Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Federalism and Republican Candidates

A while back I spoke positively about Rick Perry's stand for federalism on the Daily Show. It's always unclear what to make of Daily Show performances, though. It's not a venue that a politician wants to look bad in, so of course you're going to spin your views in a good way. A nice way of blunting social conservatism is by paying lip service to federalism. However, it sounds like Rick Perry is still going strong on the issue, which is good to see.

The other stand-out federalist is, of course, Mitt Romney. Romney has specifically talked about federalism and health reform which I think is very important. It was a major mistake of the Obama administration not to follow the Clinton welfare reform example and push reform by supporting state experimentation. I criticized Andrew Sullivan for saying that Romney "hides behind federalism" as if its not a legitimate policy position. Federalism has ensured that American government is incredibly robust and its worked well in the past at reforming social programs that get too cumbersome in the hands of the federal government and federal agencies.

There are a lot of depressing Republican candidates, and Perry especially has a lot of other problems - but the stronger adherence to federalism is a good thing to see.


  1. The problem is that politicians are rarely if ever consistent federalists; in fact, when they go from being Governor to President, politicians tend to switch hats rather dramatically and swiftly on the matter. So when I see a Governor arguing that he's or she is a federalist while they are running for President I tend to just roll my eyes.

  2. In a lot of ways that's certainly true. Clinton reformed a program that had been a problem for years by applying federalist principles and introducing sounder egalitarian policies (like the EITC). If Obama would have done health reform the same way I think the world would be a lot better place.

    They don't need to be ideal-types. Certainly presidents have certain incentives. I'm not asking for an ideal type, I just think a reinvigorated federalist approach wouldn't be all that bad.

  3. Federalism is dead. Whenever the federal government decides to enter any field which had been at a time the exclusive purview of the states the federal government gets its way. There was something of a blip regarding this in the 1990s (_Lopez_ & _Morrison_), but that died with _Raich_. The doctrine of "new federalism" has failed in other words.

  4. OK...

    ... well I like welfare reform and thought it was wise, and I liked that a lot of states were experimenting with health reform before the administration stepped in and I hope there can be more space for that.

    As far as I know Raich didn't outlaw welfare reform or future efforts along those lines. So I'm not sure what to say about that sort of political-economy-as-court-watching approach you've chosen to take.

  5. And come on.

    "Federalism is dead".

    If it's dead then you're might have to revise your views on resurrection. One pot case at a time when the tides are turning towards legalization is hardly the stake in the heart to a pillar of American society for centuries. How fragile do you think our society is? I think you're being melodramatic.

  6. Daniel,

    You're missing the point actually; when the federal government decides to pre-empt an area that had at one time been a state are of competence there is little that the states can do about it. So yeah, the federal government can decide to leave X area to the states, but that isn't federalism. Federalism implies that there is some limit to the central authority; since the commerce clause has been turned into a general police power (and that will be complete if the individual mandate is upheld) that's why we've gotten to that point.


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