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Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Community Organizers

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

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Count me in as someone who just doesn’t get the right’s obsession with denigrating community organizers. Aside from the offensives of it all, which Benen lays out nicely, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense. At least in the context of the 2008 election it was meant to be a shorthand for “Barack Obama is inexperienced.” Attacks against your opponent’s perceived lack of experience has pretty much never worked in modern American Presidential politics, but what else did the Republicans have to work with after 8 years of Bush? But now, Obama is the actual President. Only 42 other individuals in the history of the United States have done that. And even though he’s only been President for 16 months, that’s infinitely more experience in the job than any of the Republicans criticizing him have. Sarah Palin isn’t very bright, but even she has to realize that it would be absurd for a former half-term Governor and mayor of Wasilla, Alaska to argue they have more relative experience for the Presidency than the incumbent President…right?

How Do You Cut Defense Spending

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

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Responding to Ezra’s musing about the political feasibility of cutting defense spending, Yglesias writes:

The most relevant issue, when thinking about cuts, is thinking about the political fight that ensues. If a President proposed cutting the defense budget and then you had a ton of stories in the press where senior military officers fret off the record that the cuts will endanger America, and every television network trotted out a former general with undisclosed ties to defense contractors as an “independent analyst” to condemn the cuts, and if active duty soldiers sent emails to their civilian family and friends complaining about the cuts, and if think tank experts who depend on cooperation with the military to do their research either complained about the cuts or else stayed silent, then I think you’d have a giant political fiasco on your hands.The relevant issue here, in other words, is that the military is the most trusted institution in America and then on top of that the defense sector of the economy has a lot of money and economic reach. Consequently, it’s very political difficult for a president to do anything that provokes the ire of the defense establishment whether or not it polls well in the abstract. This seems to me to be a huge problem in American political life, but it’s not obvious to me what steps will resolve it.

I’d say Matt is right in his estimation of the political conflict trying to substantially cut defense spending would ensue, but I think the answer to the question of what steps would make it more feasible are much more obvious.

First of all, you’d need a President who was committed to reigning in military spending as a first priority. This seems pretty self-explanatory. Secondly, for better or worse, you need a Republican President. The counter-intuitiveness of a Republican who thought we spent too much money on the Pentagon would make it slightly harder to demonize the effort as some pacifistic military hatefest out of hand, and provide some political cover. Plus, Congressional Republicans are much more apt to fall in line with what they’re told, so a Republican President could probably bring a handful of Congressional votes a Democratic President simply couldn’t get. Finally, you’d need a President with military experience, and experience that reaches into senior command. Think Dwight Eisenhower. It’s rather hard to accuse former generals of hating the military or not being sufficiently knowledgeable about the needs of the military at large.  Conservative hawks intent on demonizing the President would immediately look like lunatics, and hawkswho wanted more credibility would have to reflexively acknowledge the President’s credibility. In other words, you’d need President Petraeus to agree that we spend way too much money on the military, and that this is a big problem that desperately needs to be fixed. Would that be enough to shift the narrative and win the necessary votes in Congress? It’s hard to say, but it’s the only realistic path to that end I see in the near term.

Public Has Conflicting Views About Policy Issues

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

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One thing that’s incredibly bizarre about admonishments to pay attention to public opinion polling when crafting policy is that even a cursory overview of various prominent polling outlets makes it clear that the public at large has many views about policy that are in conflict with each other, sometimes downright mutually exclusive. Sometimes this even shows up in the same poll, as with this polling report on public views of the budget deficit from Democracy Corps:

Despite these concerns, voters are reluctant to attack the deficit through tax increases or spending cuts on entitlements. In this economy, voters are wary of raising taxes, even if the revenue raised goes to something they deem important, like paying down the deficit. A majority (51 percent) say that even though the deficit is a big problem, we should not raise taxes to bring it down, while only 43 percent say that we might have to raise taxes to reduce the deficit. This rejection is even more acute among the least educated and lowest income voters, who are being disproportionately hurt by the recession and as such are even more strident in their rejection of a new tax to pay down the deficit.

