Might liberals be warming up to federalism? If a recent article from The New Republic is any indicator, the answer is yes.
In his piece “Bluexit: A Modern Proposal for Separating Blue States From Red,” self-described “Blue State Patriot” Kevin Baker lays out his case for states doing their own thing within the structure of a pared-down Union. “We’ll turn Blue America into a world-class incubator for progressive programs and policies, a laboratory for a guaranteed income and a high-speed public rail system and free public universities,” writes Baker. “We’ll focus on getting our own house in order, while [the red states’ house] falls into disrepair and ruin.”
Though his piece drips with coastal elitism, it does offer a glimmer of hope that liberals might someday be persuaded to return to the system that our Founders intended — federalism. They’ll do it for their own selfish reasons, of course, but I won’t look this gift horse in the mouth.
I suspect that Baker’s change of heart might have something to do with last November’s election or with the elections of 1994, 2010, and 2014 which he mentions explicitly as “staggering defeats.” Clearly, his embrace of federalism is self-serving. The leviathan federal government suited him just fine until he lost control of it. Now it’s a menace.
Yet my heart sings with joy to hear an elitist New Republic writer say:
So: What are we in Blue America going to do about it?… For starters, we now endorse cutting the federal income tax to the bone — maybe even…abolishing it altogether. We will raise our state and local taxes accordingly to pay for anything we might need or want. We ask nothing more from you and your federal government. Nothing for infrastructure, or housing, or the care of the poor and sick — not that you gave us much, anyway. All we want is our money, and you can keep yours, dollar for dollar.
That sounds fantastic! It’s how America was supposed to work and how it largely did work until the Progressive Era.
Kevin Baker argues that the federal compact has been a raw deal for most blue states because they’re wealthier and pay more into the system than they get out. He prattles on with invective, bashing Mississippians for example, and their “sucking at the federal teat.” The picture he paints of red state America is one of despair, a place that needs the coasts a lot more than the coasts need them.
The argument is not entirely unconvincing. It’s true that the South has more than its fair share of social pathologies, and it’s true that a small class of big earners, concentrated mostly in New York and L.A., shoulder an enormous portion of the tax burden. Still, there are both charming places and hellholes in red states and blue states alike.
I don’t want to put words in Baker’s mouth but he seems to be saying that liberals have been “voting against their own economic interests” for a very long time. That phrase has been en vogue among liberals since Thomas Frank’s book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” was published in 2004, though liberals more often apply it to their opponents than to themselves. Baker uses that exact phrase in a remark directed at conservative America:
Go ahead, keep on voting against your own economic interests to satisfy your need to control other people’s bodies, sex lives, and recreational habits. We’ll be creating cities and states that will defend gay marriage, a woman’s right to choose, and sensible gun control against your intrusive federal judiciary.
In a previous column I argued that voting for one’s quote-unquote “economic interests” has become Democrat code for voting for handouts. Voting for one’s real economic interests means voting for jobs, which the Democrats seem intent on destroying.
A telling example can be found in rural Owsley County, Ky., which happens to be very Republican and very white. Precisely because of its demographics liberals love to point out that Owsley is America’s most welfare-addicted county. And they’re right. This small Kentucky county is the picture of devastated Appalachia. The jobs are gone and its dwindling population is hanging on by their fingernails. But what happened to those jobs? According to one article, “The decline in the profits from coal, tobacco and lumber industries led to a harsh toll being taken on the community.”
It’s hard to think of three industries that liberals have tried harder to strangle. Hillary Clinton even promised on the campaign trail that she would “put a lot of … coal miners out of business.” President Obama didn’t just talk about it, he did it. With Owsley County’s three most vital industries effectively banished, welfare became the people’s consolation prize. Now liberal politicians wonder why the victims of their policies don’t vote for their “economic interests.” Answer: they do. They’re still smarting over the purposeful annihilation of their livelihoods, and I don’t blame them.
If there’s anyone who isn’t voting for his economic interests it’s Kevin Baker. All these years he’s been sending his tax dollars off to Washington, D.C., and for what? So they can be dumped into sinkholes like Owsley County? The joke’s on him.
What strikes me about Baker’s “Bluexit” proposal is its unguardedness. The author comes perilously close to admitting that the aim of liberal social policy since FDR has been not to lift people up but to buy their votes. Rarely do liberals speak with such candor. More often they try to disguise their agenda as altruism. Under no circumstances should we allow them to get away with this. Liberals don’t have big hearts; they have an insidious agenda and they never stop pushing it.
The reason the federal government has its fingers in everything from home mortgages to school lunches has nothing to do with compassion. The liberals who dreamed up these schemes couldn’t care less if you have a home or if your kids get to eat; what they want is to be able to control the states and the people by threatening to withhold funds.
And they want these people to show some gratitude as well, preferably in the form of ballots cast for the Democratic Party, each one a little thank you note. Kevin Baker basically admits this, writing:
We [blue states] have funded massive infrastructure projects in your rural counties, subsidized your schools and your power plants and your nursing homes, sent you entire industries, and simultaneously absorbed the most destitute, unskilled, and oppressed portions of your populations, white and black alike. All of which, it turns out, only left you more bitter, white, and alt-right than ever.
Yeah. So take that, you ingrates!
Baker is merely venting the hurt feelings of a coastal elitist who thought he had a deal with the red states until they failed to uphold their end of it. The deal was simple: The South, the Midwest, and the Rocky Mountain states would accept money from the federal government and in turn its people would become reliable liberal Democrats. These people would be expected to prostitute their sacred votes and abandon their values, their way of life, and their pride in exchange for infrastructure investment and direct handouts. This is essentially the approach the Democrats took with poor urban blacks and they’re upset that it hasn’t worked as well with poor rural whites.
It’s easy to see why the coastal elitists would be upset that they have nothing to show for all the wealth they plowed into places they diligently avoid visiting. It wasn’t charity, after all. It was a political investment, and apparently not a wise one. The deal obviously should have been articulated more explicitly because those on the receiving end of all that money didn’t realize it was tit-for-tat. It’s not that they didn’t understand the terms of the bargain — it’s that they didn’t realize they’d entered into a bargain at all. They thought it was free money!
Which leaves people like Kevin Baker fuming. He’s been paying taxes for a long time to support people he doesn’t particularly like in hopes that someday they’ll become good liberals. It hasn’t worked and Baker is sick of trying. He writes:
In short, we’ll take our arrogant, cosmopolitan, liberal-elite football — wait, make that soccer ball — and go home.
Great! Where do I sign?
Federal aid has always been a vote-buying scheme, which would be immoral even if it worked. Thank goodness it hasn’t worked — or at least not consistently — because it’s given the vote buyers reason to question the wisdom of the practice.