Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dismissing Romney’s Federalism


At a time when Conservative pundits are lauding the shift of Washingtonian focus to a debate on the size and scope of government, those very same pundits are dismissing Federalism with a wave of the hand. Where talking heads are touting "serious solutions to serious problems," they ought to "seriously" reevaluate their dismissal of Federalism, and Romney's application of it.


How is it that Paul Ryan's budget can (rightly) be held in so high a regard by the very same people who condemn Mitt Romney's healthcare efforts in Massachusetts? To the casual, rational observer, it seems quite obvious that the Right has extolled the Ryan plan - which shifts much of healthcare implementation to the states. Yet, those same folks oppose Romney's efforts which were, in and of themselves, a road map for liberal states wishing to institute liberal healthcare without simultaneously creating an unnecessary burden on the rest of the country.

Like it or not, there are liberal states with a plurality of citizens who want a more socialized healthcare system. Does it not make sense to provide them, then, with a means for having the healthcare system they want without entangling the entire nation in their folly? Didn't Romney, therefore, show just how that might be accomplished? Would not any given governor of a liberal state need to take similar steps if the Ryan budget were to become law?

Far more puzzling is the dismissive attitude of self-professed Conservatives toward Federalism.

The notion that the Federal government has usurped too much power and too much debt goes hand in hand with the truism that the Federal government is trying to do too much. And if we can agree that the Federal government is trying to do too much, the question then becomes: who, instead, ought to be doing these things - if they are to be done at all?

Romney's answer is simple: the States.

Therefore, his stance against a liberal national healthcare policy is entirely reconcilable with his stance in support of a liberal healthcare policy in the liberal state of Massachusetts. What is Federalism if not a system that puts government decisions closer to the people so as to serve those people best?

And while there are certainly flaws in Romneycare, Massachusetts voters have yet to elect representatives who might revoke it. Under the tenants of Federalism, citizens can simply move to another state if they don't like the way the Massachusetts government operates. That's far less true when we're talking about national policy, like Obamacare - which is what makes socialist policy at a Federal level far more punitive of the poor, who have much less mobility.

How, then, was it not in keeping with Federalist sentiment to pass the healthcare legislation in Massachusetts, using Massachusetts tax dollars, when the people of Massachusetts wanted (and apparently still want) it?

I for one love that at least one potential GOP candidate has managed to put two and two together and get Federalism. I love it even more that Romney knows enough to couch his narrative with Durant-esk references to the "laboratory of democracy":
"Our approach was a state plan intended to address problems that were in many ways unique to Massachusetts. What we did was what the Constitution intended for states to do—we were one of the laboratories of democracy. Our experiment wasn’t perfect—some things worked, some didn’t, and some things I’d change. One thing I would never do is to usurp the constitutional power of states with a one-size-fits-all federal takeover."
To which Conservatives are, apparently, replying: "Which parts does he like?" This question is disingenuously posed. Romney has already answered that question, and he's been answering that question in the same way for years.

If conservatives cast aside Federalism, I'm not quite sure what ideological leg we'll have to stand on come 2012. "Individual liberty" only rings true if you're willing to shift power away from the Federal government and toward the individual. That's what Romney did as governor, and that's what he has proposed to do as president - to take concerns like healthcare and shift the burden of solving those concerns toward the individual, so that solutions are localized relative to the unique circumstances rather than generalized and socialized into the type of bureaucratic nightmare we've seen created by Obamacare.

As Bruce Walker of the American Thinker recently put it:
The disintegration of states is the gravest problem we face. The omnipresent federal government means that Americans can no longer run from tyranny by leaving one state and moving to another. The transfer of power from state government to some nebulous "people" means that we have democracy, a very unhappy form of government.
It seems as though, on the 150th anniversary of a Civil War in which  hundreds of thousands of Americans gave their lives, we would do well to remember the fundamental government structure those Americans died defending.

So, to folks looking for an apology for "Romneycare," I suspect Mitt might just refer you to his 2010 New York Times Best Seller.  Or to quote him directly:
“States have rights that the federal government doesn’t have... The last thing you want to see is the federal government usurping the power of states...  I’m not going to apologize for the rights of states to craft plans on a bipartisan basis that they think will help their people."
The Romney camp has tested several narratives to justify his healthcare efforts as governor. But, really, he need only stick with the explanation he first offered when he signed the legislation: federalism. And therein lies Romney's path to the White House.

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