e pluribus unum

The debate over sanctuary cities should put to rest any question of whether Republicans are arguing in good faith about issues of federalism. They are, unsurprisingly, not interested in having a robust debate over the appropriate role of a federal government of limited powers. They are perfectly happy to force state and local governments to take on the burden of federal roles so long as that project weakens government, generally.

Sanctuary cities are the topic du jour, but this same topic has been revisited time and time again. “Federalism” in America is now a punchline, the hacking cough of a wheezing, sputtering and flailing ignoramus with little to say of any substance. It is not a principled stand in favor of some important institution of American politics, but rather a dull weapon that is used to bludgeon anything that looks remotely like progress, and is then quickly abandoned when it has worked.

The establishment of a national health program was unacceptably invasive into issues that are within the exclusive purview of the state. The demand that local law enforcement agencies devote funding to enforcing federal immigration policies? Meh. The imposition of gay marriage on states was activist judicial nonsense that supplanted the inalienable right of state legislatures to define marriage. Requiring states to comply with educational policy that tracks student achievement on standardized tests, completely disregarding the traditional role of states in setting educational priorities? Meh.
Federalism has a practical role in American politics: its a large messy country that needs local administration with some flexibility in policy on account of differences in population, geography, climate, etc. Beyond that, Federalism has overstayed its welcome and resulted in extreme inequalities in quality of living.

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