How Mitt Romney Would Screw the Red States That Support Him
Mitt Romney's suggestion that emergency management is best left up to the states is not just a silly, ideologically informed bit of campaign rhetoric. It represents a radical departure from what most people think it means to be an American – a view that has been litigated in our past, and consigned to the dustbin of history, only to re-emerge in the Reagan era.
While Romney has been a chameleon, with a dazzling array of ever-changing positions, he has been quite consistent in one area: he and running mate Paul Ryan would turn vast swaths of our already threadbare social safety net over to the states to administer, while making deep cuts to their funding in the process.
As a result, people living in “blue” and “red” states would effectively become citizens of different countries. The poor and working class in those red states would become eligible for far fewer public benefits. The disparities that exist in funding education, job training and the like would become far more pronounced. We would no longer be citizens of the United States who happen to live in Alabama or Vermont; we would become Alabamians and Vermonters, citizens of states with very different philosophies of government.
It is already the case that residents of "red states" tend to be poorer, have less education, higher rates of uninsured. On average, they have greater problems with substance abuse, and higher levels of income inequality. These differences would broaden dramatically if more safety-net programs were left up to the states. No longer would Americans enjoy the same minimum standards of health and well-being -- the quality of public services would vary, depending on where you live, much more than they do today.
Romney's plan is in keeping with the views of so-called “Constitutional conservatives,” who insist that the Founders would today advocate for a strictly limited role for the federal government. Jill Lepore, a historian who focuses on the Revolutionary era wrote that this idea “wasn't just kooky history, it was anti-history.” The reality is that we tried the 'states' rights' approach to governing the country after the Revolutionary War, and it proved disastrous.
In the years following our independence, the federal government, organized under the Articles of Confederation, had virtually no power – it couldn't raise taxes to fund federal activities and it couldn't compel the states to do anything they didn't approve. In 1787, delegates of the states met in Philadelphia with the task of amending the Articles, but they quickly abandoned it as a framework, opting instead to develop a new constitution that gave the federal government direct enumerated powers over all of the citizens of the United States.
There was a fight. John E. Semonche, a historian at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, noted that “much of the controversy over the Constitution can be attributed to differing world views.”
The Federalists believed in strong and effective government that would ensure commercial growth and international prestige; the Antifederalists saw such goals threatening liberty and preferred local control. The Antifederalists saw a strong national government as a threat to the liberties of Americans, believing its distance from the people and its extended territory only increased the threat. Not surprising, then, was the fact that Federalists tended to reside in coastal areas, where commercial growth was high on the agenda, while Antifederalists were located inland in areas of small farms where commercial growth had little immediate impact.”
That sounds like the contemporary debates we have today. But the thing that the “Constitutional conservatives” don't get is that the anti-Federalists lost, and they lost badly. As Semonche pointed out, “the opponents of the Constitution were forced on the defensive both in regard to the appellation, Antifederalist, and in regard to the fact that they had no ready alternative to suggest. .. The fact that the Antifederalists lost the battle and the fact that the Constitution quickly became a revered document combined to relegate their cause to the scrap heap of history.
But it wouldn't remain there. We relitigated the question 75 years later. A million Americans, or about 3 percent of the population lost their lives in the Civil War, and the prodigy of the anti-Federalists were defeated once again. But the vision of a Disunited States has once again emerged in Paul Ryan's “Roadmap,” which would, as the non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities put it, offer “a long-term spending path under which, by 2050, most of the federal government aside from Social Security, health care, and defense would cease to exist.”
As Jonathan Cohn wrote recently in The New Republic, the Romney-Ryan plan “to turn vast swaths of public policy—including Medicaid, food stamps, and housing—over to the states” is “one of the most radical parts of their agenda.” But just why it is so radical, and how it would impact Americans living in the red states probably isn't fully appreciated by most voters.
Cohn appeared on this week's AlterNet Radio Hour to elaborate. Below is a podcast of our discussion – it runs a bit over 20 minutes, and is definitely worth your time.