The founding principle of American Government is Federalism, a system wherein a central national government and other government units such as the states have relatively equal powers divided between them. Our recent interview with Jacob Leibenluft from the Center for American Progress, provides a clear example of how those Federalist principals are under attack from both right and left, and how that is unlikely to change in the near future. This continued erosion of the principals of local rule results in the inefficient application of one-size-fits-all policy, a centralization of power at the national level, and disillusioned voters.
Federalism, with its allowance for local rule, is the most popular system of large and diverse nations such as the US. Federalism satisfies the urge for self-rule, and allows localities to apply specialized and effective policy solutions. However, it is difficult in that a commitment to federalist principle means a commitment to allowing others to do things that you might not want them to do. This can be especially trying for those who consider politics to be a clash between good and evil. Competing partisans pursuing ideological victory appear unlikely to allow their opposites to pursue their plans, regardless of issue. Thus, while some pay lip service to the ideals of the separation of power between the federal and state governments, these ideals are often trampled upon by whichever interested party holds the greatest amount of power.
To test this theory, I asked Mr. Leibenluft for the Center for American Progress’s opinion on federalism and the giving of power to the states, knowing that some states would adopt progressive policy (his goal) and some would not. His response was that he believed that there were many issues that needed national policy, specifically mentioning the minimum wage. He then noted that some of the states are themselves preventing counties from raising their minimum wage.
If we examine the minimum wage, the first thing one must understand is that the cost of living varies greatly depending on location. The state and county an individual inhabits have a massive influence on how much money they need to stay alive. It is a prime example of an issue that should be solved at the most local level possible. However, as shown by Mr. Leibenluft , the far left will advocate for a nationwide minimum wage, regardless of the difference in cost of living between states. However, Mr. Leibenluft was correct in that conservative states have a tendency to pass laws prohibiting counties from raising their own minimum wage. Even though this is not technically a violation of federalist principal, it is a violation of its spirit. This weakens the ownership of federalism that the conservative movement has generally possessed.
In conclusion, it can perhaps best be argued that there are no defenders of federalism, only competing ideologies committed to the establishment of their credo over as much of the nation as possible.
This phenomena shows no sign of abating, as the parties continue to become more ideological. A comparison of the party platforms over the last decade at the manifesto project shows a concerted movement to the ideological right and more recently to the ideological left. Thus, it is likely that each party will continue to use whatever means it can in order to enact its policies as widely as possible. The result will be a weakening of local representation, growing disillusionment in government, and further centralization of power in the executive branch.