by Josh Eboch


In a recent piece at the Huffington Post, columnist David Sirota attempted to advance a somewhat tortured political theory, one he called “Progressive Federalism,” that demonstrated two important things; neither of which were likely what he intended.

First, despite the ignorant vitriol against “tenthers,” the state sovereignty movement is alive, well, and continuing to gain much-needed penetration into the national political discussion.

And second, when it comes to advancing statism, some members of the so-called media elite either utterly lack knowledge of history or have no regard whatsoever for the meaning of words.

Sirota’s article starts out innocently enough, quoting the New York Times‘ definition of Progressive Federalism as an ideology whereby “governors and activist state attorneys general [are allowed to] lead the way on environmental initiatives, consumer protection and other issues.”

States setting their own environmental and consumer protection standards? So far so good.

In fact, one might be forgiven for confusing Sirota’s Progressive Federalism with the good old fashioned Jeffersonian kind that was codified in our Constitution.

But then, showing his ignorance of the history behind both federalism and state sovereignty, Sirota follows up with this gem:

[I]n order for Progressive Federalism to happen, the federal government has to be supportive of floors, not ceilings — that is, oriented toward setting minimum progressive regulatory standards that states must at least comply with, not maximum regulatory ceilings that states are not allowed to go above and beyond.

In other words, “governors and activist state attorneys general” may foist as much progressive policy onto voters as they can get away with, but no less than the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. determine is necessary for their own power lust.

Heads they win, tails you lose.

Experimenting with 50 laboratories of progressivism may sound like a great idea to some, but a wasteful, corrupt political class holding sway over the entire country sounds like a nightmare to me. Which is why the point of federalism was not to institutionalize Sirota’s brand of liberal self-righteousness, but rather to divide power so that no ideological camp could gain control over a central authority and so assert their agenda by force.

Contrary to the prevailing attitude in politics and the media today, the words of our founders do still have meaning for many Americans. They value both the letter and the spirit of the Constitution, and, as its Tenth Amendment underscores, that document intentionally placed each state on coequal footing with the federal government, which the sovereign states themselves created.

In no place other than the very minimal, very enumerated powers delegated to the federal government, did the states surrender any sovereignty at all. Which means that, quite simply, the states don’t need permission to exercise any of the countless rights left to their individual discretion.

If progressives like David Sirota wish to claim that the power of the federal government over their own lives has always been unlimited, simply because its three branches now act as if it is, they are certainly free to do so. Just as we who fear and detest centralized power are free to point out the historical errors in that logic.

But Sirota’s misunderstanding of history (willful or otherwise) is no excuse for allowing him to repackage his paternalistic fantasies as federalism. Intellectual honesty demands that our opponents not justify their incessant drive toward absolutism by perverting the meaning and intent of a constitutional system designed explicitly to abolish it.

Josh is a freelance writer and journalist originally from the Washington D.C. area. He is a cynically optimistic and unrepentant news junkie. His work has been published locally and in Charleston, SC. Email Josh.

Rob Natelson

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