18 September 2007

The Death of Federalism

Watching the playback of Congressman Chris Murphy's town hall meeting in New Britain from 9/13, I was struck by the complete dismissal of federalism in the Congressman's answers to the questions asked of him. Federalism, as a principle, simply plays no role in the governance philosophy of Mr. Murphy.

Federalism, of course, is a question that has been asked and answered by generation after generation of Americans. The debate itself started, most famously, with the Founders themselves who were torn on the issue. But Constitutional checks and skillful case-making by its supporters has long kept federalism a key organizing principle of the American republic. And it makes sense. Supporters of federalism have long cited the administrative difficulties of imposing 'one size fits all' solutions to a nation so geographically and culturally, the vast disparity of problems that face groups of people in different regions, the right of all states, large and small, to have an equitable say in the discussion, and the Constitutional provisions that explicitly prescribe a federalist solution, as reasons for continuing to govern by federalist principles. And yet, Mr. Murphy and others of left-leaning ideology seem only to have the ability to equate federalism with "states' rights", and "states' rights" with the sinful behavior that some states engaged in to discriminate against African-Americans in decades past.

In a nation so diverse and ardently heterogeneous as the United States of America, the idea that the federal government should take on a very limited number of tasks. The needs and desires of the people of Texas are different from the needs and desires of people from New Hampshire and Idaho. They are even different from the needs of the people of regional neighbors Oklahoma, Louisiana, and New Mexico. And thus, a federal solution to any problem posed by one group would, in many cases, seem to be incredibly short-sighted and difficult to administer. We here in Connecticut experience this problem every time a federal formula for aid distribution makes sub-unit designations based on counties instead of the more logical organizational unit for Connecticut - towns. And yet, at least from Mr. Murphy's point of view, the need to impose 'one size fits all' Washington solutions to the problems faced by Connecticut residents, it seems, dominates the need for an effective ability to administer programs across a big nation.

The vast disparities of problems faced by people in different states on its own should be enough to discourage centralized solutions to widespread problems. In Massachusetts, the research showed that middle income citizens were going without health care in this highest numbers (Mitt Romney power point, see slide 4). Further, during the time in which then-Governor Mitt Romney was considering health care, 11.4% of Massachusetts citizens said they did not have health care. In response, Romney crafted a health care plan which provided coverage for everyone in his state where the poverty rate was 9.9%. These same reforms, though, quite likely would not work exactly the same way in Arkansas, where the poverty rate was 15.6% and 22.9% of the people do not have health insurance.

The case on federalism continues to be debated, though perhaps not as openly as it once was. Fred Thompson seems to be the only candiate talking about federalism in this campaign, at least so far. He quite effectively makes the case for federalist principles of government. But as Mr. Murphy and others like him continue to pursue Washington solutions to Connecticut problems, it makes you wonder if they have ever considered the idea that they don't have all the answers.


Anonymous said...

what about the right of the State of Florida to decide it's own elections procedures/outcomes? I'm referring to the '04 presidential election, in which the Supreme Court, totally out of precedent, took over the Florida election. Seems that you Republicans like federalism when it goes your way, otherwise it's out the window.

Anonymous said...

Thompson is against trying to ram so-called med-mal tort reform down the throats of the states. He's one of a handful of Republicans from the Senate who could see through the AMA's greed. And now that the GOP is out of power in the Congress the AMA has changed their tack anyway as they look for greater reimbursement for Medicaid and Medicare from the Democrats. It's all about greed and influence in American medicine when it comes to the AMA.