Several progressive pundits are arguing that Democrats must focus on state politics. (More)
“We are not, in some fundamental ways, a single country”
Republicans, led by House Speaker Paul Ryan and the incoming president (as signaled by his Billionaire’s Club Cabinet picks), are set to unleash long-stored plans to gut and privatize Medicare, repeal 20 million Americans’ health insurance through Obamacare, flush what’s left of the Voting Rights Act and push for the privatization of public schools. That means congressional Democrats now have clear marching orders: beat back the coming GOP push to repeal of the 20th century.
But there’s something else Democrats ought to be focused on as they prepare for the long, dark years ahead. It involves trading in a bit of the beloved Hamilton for a dash more of the less morally appealing Thomas Jefferson and embracing what the Yale scholar Heather Gerken has called “progressive federalism.”
We are not, in some fundamental ways, a single country. The map of that vast red swatch of states and rural counties that voted for Trump, and the blue coastal edges and scattered urban centers where Clinton won, are a pictograph of mutual contempt. The sharp differences between the way city dwellers and rural, suburban and exurban residents vote, think and live cannot be papered over by federal laws, federal rules or, clearly, by a president.
She makes a forceful argument for the power of state and local government:
Governors and state legislators hold the power to protect and defend public schools from Betsy De Vos-style privatization; state colleges and teachers unions from Scott Walker-style defunding and attacks on their pensions and healthcare; and public and sacred Native American land from the federal, taxpayer-funded giveaways to drillers, frackers and developers that are surely coming under Trump. They will be the first line of defense in fighting climate change and are the decision-makers on whether their state will accept or reject federal funds for building high-speed rail and green energy production, and the jobs that come with them.
It will be mayors who shield DREAMers from the reach of Trump’s mass deportations, and Muslim citizens from the harassment of Trump’s FBI.
And with effectively no civil rights division of the Justice Department for the next four years, Black Lives Matter activists had better get really interested in who their local sheriffs and district attorneys are.
Democrats need to make that case, forcefully, to voters in their states. They need to recruit strong candidates who can advocate for strong state and local governments that will defend working men and women of every racial, ethnic and religious group – their healthcare, their civil rights, their right to vote, their air, water and land – from the gang of billionaires about to take over Washington.
She concludes by arguing that this approach would also strengthen and deepen the Democratic Party as an institution:
A federalist approach – balancing defense of beloved New Deal and Great Society programs with a sharp focus on the states – would at long last allow Democrats to build a bench of qualified and tested candidates – including those drawn from the strongest and most loyal voter base of the party: people of color, and specifically women of color. By the time 2020 rolls around, many of these political leaders will have shown that they can deliver real results for people in their states. That’s a much more organic way of choosing a presidential nominee than throwing names of sitting senators at The Washington Post and seeing if they stick.
Reid makes a solid case, and her essay is worth reading in full.
“But the Moral Monday movement pushed back hard”
Pat McCrory’s now official defeat in the race for Governor of North Carolina has real implications for the progressive movement nationally in the era of Trump.
The dominant reason given for McCrory’s defeat will be the unpopularity of HB2, and certainly that played an important role. In August we found that only 30% of voters in the state supported it, and that McCrory’s handling of the issue made them less likely to vote for him by a 12 point margin. If he’d vetoed it, he very well might have been reelected.
But the seeds of McCrory’s defeat really were planted by the Moral Monday movement in the summer of 2013, just months after McCrory took office.
Jenson offers a laundry list of policies that Gov. McCrory and the GOP-dominated state legislature pushed through – blocking Medicaid expansion, an anti-abortion law sneaked into a motorcycle helmet bill, allowing guns in bars, parks, and college campuses, eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit, cutting unemployment benefits, reducing early voting, and eliminating straight-ticket voting – despite state polls that showed those policies were unpopular. Jenson then writes:
McCrory spearheaded or went along with all of this. And he might have gotten away with it without much impact on his image. Most voters don’t pay close attention to state government.
