Thursday, July 23, 2009


Let's see if I can pull this post off.

I don't think it's any surprise to people that I basically vote Democratic and would be classified as liberal. I've toned down the politics on this blog a lot since back in 2006 or so when I was really, really angry about the Bush administration and Republican-controlled Congress all the time, but still, basically liberal.

And yet I'm not really as liberal as one would think. In many ways, I fit a very common model of the independent who is socially liberal and fiscally conservative. In fact, I've spent some time wondering if I could reinvent myself as a Moderate Republican. What do I mean by that?

I agree with Obama that the economy, the environment, and health care are the major domestic issues today. But I also think the debt level is equally important. On Twitter, I follow various blog friends, one celebrity, and... the Concord Coalition. This is a non-partisan group focused on the nation's fiscal health with the rising debt being the supreme issue.

Moreover, I have become increasingly wary of the federal government as the solution to problems, though perhaps not for the normal reason. It's not that I hate all government. Instead, 1) our nation is simply gigantic: 300 million people in 50 states with differing cultures and economies. There is never going to be one best solution to a problem for all. There needs to be room for local variation that fits one's own place. 2) The more local power there is, the more individual people are able to truly influence their life, and the more they must take responsibility for their own community. It's really hard to make one vote in 300 million count. But one voice that tries hard enough can be at least heard, even if then ignored, by local government. Taking responsibility for your own community breeds strength and connection.

In short, a robust, strong federalism has tremendous appeal.

Of course there are reasons that many people are afraid of strong state independence, and the best one might be the way that certain states treated their minority populations for decades. They took away voting rights; they sent people to work in mines on trumped up charges; they wouldn't allow their own citizens to be full citizens and respect basic human dignity. And it was only the federal government stepping in that put some end to it.

So my federalism works like this. Constitutional rights cannot be farmed out to local communities. The federal government must enforce these rights and it trumps any state individualism. This is quite a strong claim already, because many of the most controversial issues of the day come down to constitutional rights: abortion, affirmative action, religion and the state, privacy, etc. But I see no alternative. If the Supreme Court says those rights are in the American Constitution then all Americans must have them. This will disappoint some conservatives since they, for instance, would like to have abortion be decided on a state level. But that's the way it is.

What's left then for states? Implementing and designing policy. I would like for the federal government's job to be to give a set of requirements on a topic, say health care, the environment, etc., and then let each state decide on their own how to do it. For instance, the federal government might pass legislation indicating that carbon emissions must be cut by 15% by 2015. Each state then can decide how they wish to accomplish this: cap and trade, direct regulation of pollutants, etc. As long as the requirement is indeed met, the state can accomplish it as they please. Failure would have consequences, probably either monetary or through the fed seizing control of that operation. The Fed can also have a role in promoting "best practices" to use some corporate speak. Part of the federal governments job would be to ensure states know how others are doing it, have data on success and failure, and coordinate the implementation of another state's plan in a state interested in it.

Perhaps it's more "networkism" than federalism.

Of course, does this mean I'd be a moderate Republican? Federalism, fiscal restraint. These are supposed to be classic Republican values. One can make a good case that they are not actual current Republican values. The last Republican administration showed little fiscal responsibility and typically only cared about state's rights when they couldn't win a federal level victory. However, if one is going to try new ideas, perhaps the Republican party would be more open to them at this moment in history. They seem rather lost philosophically to me. There's a hardcore social conservative base, but that group by itself is not going to win a national election. They need a wider tent, so maybe they would be interested in thinking of new ways to go about things. Moreover, there's something of a Nixon to China element to it. Oh, I'm not Nixon. But if the Republican Party could ever get on board something like alternative, renewable energies, perhaps for national security reasons, then that issue might really move forward.

However, I then will read about something a Republican leader or group has done or said, and it drives me insane. They called a special meeting of the RNC to label the Democrats socialist. A special meeting. That's not leadership, it's name-calling. Or they deny basic scientific facts. Or they lead an often thinly disguised charge against some minority (gay rights being a prominent issue for me). And I just can never see myself finding common ground there.

As I'm not politically active and actually dislike all parties, this party decision will likely never come. Even though I've typically voted Democratic, I only became an actual member of the party last year when I wanted a say in the Democratic Caucus. I actively dislike most of the emails I now get from them. I really have no interest in politics. It's governance that's appealing.

So let me bounce an idea off of you with my stunningly informed "networked" government model. Two ideas. Health care reform is one of the biggest issues today. First, do you think it could work to set requirements for each state, universal coverage and reduce costs, and then let them handle it as they see fit? If one state wants to tax the wealthy to fund private care for the uninsured, another state wants to introduce single payer health care, and a third wants to fund "a public option" as a competitor to private care, then they can. Let's see which works. The biggest problem with this approach is money. Who collects it and how is it distributed? Secondly, we are really doing two things at once: reforming health care to reduce costs and expanding coverage to millions of Americans who currently do not have it.

The great problem with both, but particularly with expanding coverage, is that you have to pay for it, and we are trying to find this money in the middle of a deep recession and loads of debt before the recession even began. How about, though this is highly over-simplified using money that comes from actually realizing savings to expand coverage. As 1 billion is saved through reforms, that money is then spent to implement the expanded coverage. Another billion saved later, and that money too goes to coverage. Of course, it does mean that the coverage will only expand slowly over a several year period, but we are in a recession, and as Obama himself argues the long-term health of the economy is tied to health care reform. If we only successfully expand coverage without actually reducing costs, then it will be a huge drag on our economy going forward and that future terrible economy would eventually reduce our ability to continue the coverage that we added for the short term.


Sammy Jankis said...

I think one of the quickest fixes to public health care is to create community health centers where the poor can go for treatment instead of the emergency room. It is far too common to see the poor taking their children into emergency rooms for things like sinus infections and ear infections. Each of these visits costs the system 5x to 10x the amount it would cost if they saw a family practitioner in either direct cash payments or lost resources as the ER is pulled away from treating actual emergencies. I was once talking with a friend of my niece who told me that she had taken her baby to the ER five times in the past four months for ear infections. I was baffled as to why this required an ER visit and she was baffled because she didn't know that wasn't an emergency situation. But, as a poor, uninsured person she had no other option to get her child treatment.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Oh my. This looks like a very interesting post that requires me to be awake. Maybe tonight.

blogless troll said...

Dude, chill out. Just take the blue pill--the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.

Precie said...

Gawd, bt! You crack me up!

The health care industry is too complex for my little brain...pharmaceutical companies funding researchers and wooing physicians, the costs of the uninsured getting absorbed by the insured, malpractice rates through the roof...there are so many factors that would need to be addressed and altered...

Between today's Mozart post and this, I'm starting my day thoroughly depressed. The gray sky isn't helping either.