The States.

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

Since the demise of the public option and single payer health care, what I’ve been hearing from some on Docudharma is that we should pursue solutions that are not to be had from the Federal government, like true universal non profit health care for all, from the states.  I’ve even recommended some of those posts out of sympathy or friendship.

But, to me, there’s a problem, here, Houston.

You see, the GLBT movement has already gone this way many times.  Where we have been rejected by our Federal government, many of us look to our states to make things better, to provide that which our central government is unable or unwilling to do.

Without engaging in hyperbole, there are some things I think people should think about when they talk about working on state-by-state solutions to the crises of social and economic equality and basic human welfare that bear consideration:

1.  One of the problems progressives have with the Federal government is the degree to which the central government is willing to countenance social and economic inequality.  This problem is exacerbated, not diminished, by going to the states.

What you are really doing is adding state level inequality to class and social inequality.

When the GLBT movement got little traction at the federal government level, the battle largely shifted to the states.

Despite the battles that have taken place, a curious thing has happened:  With few exceptions, the level of freedoms and rights LGBT people enjoy at the state level largely mirrors or corresponds with the pre-existing level of social acceptance already in those states to begin with.  There has been, with notable exceptions like Iowa, very little of the phenomenon of social acceptance of LGBT people spreading from state to state, as incrementalists would have people believe.

Oh, to be sure, many of the high profile battles have taken place in what the average American would deem “liberal” states.  Proposition 8, for example, lost in California, what most people would think of as a liberal accepting state.  But this obscures the fact that the rights LGBT people enjoy in California is already higher than in other states, less marriage, to begin with.

California has domestic partnerships which are in every sense the equivalent of the best civil unions available in other states.  Battles over LGBT rights are taking place in states that have, already, reasonably good track records, compared to the worst states.

But in Colorado, gay people have no domestic partnerships or civil unions.  This is not on the horizon, either.  To be fair, Colorado is rather middle of the road when it comes to LGBT acceptance.  We cannot legally be fired from our jobs on account of merely being gay, for example, which is not the case in other states.  But this is not my point:  My point is the social and economic inequalities which do exist between the states vis a vis gay rights tend to be “locked in” over a long period of time, and the battles consist of getting people rights that are in the final analysis willing to be given by the people.

When it comes to health care, or other areas in which the Federal government has failed in its duty to its citizens, there is every reason to believe that the GLBT model and history would apply:  States with a record and history of being willing to provide for their citizens are where these battles would occur and have a chance of winning, while citizens of other, lesser equal states will be told to suck wind and have few options.

In some cases, these could be different states than in the LGBT experience, but there is a dangerous overlap, and it’s the pattern that applies:  Inequality increases, it doesn’t decrease.

2.  If the pattern holds, this will have the combined effect of weakening the federal government and creating vassal states with ironically hostile and conservative anti-federalists.

We see the outlines of this pattern emerging already.  In Texas, one of the biggest recipients of federal largesse in the nation, we have ironically stupid people calling for secession.  How long until these calls grow, with the teabagger movement and other?  Poor southern states receive more, as a share of the population, in federal money than the more wealthy largely northern states.

If one were to pursue strictly state level solutions to certain economic problems, like health care, the pattern will be, again, exacerbated.

States that take better care of their citizens tend to become, well, wealthier.  Healthier, happier citizens are more productive citizens.  And they will simultaneously have higher taxes, be less willing to countenance a large share of these taxes relative to benefits provided going to the federal government.

This will weaken the federal government.  The states that have the most to gain from the remaining largesse of the federal government will be the ones most hostile to its existence and interference in “their” affairs.

3.  As the differences between states grow, the impetus on citizens of certain attitudes toward social and economic equality to move will, also.

I have to tell you, with affairs as they are in my state right now, I have little hope that I will see my rights as a GLBT person, relative to the state, at least, improve very much from where they are now, without the Federal government’s input.  I would be happier in another state with more magnanimous attitudes towards gay people, at least where GLBT rights are concerned.

When we fight for things like health care for all at the state level, the number of such people and the prevalence of their attitudes will increase.

To the extent state by state solutions are found for the problems that ail us are pursued, and the inaction of the Federal government on these issues is allowed to fester, Blue states will become bluer.  Red states will become redder.  Socially conservative attitudes and bigotry will not diminish overall, the differences between the states in this regard will become more stark.  So too will attitudes toward libertarianism and anti-federalism.

4.  At some point, the relative differences between the states with regard to their attitudes about rights and caring for their citizens will become impossible to ignore, the differences will be too stark to ignore, but the federal government will be historically relatively weak in terms of putting an end to these divisions and smoothing them over.

5.  A chief progressive concern is equality, but if we only act out of concerns for our own states, do we really care about equality?  Or are we consigning those people in states where we do not live to even worse equality than they have now?

I’m not saying that if we get no joy from the Federal Government on matters such as health care for citizens, we should not go to the states.  But I do think I should point out the long term dangers here.  We won’t be doing people in less progressive states any favors.  To the degree the state issues we address overlap each other geographically and issues wise, we will be putting larger and larger stresses on the 50 state union overall.

And people with the least reason to be doing so are already calling for secession, as I pointed out.


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  1. my state can beat up your state.

  2. and that is exactlywere it is gping inorder to squash it..

  3. Very well stated & the analysis of the inherent problem is unassailable in my humble opinion.

  4. you are fast becoming top on my list of “Rec on Sight” bloggers…!

  5. If progressives were driving the agenda, your arguments are very strong.  And I in no way suggest abandoning fighting on the federal level.

    But the right is  emboldened at the state level, and may be going at a whole slew of things.  The secession stuff a while back was on the face of it ridiculous, but as a rallying cry for those wanting to fight GENERALLY at the state level, it may have been very effective.

    As you know, I was opposed to the healthcare bill, but at this point it may provide the flashpoint for a whole lot of other mischief.  To expect the federal government to defend anything at the state level is folly.

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