    If Texas secedes, I’ll move back immediately.

  14. #14 |  nemo | 

    I believe it was Southern historian Shelby Foote who summed it up pretty good when he said:

    “Before the war it was always the United States *are*, after the war it was the United States *is*… it made us an is.” And it also began the process of turning States (note the upper case designation, as that’s how the Founders referred to them, as essentially sovereign nations in a federation) into…’states’, which have become little more than provinces, actually.

    True ‘federalism’ has not been practiced in this country for decades, because of it’s inherent rebuke of central power. It’s the real reason why the Raich/Monson case was decided by the Supreme Court the way it was…by members of the so-called Federalist Society, who in reality never met a Federal power they didn’t want to expand, in direct contravention to their organization’s stated goals of reducing that Fed power. To allow the States to decide what they want in the ways of laws removes them from the ‘province’ status and returns them to de facto nationhood.

    Secession won’t happen, if only from a geopolitical point of view; the central government isn’t about to let foreign governments get toe-holds in breakaway territories…which was part of the reason why the Civil War was fought. But the fact that they are being made at all is a sure sign something is seriously wrong, and it has to be dealt with.