And by an even wider 2:1 margin, voters reject cuts in Social Security, Medicare or defense spending to bring the deficit down (61 to 30 percent).

Of course, it’s simply not possible to significantly reduce the deficit without cutting spending on Medicare, Social Security, and defense or without raising taxes. So if you listen to the public, you’d seek out to eliminate the deficit, but you’d find yourself simply unable to do so. Part of this is because marginal voters can tip the balance, so that even if a lot of people are willng to take necessary measures to reduce the deficit, a relatively small handful of people who want more services but don’t want to be taxed to pay for them can tip the balance of public opinion. But another, more relevant, explanation is that the public simply doesn’t know that much about relevant facts. I suspect that the people who want the deficit reduced but don’t want to take any meaningful steps to do so are under the impression that the government spends much more than it does, and that the deficit can be reduced without touching any of the major spending programs or levels of taxation.  But it can’t. The fact that a majority of people, or even a dispositive plurality of people, thinks that it can doesn’t change the basic fact of the numbers, and this is why we’re organized into a representative democracy, where we elect people to handle these matters for us.

Jane Hamsher Really Is Not the “Base”

Friday, March 19th, 2010

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It’s really not that important at this point, but since I was banging this drum months ago it seems worth pointing out that Yglesias is exactly right about Jane Hamsher, and her place in the broader left. Putting aside my disagreements with the FDL crowds substantive views of the Senate healthcare bill (and the fact that I think Matt was being a bit unfair to Grijalva in the original post), it really is worth contemplating where the people who doggedly consider themselve the electoral “base” of the Democratic Party are relative to everyone else at the moment. Unions are lobbying wavering members of the House to support the bill, MoveOn is rallying support for the effort, every major progressive politician in Congress is in favor of passage, and even in the broader internet activist universe, most of the Netroots favors passage at this point. Discounting the single-payer-or-bust crowd, FDL is pretty much completely alone in the Democratic Party in opposing the bill at this point. You can ascribe whatever reason you find most plausible for their position (I think it’s mostly pique at realizing they’re not nearly as influential as they thought they were, mixed with Jane’s personal narcissism), but either way this fact really ought to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that, whomever the base of the Democratic Party is, it’s not the people taking the FDL-line on healthcare reform. By any objective observation, they’re a small element of the Democratic Party, which has overwhelmingly coalesced around the goal of passing the healthcare bill.

People Want Basic Services, Don’t Want to Pay For Them

Friday, March 5th, 2010

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I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at this story. Basically, Arizona is facing a huge budget shortfall, the largest in the country relative to overall size of the budget, and as part of an effort to cut costs, they’re closing a number of interstate rest stops. Predictably motorists and truckers aren’t very happy about this, and I certainly don’t blame them. On the other hand, the article really doesn’t seem to indicate that there’s any support for a tax increase to make up the deficit, or even a dedicated tax stream to support the rest stops. Indeed, apparently one woman thinks this is all some sort of organized plot to set up a massive tax increase. Basically I think this just illustrates that people, including nominal “small-government conservatives,” really aren’t interested in cutting much in the way of basic public services, they just really don’t like paying for them.

The Oppressiveness of Conservative Identity

Friday, February 26th, 2010

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Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponuru, in a tribute to American exceptionalism/identity, explain how mass transit is evil:

The Left’s search for a foreign template to graft onto America grew more desperate. Why couldn’t we be more like them — like the French, like the Swedes, like the Danes? Like any people with a larger and busier government overawing the private sector and civil society? You can see it in Sicko, wherein Michael Moore extols the British national health-care system, the French way of life, and even the munificence of Cuba; you can hear it in all the admonitions from left-wing commentators that every other advanced society has government child care, or gun control, or mass transit, or whatever socialistic program or other infringement on our liberty we have had the wisdom to reject for decades.

