In a recent article in The Atlantic, Emily Bazelon makes the claim that “states’ rights are for liberals”, citing the examples of state support for marriage equality and the legalization of marijuana as examples. Well, guess what, Emily. You’re right! States’ rights, or federalism, definitely is for liberals.
Of course, federalism is also for conservatives. And libertarians. And socialists. Federalism is really for anyone who doesn’t think that a group of central rulers are best-equipped to make decisions that affect the lives of 300 million people spread out over thousands of miles with differing priorities and values.
That the American left is realizing the value of federalism is a welcome change from the long-held misconception that a belief in decentralization was the exclusive calling card of conservatives (and for recognizing this we will even forgive Bazelon for continuing the left’s fascination with trying to link the principle of federalism with racial bigotry, which has been repeatedly refuted).
Bazelon’s analysis isn’t perfect. While pointing out that many governors are simply toadies for their national political parties she accuses Republican governors who are rejecting Obamacare of “giving up the chance to improve the system, and to make it work for their constituents.” Leaving aside the poor economic reasoning behind government-mandated health insurance, the fact is that the states that have rejected the apparatus of Obamacare have done so on behalf of their citizens.
Hopefully the left can understand that the principle of federalism means that states can agree to disagree and pursue different paths. Just as it may be the valid desire of the citizens of a state to legalize marijuana, so too might it be entirely valid for the citizens of a state to not want government involved in their health care. What conservatives, liberals and libertarians can all agree on is that the clunky machinations of an all-powerful central government will never be able to account for the nuances and differences in opinion of Americans.
Only political decentralization can effectively respond to the desires of the people.