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11/17/2004

Progressive States Rights

It is not true that progressives are hostile to states' rights or local control. To the contrary, some of our lions, like RFK, embraced local control as a necessary aspect of the war on poverty. Poverty has local causes, and needs local solutions - but the federal government has an obligation to foster experimentation.

We are hostile to state decisions that impose costs on the entire country, such as environmental deregulation and state-driven economic races to the bottom, and efforts to punish specific subclasses of the American citizenry, be they women, ethnic or religious minorities, immigrants, or gay men and women. State decisions that impose costs on the rest of the country are opposed because they infringe state's rights - New York has no control over its environment if TVA air pollution migrates north. State efforts to punish subclasses are opposed for violating individual rights, human dignity, and the privileges of American citizenship.

We oppose "States' Rights," a particular historical phenomenon reborn in opposition to integration, not states' rights.

Michelle Goldberg at Salon has a piece predicting increasing progressive reliance on the concept.

What we're seeing, he says, is the growth of blue-state nationalism, a new sort of identity politics forced into life in reaction to the relentless insults of red America. For years now, conservatives have excoriated liberals in almost exactly the same way that previous right-wing movements demonized Jews -- as unwholesomely cosmopolitan, traitorous, decadent, inclined to both socialism and economic elitism. Right-wing authors like Michael Savage, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter routinely try to write their opponents out of the nation.

The administration plays on this animosity. In his recent New York Times Magazine cover story about Bush's faith-based governing, Ron Suskind quotes Bush's media advisor Mark McKinnon. After accusing Suskind of thinking Bush is an idiot, McKinnon goes on to say that "all of you do, up and down the West Coast, the East Coast, a few blocks in southern Manhattan called Wall Street. Let me clue you in. We don't care. You see, you're outnumbered two to one by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don't read The New York Times or Washington Post or The L.A. Times. And you know what they like? They like the way he walks and the way he points, the way he exudes confidence. They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it's good for us. Because you know what those folks don't like? They don't like you!"

Democrats are starting to get this, which is partly why the results of this election felt so personal. "We are being attacked and really caricatured," says Cannavo. "There's been an attack on the blue states as out of touch with the country. You had 48 percent to 51 percent in the election, but the 48 percent is considered somehow illegitimate."

Many of the people in that 48 percent are not content to be ruled by people who, beyond disagreeing with them, seem to despise them. They'll seek other ways to exercise power. "Over the history of this country," says Cannavo, "we have had states taking the lead on certain issues and then even banding together to sue the federal government. The Northeastern states have taken action on air pollution. Can this be magnified in terms of issues like health insurance? Yes. The question, though, is how far can this go. Would you eventually reach a point of a kind of loose federation where you have two countries pursuing their own domestic policies?"

 

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