Matthew Schmitz points out that calling mass transit “socialistic” is stupid, given that highways and roads are also provided and maintained through government spending and taxation, but I think Yglesias’s critique of this as simply another instance of conservatives demarcating what does and does not count as “American,” as dismissing anything outside of that narrow conception subversively pro-European, is more accurate.

For my part I’ll just note that this yet again proves that the critiques you hear from conservatives from time to time about how liberals want to use public policy to force changes in peoples’ lifestyle is complete bullshit. It’s not so much that liberals don’t want to do this (basically any change to public policy, or lack of change for that matter, is going to effect lifestyle decisions at the margins), but rather that conservatives want to do this to. Yglesias points out that you never really hear conservatives or libertarians complain about local regulations designed to maintain the low-density, car-centric nature of suburbs. I would add that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movement conservative complain that things like the federal tax preference for homeowners over renters induces people to live in suburban or exurban areas over urban areas, or that the lack of quality mass transit systems in most American cities basically forces the people who live their into car-centric lifestyles, whether they like it or not. Which again, isn’t to say that using public policy to drive lifestyle patterns is bad, per se, it’s just to point out that conservatives who talk about “small government,” individual choice, etc. are usually full of crap, and that they’re just as comfortable, or even moreso, with using government policy to influence the decisions people make.

Strategies Change Based on Circumstance

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

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I’ve been fairly critical of the certain segment of progressive activists who generally assume that everything good that happens is the result of the “50 State Strategy” Howard Dean came up with as DNC chair, and consequently attribute anything bad that happens to the decision to end it in 2009. Indeed, I’ve been fairly critical of the strategy itself. Dean basically devised it in an overreaction to his crushing defeat in the Iowa caucuses when, after busing in volunteers from outside the state and ignoring precinct captains and prominent local activists, he was trounced by Kerry and Edwards, whose campaigns had courted these local fixtures who could actually deliver votes in the caucuses. Dean’s response was basically to overestimate the effect local effects have on elections, or at least national elections. Congressional general elections are not the Iowa caucuses, after all. And so, Dean took DNC money and paid for state parties to hire additional field staff, which left less money to spend directly to Congressional candidates. But hey, Democrats won big in 2006 and 2008, so it’s not really a big deal now, nor would I necessarily say it was a failure, even though the 2006 elections pretty clearly showed that Dean was overreacting to 2004. But all’s well that ends well.

By contrast, 2010 simply isn’t 2006, or even 2008. Whereas the Democrats were an opposition party in 2008, and especially in 2006, now they control every lever of the legislative process, especially the White House. And the sort of strategy that works for an opposition party simply doesn’t work for a governing party. The criticism that the DNC is too heavily geared towards advocacy for the Obama administration is just stupid; how voters feel about Obama’s Presidency will be (along with employment) the primary factor in how Democrats do in national elections, and to a lesser extent state elections. That’s just the place our national elections have evolved to; we have a parliamentary political system without having a parliamentary governing system. People view the President as the leader of government, assign outsized blame/credit to him for what the government does, and then votes accordingly. If unemployment stays around 10% and Obama’s approval ratings slip to the low-to-mid-40’s, it won’t make a bit of difference how many field organizers the Democratic Party has on payroll. This is something Republicans did a good job of recognizing, and getting their members of Congress on board for, for the most part, and something Democrats really need to figure out. Everyone staking out their own positions and haggling against one another isn’t really effective at managing public opinion, signing on the White House’s agenda and working to get it through Congress quickly would provide a much better political strategy, especially given that the President is much more popular than any Congressional actor, and certainly more popular than Congress as a whole. Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman posturing against the President is one thing, but the Democratic caucus as a whole would do well to look out for the political fortunes of their President, because they’re inextricably wedded to him electorally.

