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Federalism 2.0, or Bully Federalism?

September 20, 2017

The Hoover Institution’s David Davenport can’t make up his mind about the resurgence of Federalism from the unlikeliest of states. He is one author of the SF Chronicle’s second pro-Federalism Sunday op-ed in two weeks – a piece titled, “States flexing their power, just as Founders Intended” (9/14/17). But we soon learn that this is not, in fact, your (founding) father’s federalism. Just a few days earlier, Davenport put out a 1-minute clip on “California’s Bully Federalism,” on conservative blog, noting that some of the state’s go-it-alone policies are less about freedom from federal interference than imposing California Über Alles. Take a listen:

Still, Davenport swallows his pride and joins his voice with a liberal to make the broadest possible case for federalism (whether or not you agree with the specifics):

Now everything from legalized marijuana, the minimum wage, climate change, immigration, auto emissions, and civil rights is on the federalism agenda. On one issue or another, federalism is now for everyone, from conservatives to liberals, a spectrum represented by the authors.

Federalism 1.0 was tainted by the association of states rights with pre-Civil Rights Era discriminatory statutes. Davenport’s concern, which I share, is that California will use its economic heft to impose its values on other states it sees as less enlightened. The prime example of bullying is California’s ban on state-paid travel – including for university students – to states that don’t provide sufficient protection for LGBT individuals. If progressives discover that Federalism 2.0 is a way to accelerate cultural and political change across the country, the term may overtake big data as the hottest buzzword in Silicon Valley. I think the strategy will backfire, and lead other states to hunker down in a fortress mentality.

The potential downside of federalism, as I noted in my last post on Federalism, is that states will seek “federalism for me, but not for thee.” Although I’m partial to certain uniquely Californian values, I don’t want to see them imposed them on other states. The beauty of the founders’ concept of states as laboratories of democracy is that they can run different experiments – not set the agenda nationwide.

On the other hand, I recently attended a memorial event for California’s leading historian, Kevin Starr, who apparently believed in California as a beacon on a hill that could atone for the sins of the nation (i.e., mistreatment of minorities, immigrants, refugees, and the environment). Federalism 2.0 should be about leading by example, and resisting the temptation to bullying.

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