But the Moral Monday movement pushed back hard. Its constant visibility forced all of these issues to stay in the headlines. Its efforts ensured that voters in the state were educated about what was going on in Raleigh, and as voters became aware of what was going on, they got mad. All those people who had seen McCrory as a moderate, as a different kind of Republican, had those views quickly changed. By July McCrory had a negative approval rating – 40% of voters approving of him to 49% who disapproved. By September it was all the way down to 35/53, and he never did fully recover from the damage the rest of his term.
Pushing back hard on McCrory worked. The seeds of his final defeat today were very much planted in the summer of 2013. And it’s a lesson for progressives in dealing with Trump. Push back hard from day one. Be visible. Capture the public’s attention, no matter what you have to do to do it. Don’t count on the media to do it itself because the media will let you down. The protesters in North Carolina, by making news in their own right week after week after week, forced sustained coverage of what was going on in Raleigh. And even though it was certainly a long game, with plenty more frustration in between, those efforts led to change at the polls 42 months after they really started.
Like Reid, Jenson makes a cogent argument, and I recommend reading it in full.
“Make federalism a bulwark against national government oppression”
The Washington Post’s Ilya Somin makes a libertarian case for progressive federalism:
One of the few beneficial effects of Donald Trump’s unexpected election victory has been a renewed interest in federalism among many on the left. In recent days, prominent liberal legal scholars Noah Feldman and Jeff Rosen, and political scientist Corey Brettschneider have all published notable articles on how state and local governments can use federalism to curb Trump and protect vulnerable minorities. All three argue that liberals should make use of constitutional constraints on federal power traditionally championed by conservatives and libertarians, including the conservative majority on the Supreme Court. Feldman’s article on how federalism can be used to protect sanctuary cities actually makes many of the same points as my own earlier piece on the same subject.
A good many liberals are understandably hesitant to commit to enforceable limits on the scope of federal power because of a fear that doing so might inhibit federal efforts to protect racial, ethnic, and other minorities against state and local oppression. But even very robust federal antidiscrimination efforts do not require virtually unlimited federal power to regulate anything that might have some effect on the economy, or nearly unconstrained federal authority to use conditional grants to pressure states and localities to do their bidding. Principled liberals can favor broad federal authority to protect minority groups under the Fourteenth Amendment, while simultaneously enforcing tighter limits on Washington’s power in other areas. We can make federalism a bulwark against national government oppression without returning to the bad old days when “states rights” was a shield for slavery and segregation.
As the Trump agenda suggests, federal power that has few or no constraints across the board can actually be a menace to minority groups. Other things equal, oppressive federal policies may actually be even more dangerous than comparable state and local ones. Federal policies affect more people, and are more difficult to escape by “voting with your feet” in favor of more tolerant jurisdictions.
I don’t buy all of Somin’s points but, again, his essay is worth reading in full.
Indeed I think there’s a strong case for Democrats’ “voting with our feet,” en masse, to put some real teeth in a state-based strategy. Specifically, moving en masse to the blue states in the map below. The goal of this mass migration would be to achieve absolute partisan supremacy in those states: winning 100% of their governor’s mansions, state legislatures, county and major city governments, U.S. Senate and House seats, and Electoral College votes.
Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com
You could argue for adding Virginia, North Carolina, and/or Florida to that map. But I won’t, because the states I chose also comprise a geographically and economically sustainable nation-state. Call it Blumerica.
If enough Democrats “voted with our feet” – moving from red states to blue states on that map – we would have enough votes to dominate their state elections and create a progressive haven. Yes, our absence would make the red states redder, and life there might well spiral into a conservative dystopia. But better a regional conservative dystopia than a nationwide one.
And if the political dominance of Blumerica pushed the other states to secede … let ’em go, and give them not a dime in foreign aid.
Map Credit: Crissie Brown (BPICampus.com) with 270ToWin.
Good day and good nuts