On a more personal note, I’d add that one problem with the SPP worship is that the field organizers it paid for weren’t necessarily that good at what they were doing. Speaking from personal observation, Ohio Republicans ran strategic and tactical circles around their Democratic opponents in 2006. In fact, it wasn’t even close; it was sort of like watching the #1 team in the country play an FCS division school. But Republicans were so unpopular, nationally and at the state level, that it simply didn’t matter how good their campaigns and staff were; people didn’t want them in charge of government anymore. And so even though the Democrats were operationally overwhelmed, they won 4 of 5 state executive offices, got more votes for their House candidates, and even got Sherrod Brown elected to the Senate. All this, of course, because George Bush and Bob Taft were incredibly unpopular.

Nuremburg is Not A Domestic Legal System

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

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Legal issues aren’t necessarily my specialty, so it’s taking me a little while to go through the OPR’s report on possible malfeasance in the Bush DOJ, as well as various reactions to the report, but I can safely say that this framing from Paul Rosenberg is unambiguously stupid.

Judgment at Nuremberg was the sort of movie that helped me feel like I was not a freak when I was growing up.  It helped me feel that I was the real American, and bigoted wingnuts I ran into from time to time were the despicable un-American scum.

But now, Obama & his “Department of Justice” has effectively declared that those men were unjustly convicted.  They were right, and the men who prosecuted them were wrong.  They may have been guilty of bad advice, or bad legal decisions, but misconduct?  Come on!

This isn’t just a matter of “being on the wrong side of history.”  This is changing sides more than 60 years after the fact, on the great issue of what constituted good and evil in World War II.  Sure, we expect the sociopathic neocons to come down on the side of the Nazis, and clueless fratboy Bush to sign on with his signature, “Whatever.”  But Obama was supposed to be elected to clean up that mess.  To restore us to constitutional rule, at the very least.  Instead, he has given his impremature to reversing the judgment at Nuremberg.

Aside from the fact that Nuremberg wasn’t a domestic court, and that if it were it would have represented a clear violation of the Constitution’s prohibition against ex post facto laws, the larger point Rosenberg misses about Nuremberg is that it fundamentally represented the idea that there were different rules for “us” and “them.” While it’s certainly nice that World War II created new norms about the way wars should be fought, including the notion that civilian casualties should be avoided and human rights respected, no one tried to put the Soviets on trial with aiding the German conquest of Poland or enaging in their own aggressive war in Finland. Nor was Curtis Lemay dragged before any tribunals to account for the firebombing campaign against Japan or “Operation Starvation.” Lemay went on to rise through the ranks to the point he was able to argue for bombing missile sites in Cuba, which would have led to full blown nuclear war with the Soviets, and to call the resolution of the conflict without military action a “defeat,” before running for Vice-President on George Wallace’s ticket in 1968. Which, again, isn’t to discredit the Nuremberg trials, but if you’re trying to argue that we ought to hold ourselves to international standards concerning the conduct of warfare and human rights, Nuremberg isn’t exactly a great benchmark to use.


Weird Conservative Politeness

Friday, February 19th, 2010

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I might be nitpicking a bit here, but this Pete Wehner denunciation of Tim Pawlenty for cracking a joke about Elin Woods hitting Tiger with a golf club strikes me as a bit bizarre:

I’m told from those who know Governor Pawlenty that he is an impressive and decent person, and he certainly has a fine record as governor. But this kind of talk is pretty classless — and strikes me as inauthentic to Pawlenty, as an effort to throw some “red meat” to a conservative crowd.

He doesn’t need to do that. It undermines his appeal. He should speak in an intelligent, mature, serious way to his audience. These are, after all, serious times. Humor is fine and I’m all for tough-minded criticism. But grace and class are important, too. And we don’t need to pull down our political culture with stuff like this.

What strikes me as odd is the way Wehner denounces making jokes about domestic violence as “classless,” without ever really specifying that it’s jokes about domestic violence that he finds classless. I’d really like to know why, exactly, that is.

