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.