2 cheers for the federalist left

colorado coinLet’s all take a moment to welcome our progressive left friends to the self-government movement. They’re a little late to the party, generally favoring judges and bureaucrats over actually persuading people they’re right. But it’s good to see they have at least a taste for local decision-making when it suits their needs.

This Kumbaya moment comes to me after perusing an article from Colorado describing local efforts there to give communities the power to ban fracking, even though it’s already (for now, at least) regulated at the state rather than federal level.

Still, the cynic in me wants to call their efforts at bringing policy decisions closer to home rank opportunism, but even that dark cloud has a silver lining. There’s at least an inkling of understanding behind the effort that maybe, just maybe letting local people have a say in what’s good or bad for them might be useful and fair and proper, even if the folks are sometimes wrong. So two cheers for opportunism masquerading as principle.

Only two cheers because federalism, you see, isn’t really the favorite tool in their policy toolbox. They don’t normally want to leave deciding what is best for the great unwashed to, well, the great unwashed because all too often the great unwashed don’t know what’s good for them.

But even despite two cheers and a few other local efforts here and there, no one on the left is saying to give states or even communities more overall power if it comes at the expense of D.C. or their favorite judges. In the few cases where they are, you can be sure they’re losing the political or legal argument. Even then, they’ll continue working stridently to centralize power in health care (Obamacare), banking (Dodd/Frank), environmental policy (where do I start?), education (Common Core) and much, much more, while only falling back on federalism as a last resort. It’s the crazy uncle they roll out at the family reunion when the conversation isn’t going their way.

Self-government and federalism allow people to seek happiness without undue interference, and to govern themselves rather than having values and outcomes imposed on them. It’s ironic that the left will invoke these principles only when they need to undo a federal policy they don’t like while electing to cram the rest of their agenda down the country’s throat from the top down.

While we’re at it, they also tend to confuse federalism and self-government with populism. Federalism balances power. Populism subverts it. Federalism seeks to bring decision-making closer to home using governmental institutions. Populism seeks to reposition power from whoever currently has it to a new elite that purports to represent the folks. Populist movements going all the way back to ancient Rome and into the 20th century with Marxism, communism, fascism, and all their little offshoots in tin pot dictatorships throughout history have been inflicted on people with little to lose and lots to complain about all over the world, always to their detriment.

Envy, class warfare, and demagoguery are the populist’s tools, whether they come from the right or the left. And power is their goal. That’s how you tell true federalists and believers in self-government from the posers who only resort to those tools when necessary. Faux-federalists don’t want to fix the train. They just want to drive it, as nicely articulated by my friend Rob Natelson in a recent American Thinker post.