There’s More To Life Than Messaging

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

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by Brien Jackson

I confess, I’m pretty stupified by this:

At a time of increasing debate over the optimal relationship between government and business in the U.S., new Gallup polling shows that 57% of Americans are worried that there will be too much government regulation of business, while 37% worry that there will not be enough. Half of Americans believe the government should become less involved in regulating and controlling business, with 24% saying the government should become more involved and 23% saying things are about right.

My guess is that the results would change drastically if the generic “business” was replaced with “banks,” but anyway, there you go. Americans are skeptical of “government regulations.” Digby, in keeping with a general trend among some netroots bloggers to imagine that everything is about messaging, and a specific trend of her’s to argue that progressive politicians don’t make an explicit case for progressive beliefs, calls this “an epic failue of liberal politics.” But is it, or is it a success of conservative messaging?

At least since the late 1970’s, American conservative messaging has been based on two basic tactics; blatantly lying about things, and crafting talking points that drastically over-simplify issues to easy-to-remember, but highy inaccurate, dogma. In the case of regulations, the conservative line is pretty simple; regulations are bad, always in all places. What is the progressive line supposed to be in contrast? More regulations are always awesome? That’s ridiculous. As both Atrios and Yglesias point out, there really are bad regulations on business out there, mostly at the state and municipal level. Further, most local governments impose land use regulations that are bad for progressive goals, by limiting the amount of density that can grow in an area, leading to inefficient energy use, poor conditions for mass transit to grow, and adverse environmental consequences. These are all places where we really do need to deregulate, or at least re-regulate in a more intelligent way.

The problem progressive messaging has is pretty simple; progressives are still largely attached to reality, and still mostly trying to act like adults. They’re more comfortable handling nuance than conservatives, as opposed to constructing a religious like dogma to fit an entire worldview into. That makes it incredibly difficult to use rhetoric to change the way people respond to polls like this, unless Digby wants progressives to go all in with their own lies and over-simplified talking points, hoping they win out. Which I suppose they could do, but where does that leave us? With both sides living in their own personal reality, with their own religious-like views, talking in dogmatic, over-simplified absolutisms?


Monday, November 23rd, 2009

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Brien Jackson

I’m not really sure this is news, in the sense that I thought it was fairly well known that heavy rain regularly overwhelms our sewage processing facilities and leads to lots of untreated sweage overflowing into water sources, at least amongst the sort of people who would pay any attention to that sort of thing, but it does serve to remind us of something fairly useful; there’s a lot of things this country needs to get to doing! Our infrastructure is crumbling, of course, but even if it weren’t, it’s simply not on par with other advanced countries anymore. In fact, it’s very conceivable that within a generation it will b a real stretch to call the United States a first-world nation.

But, on the other hand, we also have a lot of newly out of work people who would really like to have a job. And interest rates are pretty much as low as they can be. So we have a large pool of potential laborers perfectly willing to go to work dealing with these issues, and cheap money to finance the projects. If you’re a glass-half-full type, this is a perfect confluence of problems; the poor economy makes it possible to get to work fixing our decrepit infrastructure, and fixing our nfrastructure can pump new life into the economy. It’s the opposite of a catch-22!

But, of course, doing this would require, you know, spending. More to the point, we’d need government spending. And every Washington Post columnist and other assorted variations of idiots knows that government spending is bad! Not just bad!, but BAD!!1111!!111! So that’s pretty much impossible, because conservatives and Blue Dogs won’t be having any of that evil government spending on things like making sure our sewage treatment facilities don’t spill everyone’s waste into water sources. Besides, if sewage treatment was that important, the free market would take care of it for us. That it hasn’t is just proof that people actually like drinking shit water. Right?

More broadly, there’s actually a lot of places where this dynamic holds. I’m sure you’ve seen the lines of people waiting for H1N1 vaccines. Well, if you’re like me, your first response to that is to wonder if putting that money people together in one small place is really the best way to address a public health issue. Especially when the people are mostly made up of the demographics most susceptible to getting sick in te first place. It also seems that the long waiting time imposes another burden on getting vaccinated that might lead to more people deciding not to get the vaccine. What could fix that? How about a system of public health clinics that would be charged with handling these sorts of routine healthcare matters? It would make the delivery of basic healthcare more convenient for consumers, and would create thousands of jobs or nurses and primary care doctors. But, you know, SocialiZeD MediCinZ!!!qq!!111!1122111! So screw you and your “employment” commie!! We got military jets we’ll never use to buy!

