I was just wandering through the net when I came across an article written by Carl Bernstein arguing that Romney will be a radical president if elected. I just want to focus on one paragraph which I believe clearly draws the distinction between what I believe and what most Americans seem to have simply accepted as the only option.
Public policy in the twentieth century was about protecting and expanding the social compact, based on recognition that effective government at the federal level provides rules and services and safety measures that contribute to a better society. This is especially the case in realms where private enterprise and the states cannot or will not do what needs to be done for the common good: from insuring food and drug safety (begun in 1906) to progressive taxation (1913) to the creation of the National Park Service (1916) to regulation of banking and securities (1933) to compulsory Social Security retirement accounts (1935) to protecting the civil rights of all citizens (the 1960s) to environmental protection (1970) to guaranteed medical care for the elderly (1965).
What I find interesting is that Bernstein seems to assume that states cannot or will not do these things- even though they do. Every state has some form of food and drug inspection agency that often duplicates what is done at the federal level. In some states their standards are more strict than the federal, in some states less. Many states have progressive taxation- some have more progressive taxes, some have flat taxes, some have no income tax. All states have some form of park service that maintains state wildlife lands- some have significant amounts of protected lands, some have less. All states have programs designed to protect the environment- some have a lot of restrictive regulations, some have less. All states have programs to aid the poor- some have large programs some have smaller.
It is obvious that states can provide those services since many do provide them at greater levels than the federal government. One only needs to look at California or Illinois to see that states can. What it comes down to is to what extent states want to provide those services. My core disagreement with Mr. Bernstein is that I believe states should be able to make the decision which services it offers to a larger extent and which to a lesser extent. Our country was founded with the intention that states would be laboratories of democracy, that they would have the freedom to make these types of decisions and that the states that find things that work well would be copied by other states.
When programs don't work well, they only cause problems for one state rather than the whole country. It also is obvious to me that not all states have the same needs. A highly populated area like New York City requires much greater spending on infrastructure than the rural area I live in. It makes sense to build a subway in New York. It is ridiculous to build a commuter train through my backyard- there are no people to ride it, everyone here owns a car or three because you have to have a car to travel the large distances that are normal here, but it was proposed and eventually nixed in the federal stimulus.
Bernstein wants to use federal power to override states so that they all have to do what he thinks is a good idea. My argument isn't so much about whether or not I believe his ideas are good or bad, my argument is that states should be free to make those decisions for themselves. Some will make decisions that I think are bad- for example, I think California has made many terrible decisions that has turned one of the most geographically beautiful areas of the country into a place I won't live. The difference is that I am not going to try to use the federal government to force California to make decisions that I think would be better for the residents of California. Bernstein not only thinks the federal government should impose whatever he thinks is a good idea on all states, he thinks I am a radical for believing that states should have the freedom to make their own decisions.
The tricky thing about freedom is that whether it is freedom for individuals or freedom for states- when you allow your fellow man to have freedom you have to accept that sometimes they will do things you do not like. When you agree that everyone has freedom of speech you have to accept that people will say things you don't like. When you agree that people should have freedom of religion you have to accept that some people will have religious views you don't like. The central question is whether or not states and individuals should have the freedom to make their own decisions for better or for worse and to what extent the federal government should restrict that freedom. I strongly believe that the federal government should only restrict freedom as a last resort and only in extreme circumstances. If believing that states and people should have the freedom to make their own decisions and even the freedom to do stupid things makes me a radical, then I guess I am one.