How Liberals Are Embracing Federalism


Derek Hunter Contributor
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It’s a strange time to be alive and involved in politics. After decades of advocating for federal control, many Democrats are embracing the concept of federalism.

On immigration, they’re doing it to pander to Hispanic voters, calling for states and localities to ignore federal law to actively thwart duly passed laws. But it’s not just there, it’s spreading even to marijuana law.

Here in Maryland, Democratic Party primary ads focused on local control of just about everything, with liberals touting their willingness to “stand up to Donald Trump,” even in races nearly irrelevant to the national stage. Who cares what a state delegate or county council member thinks about the President of the United States?

In running these types of campaigns, however, liberals who have been reliable voices of support of central government control are now calling for local control. It’s a bit of a shock to the system.

The concept of ceding control from the federal government to the states has even started popping up in Washington, D.C., as Democrats and Republicans are coming together on what seemed unlikely just a few years ago: marijuana.

No, they aren’t getting high together (though that might not be a bad idea considering how uptight many of them seem); they’re looking to liberate states to decide for themselves whether or not they want to be a decriminalization or legalization state, or if they don’t. In other words: federalism.

For Democrats on the federal level to embrace state control is a huge step in the right direction. It’s likely not a leap they’ll make on issues like health care, but it will allow conservatives to ask the question, “If it’s good for weed, why isn’t it good for other issues?” They’d have difficulty answering that in an intellectually honest way.

For Republicans, it’s actual action on a concept they regularly run on but rarely act on. Marijuana has long been demonized as a “gateway drug” that leads to harder drugs and addiction. The jury may still be out on that, but early data suggests the opposite might be the case.

Whatever the case, Democrats and Republicans have come together behind “The STATES Act,” which stands for “Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States.” The Tenth Amendment has long been the redheaded step-child of the Constitution but is one of the most important parts of the Bill of Rights. It reserves any authority not explicitly granted the federal government by the Constitution to the states and the people. It’s a concept that is the antithesis of the modern Democratic Party and an unfortunately large swath of the Republican Party.

That’s why it was so shocking to see Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), of all people, with Republican Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), one of the lead co-sponsors.

A bi-partisan bill affirming the concept of state’s rights? One introduced, in part, by a liberal darling and leading potential candidate for the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination?

The STATES Act is about marijuana, which has become a bit of celebrity issue for the left because, well, so many celebrities are open about their love of it. But to have Warren leading this fight could be a political goldmine for Republicans if they ever learn how to message the concept of federalism outside of a campaign cycle.

Also, it’s a popular issue.

A Gallup poll last year found 64 percent of Americans support legalization, up from just 23 percent in the mid-80s. Whatever you think of the issue, it’s likely going to happen. Republicans would be smart get on board with the idea of states deciding for themselves, especially when it gets leading liberals on record supporting local decision making.

The biggest impediment to this is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who’s always been a vocal opponent of decriminalization. Perhaps he should focus his energy elsewhere, like in the Justice Department and fight corruption, leaking, and foot-dragging there, and worry a little less about what states decide to do within their borders. Just a thought.

The STATES Act offers Republicans a chance to get out in front of a popular issue and govern how they campaign. It also puts Democrats on the side of federalism, which could come in handy in future debates. Whether or not the GOP has the wherewithal to actually pull it off remains to be seen, but this will at least give them a shot.

Derek Hunter is a Daily Caller contributor.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.