The Efficacy of States

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein both wrote posts recently that I thought were pretty good fisking of the whole concept of states as individual governing entities. I haven’t seen any wingnut response yet, but John Patashnik took what, to my mind, was a very unconvincing stab at defending states. A few quick things to deal with at the beginning, starting with the lead in:

I never thought I’d write a blog post defending the existence of states–at least no more than I thought I’d write one defending the existence of, say, brunch or toilet paper.

If you have to start your “defense” with such a sophomoric sentence as this, you probably don’t have much of a case, such as it were. Just saying.

But Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein have the laboratories of democracy squarely in their crosshairs.  In Ezra’s words, “I just don’t consider states to be a particularly useful political unit.”  And this, sadly, isn’t an isolated sentiment among liberals these days.  Look no further than the popularity of the mildly offensiveTenther” label–as if states’ rights are just a wacky conspiracy theory and people who believe in them are as delusional as the  birth certificate/death panel crowd.

I don’t know what Patashnik finds “mildy offensive” about “tenther,” but that last bit is about as gross an understatement as I’ve read in quite sometime. It’s worth clarifying exactly what sort of “states’ rights” we’re talking about here. To wit, no one is arguing over the states’ authority to issue dog licenses or set speed limits or levy sales taxes within their state, we’re talking about a “movement” that, based upon an incredibly broad reading of the 10th amendment, holds that nearly everything the federal government does is un-Constitutional. What’s more, they come to this conclusion based upon an overwhelmingly narrow reading of pretty much every other provision of the Constitution save for the 10th amendment (I once had someone insist to me that the 10th amendment gives states the authority to decide what unenumerated rights are protected by the 9th amendment, even though Article III explicitly grants the power to decide questions arising under the Constitution, of which the 9th amendment is indisputably a part, to the federal judciary), and would never extend such latitude to, say, the taxation/general welfare clause in Article 1 Section 8. In other words, “tentherism” isn’t some good faith interpretation of the Constituion, it’s a convenient way of constructing an argument such that it arrives at the desired conclusion of the person making the argument, with no real backing in the text itself. But I digress. This is the meat of Patashnik’s defense:

The “what good are states?” view makes some sense if you regard the federal government as the fundamental political unit in America, and the states as nothing more than sub-national governmental units established for convenience’s sake.  But that’s simply and indisputably not the way our system was established and not the way it works. To view states in that light is un-American (in the literal sense, not the pejorative Glenn Beck sense).  As Justice O’Connor put it, “States are not mere political subdivisions of the United States. . . . [t]he Constitution instead leaves to the states a residuary and inviolable sovereignty.”  States are not a means to some administrative end; within their sphere of sovereignty, they are the end.  In joining the Union they gave up certain powers, but they retained everything else.  To question that is to propose a system radically different from one we have.


Maybe it’s just me, but the bait-and-switch Ezra apparently envisions seems pretty unconscionable.  Back in the day, states were concerned that at some point in the future the federal government would try to usurp their sovereignty, so they wrote very strong protections for themselves into the Constitution.  Now, in 2009, along comes a chorus of voices proclaiming that, from a national perspective, that arrangement doesn’t “make sense,” so we should consider changing it.  Well, of course!  That’s precisely the concern the states had back then.

