Thursday, May 19, 2011

State of Confusion

The American Political Right is noteworthy for, among other things, a single-minded, obsessive focus on a particular set of issues and ideological positions.  Their entire political constituency has a virtually homogeneous set of political beliefs, a single unified ideology that can be expressed in a series of brief 'bumper stickers' that simultaneously define a position and eliminate any and all nuance from the issue.  They wield their political beliefs as a blunt instrument, and it is universally accepted by American Conservatives that there is one right answer to any political or philosophical question.  From abortion to climate change to energy and tax policy, there is much less variation from issue to issue on the Right than there could ever possibly be on the left.  It is fortunate that this kind of narrow world view, one that doesn't only refuse to tolerate dissent, but enforces its internal orthodoxy with a brutally exclusionary process, is necessarily self-limiting, ensuring that a political belief system rigidly enforced by it's own most radical adherents will never appeal to a large enough constituency to actually hold unfettered power.

But it is often noted that the overarching narrative that drives these specific issue positions, the single great organizing principle of the American Political Right is that of 'small governement'.  Indeed, there is no set of beliefs about the purpose of government, other than it's management of the monopoly on the use of violent coercion, so there is no sense of just precisely how small government should be - only that in any and all cases, it should be smaller.  This belief is predicated on an economic philosophy of radical free-market capitalism, where private enterprise and property ownership should, in every case, be out of reach of any government control or manipulation.  Now, obviously, there is a massive inherent hypocrisy in this worldview, as those who espouse it have no problem calling for the government to outlaw, limit and punish anything they do not believe should be permitted, from abortion to homosexuality.

But as we have learned over the last decade, hypocrisy is never a disqualifier, and indeed carries with it no consequences or sanction.  But there is a larger question contained within this 'small government' dogma, one I have never seen questioned and one I genuinely don't understand.  All these demands for lesser government regulation, increasingly limited government participation in the community and, as a necessary outcome, less government demands for tax revenue to support its interventions in the lives and livelihoods of Americans, without exception speak to the Federal government.  It is an article of faith, going back to the civil war and the civil rights debates of the fifties and sixties, that these decisions, and, must go the unspoken corollary, these government interventions and attendant taxation, are the domain of the States, and not any greater collective federal government or agency.

Well, OK then.  But here's where I'm left confused.  How is the one, in any functional or operational manner, really any different from the other?  If I send less money to Washington and more to Sacramento, this somehow results in greater liberty?  If Federal legislators decline to pass laws that constrain my right to a gun or an abortion or a marriage, but State legislators do so enthusiastically, how is that constraint any better?  The argument I can come up with is that this patchwork approach would result in various regional enclaves where one could choose to live that would more closely align legal and economic policy with constituent's ideology.  Eventually, I suppose, enforced by some kind of selective 'migration' policy that would prevent people with different political ideas and beliefs from coming in and "disrupting" the community.

It seems to me that, in today's highly tribal, often bigoted and extremely polarized political environment, a genuine hands off, 'leave it to the states' policy would remarkably quickly lead to the complete dissolution of what we in modern times think of as America. It would be some sort of very loose affiliation of shifting regional alliances, a 'No-Longer-United' States of America, and that the liberal tendencies of the educated and creative classes would lead to the severe economic decline of the more right wing regions.  It's so clearly an unworkable arrangement that there is no real possibility of it ever coming to pass, but that doesn't provide a satisfactory answer to the larger question.  Why is one government's intervention welcome, while another is anathema?  How are they different, and how is one more democratic?


  1. Retarded - and sometimes good! - ballot initiatives in California are an example. There are things that'll pass in California that won't pass nationally and vice versa.

    There's an extent to which I think a lot of government should be more local, but the union of a few hundred million people can get amazing stuff done in a good way. Or could 30 years ago.

  2. I know I'm way late to post this but...what the whackadoodles will tell you is that you have more influence over your local government than you do over that far-distant government in Washington.

    Of course, they don't tell you the effect of "one dollar, one vote" are more marked on the local gooferment too, so that big developer or the multi-national actually has an easier time getting the rules slanted their way, at a much lower cost.

    See? It's the efficiency of the market in action!