Friday, January 30, 2009

Progressive Federalism

One of the hallmarks of true conservatisim over the years in the U.S. has been a desire to encourage the sharing of government power between the federal government and the states and localities. Called 'federalism', this view of governing power harks back to the original understanding that it was preferable for many reasons to keep the central national government limited and checked in its power by the various state governments.

Ironically, modern conservatism has often opposed federalism because big business finds it to be counterproductive to its profits. Modern 'progressivism', in the form of the Obama administration, is beginning to see the value of federalism, according to a report in the NYT.

The Obama administration seems to be open to a movement known as “progressive federalism,” in which governors and activist state attorneys general have been trying to lead the way on environmental initiatives, consumer protection and other issues, several constitutional experts say.

Tom Miller, the attorney general of Iowa, who met with the transition team in December to discuss federalism and other issues, said he believed the Obama administration would “usher in a new era in federal-state relations.” Members of the new administration, Mr. Miller said, “are open to what we’re talking about, what we’re thinking.” They also appreciate, he said, the fact that state attorneys general often achieve a level of bipartisan cooperation when they band together to pursue lawsuits.

The general trend under previous administrations had favored federal pre-emption, the belief that the best law comes from Washington, a concept still favored by business leaders.

William L. Kovacs, a vice president for environmental and regulatory issues at the United States Chamber of Commerce, said free-for-all federalism was bad for business and would lead to a “patchwork of laws impacting a troubled industry.” Detroit, Mr. Kovacs said, would have to produce different cars for different parts of the country, and the environmental protection agency would grow tremendously to meet the new regulatory burden.

This shows once again that modern conservatism, often claiming to be the champion of federalism and smaller government, is really just the champion of big business and the wealthy.

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