Pardon my French, but this is nothing but a bunch of bullshit. It’s lazy bullshit at that, and it’s an especially pernicious brand of bullshit that really pisses me off. Is Patashnik right with his “this is exactly what the states were afraid of” formulation? Yes, of course he’s right. But so what? The idea that people living in the United States are inextricably bound by what anyone said, did, wrote, or thought 200 years ago is ridiculous. I’ve got plenty of admiration for the system the American founders created, but by no means do I think it is or was perfect. More importantly, they didn’t think it was perfect. And they imagined that subsequent generations might want to change some things, and they were ok with that. It’s one of the only reasons the Constitution has survived so remarkably long as a governing document (its completely subjective nature in parts being probably the biggest other factor as well).  Patashnik’s view is one that completely rejects the entire notion of self-determination, and dismisses the notion that free people should be able to decide how they want to arrange their government. Whether you agree with his positions on states or not, this simply isn’t, to my mind, a legitimate argument, and the fact that this is the go-to argument makes me think that Patashnik doesn’t really have much of a substantive defense of states to offer, which isn’t helped by this later retort either:

My own view is that such radical and wholesale changes are per se inadvisable.

Obviously Patashnik wouldn’t be alone in this, but again, it’s a pretty lazy conceptual view of things, to simply dismiss any “radical or wholesale changes” out of hand as “per se inadvisable” without actually, you know, weighing the merits thereof. I’d be curious to know what other “radical” changes Patashnik would have been opposed to at the time. The end of the slave trade (which the slave states explicitly put off limits to Congress for a certain amount of time in the Constitution as well, by the way)? Brown vs. Board of Education? Direct election of Senators? The Civil Rights Act? Women’s suffrage? Inquiring minds want to know. Finally:

Matt says, “a big part of the problem here is that it’s difficult to think of what kind of issues are actually well-suited to be dealt with at a state level.”  This is somewhat surprising to me.  What about the basic, bread-and-butter questions of governance that states currently deal with?  For instance, what should the punishment for murder be?  How much money should teachers make?  How should the car insurance industry be regulated?  How about marriage, divorce, inheritance, and adoption? 

These questions are too local in character to merit federal involvement; in a vast and diverse nation, trying to settle these debates in Washington is as hopeless as it is unnecessary.

Except, here’s what Matt actually said:

But a big part of the problem here is that it’s difficult to think of what kind of issues are actually well-suited to be dealt with at a state level. It’s easy to think of kinds of issues that Arlington County, Virginia should address on its own without input from people who live in Norfolk, VA or Montgomery County, Maryland or Boise, Idaho. These are your local government responsibilities. And it’s also easy to think of issues that should be decided in common between Arlington and Norfolk and Montgomery and Boise. These are your federal responsibilities. But it’s very hard to think of what kinds of things should involve Arlington and Norfolk, but not Montgomery County. Conversely, it’s pretty easy to think of things that should involve Arlington County and Montgomery County but not Norfolk or Boise. These would be metropolitan region issues.

In other words, of course there are issues that probably are best hashed out locally, and obviously things that make no sense to work out on the federal level. No one I’m aware of is making the argument that there shouldn’t be any local government. Quite the opposite in fact, Matt is basically arguing that the centrality of state government is bad for local governance, because by and large, the constituencies therein don’t really make any sense for the governed. Someone in Silver Spring has a lot more common issue with someone in Washington D.C., or even someone in Arlington, than they do with someone in Cumberland, and yet they don’t have any metropolitan government handling issues relevant to the entire D.C. area, but they’re lumped in with a state government with people in the Maryland mountains, Eastern Shore, Baltimore, Annapolis, etc. A system that included city government, metropolitan governments, and maybe even county or regional governments could all make plenty of sense as it relates to foreseeable issues that will need to be hashed out at a level below the federal government, but there’s no reason all of this has to be hashed out based upon largely arbitrary lines drawn on a piece of paper that lump people in New York City in with people in Syracuse while leaving out people in Secaucus. And the fact that Patashnik can’t even address the actual point being made speaks volumes about the difficulty involved with defending that arrangement.

But you know, we decided to do it this way two centuries ago, so we’re basically stuck doing it the same way for all eternity. What happens in the 18th century doesn’t stay in the 18th century.


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