Editorial: Democrats rediscover the benefits of federalism

Published on Thursday, 6 July 2017 12:25 - Written by

President Trump has succeeded in one thing, at least, far beyond anyone’s expectations. He has single-handedly repopularized the concept of federalism - maintaining a proper balance between federal and state governments.

Throughout the Obama years, Democrats had pushed a concentration of power at the federal level. Now, they’re reconsidering the wisdom of this.

Writing for Politico, Hillary Clinton supporter Richard Florida says he was shocked when Clinton didn’t win. But without her in the White House, he says, we should work hard to restore power to state and local governments.

“It’s time to confront a simple but stunning fact: When it comes to urban policy and much else, the federal government is the wrong vehicle for getting things done and for getting them done right,” he writes. “Whether it is controlled by the left or the right, no single top-down, one-size-fits-all strategy can address the desires and needs of a country as geographically, culturally and economically divided as America. Big cities and metropolitan regions, far-flung exurbs, suburbs and rural areas are very different kinds of places, with vastly different desires and needs.”

It’s an amazing revelation for someone who was prepared for a federal takeover of even more of American life, had Clinton won. He changed his mind, in light of who is now in the Oval Office.

“The more I thought about it, the more I realized that as disastrous as Trump’s presidency was likely to be in many respects, it also presented a unique opportunity,” Florida writes. “If the GOP-controlled federal government isn’t going to help our cities - and under Trump, it is likely to work actively against their economic interests, not to mention the interests of the poor, minorities, women, gays and immigrants who live in them - then our cities will have to do the job themselves.”

What he’s describing is federalism. And what is federalism, exactly?

“The long answer starts with America’s constitutional convention of 1787, where the term ‘federalism’ was coined,” explains The Economist magazine. “Those favoring a powerful central government, including Alexander Hamilton and James Madison (who eventually became the chief authors of the Constitution), adopted the name ‘federalists.’ Those who wanted strong states and a weak central government became the ‘anti-federalists.’ The Federalist Papers, a series of arguments for the new constitution written by Hamilton and Madison, acknowledged the need for balance between state and federal power, but they mainly favored the center.”

In other words federalism is the proper balance of state and federal power.

As The Economist points out, one size never fits all, and as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis pointed out in 1932, each “state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”

Democrats have rediscovered federalism for all the right reasons - they realize that local control is important, and a concentration of power in Washington isn’t good for any of us.

We welcome them to the conversation, which has been going on since 1787.