Globalizing American Race Relations: Terrorism & NAACP

by Khalil Marrar

A violent explosion stunned residents of Colorado Springs, Colorado in the morning of January 6, 2015. Given the location, most feared that it was an act of terrorism as an investigation and manhunt ensued. Even after the apprehension of the assailant, Thaddeus Cheyenne Murphy, the mystery surrounding his alleged act, which according to the criminal complaint involved an improvised explosive device meant to “maliciously damage and destroy” the building housing the Colorado Springs’ chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), still persists. The event has renewed concerns about racial hatred while fueling worldwide interest in American race relations as it became the latest cauldron in the heated debate between progressives and conservatives. The reason: Murphy, a white male in his 40s, is the chief suspect in the incident involving the NAACP. His apparent crime has raised a number of troubling questions. The most pressing involves motive. Was it an act of terrorism against the NAACP? Or was it, as Murphy claims, an attempt to get back at his accountant Steve DeHaven, who coincidentally had been dead for months by the time the bombing occurred, for tax and bankruptcy disputes. Whatever the answer, an immediate concern surrounding the crime is how speculation has unfolded about the intended target of Murphy’s pipe bomb. And given racial tensions in the United Sates in the aftermath of Ferguson, Staten Island, and other hotspots of race relations, plenty of contestation continues to surround the bombing. If it’s ascertained that the attack was racially motivated and indeed was an assault against the NAACP, then the incident will confirm what some have feared for some time now: some, like Murphy, may engage in “lone wolf” acts of terror motivated by hate that are neither predictable nor understandable against a target as widely celebrated as the NAACP.

Irrespective of why it happened, it has become manifestly clear that the bombing has touched a nerve in the divide between left and right in the US and has brought renewed attention to what has become a crisis of race throughout the country. Colorado Springs is simply the latest flashpoint. As conjecture continues about Murphy’s intended target, a new front in the “culture wars” has emerged. Events since have pointed to just how divided the United States has become, particularly in relation to other advanced democracies, even about an act that apparently involved terrorism, an issue which, as demonstrated by the violence against Charlie Hebdo in Paris, always garnered domestic and international consensus. What took place in Colorado Springs has prompted the frequent list of pundits to gear up for a fight. Many of them, while lacking broad public support, do enjoy active and loud backing from the fringes represented by them. For instance, Michelle Malkin’s commentary on the bombing may be interpreted by many of her followers as a call to arms to resume what they believe is an existential struggle against their counterparts in the left. In reality, on both sides of the political divide, that struggle has earned its leading elites quite a bit of celebrity and wealth. Rather than offering solutions to the scourge of racism in the USA, the way that pundits from right and left manipulate tragic events for their own gains, not to mention, the events themselves, have refocused world attention on America’s racial tussle, as was demonstrated by a Washington Post report.

Unlike the broad condemnations of Islamist violence in France or elsewhere around the world, in America, the attack has proved highly polarizing. On the left, some surrogates have been jumping the gun and crying racism since the earliest moments of the Colorado Springs detonation. On the right, figures like Malkin led the charge to downplay the bombing as nothing more than a “barbershop bang.” Meanwhile, Fox News, a champion of conservative causes, has remained mostly quiet about the subject, perhaps waiting until the dust settled and having clarity about Murphy’s motives. The same could be said about the more centrist CNN. Most media outlets offered mention to what happened in Colorado Springs with little speculation about what actually motivated it or what the attack may have represented.

It is true that the NAACP has been a beacon for those interested in defending the civil rights and liberties of minorities around the world for a century. The organization has been on the forefront of political and economic equality for all citizens, from race riots preceding the First World War, the federally mandated integration of the US armed forces after the Second World War, through the popular civil rights movements of the 1960s. Today the NAACP, in its own words, has continued to “fight for social justice for all Americans.” Such a mission has always been targeted by those, animated by hate, seeking to disrupt and undo progress made on issues of race, ethnicity, and gender.

As media outlets from around the globe descended on Missouri to cover the racially charged atmosphere after Ferguson, whatever happened in Colorado Springs should demand concern from the American public and its leaders. And with names like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner becoming international symbols for how minorities in the US are treated, they also served as constant reminders to Americans that their country remained enmeshed in a vile set of racially tinged politics. The Colorado Springs bombing, while unsuccessful in killing anyone, might well have been intended to send a message that racial animus and lynch mob insanity persisted despite advancements in race relations. These advancements have culminated in the election of the first black president while America remains a majority white society. Not only did Barack Obama represent progress made by the country to all Americans, his global celebrity demonstrated that the world cared about the outcome of race relations in the United States.

Nevertheless and despite how much progress was made as demonstrated by Obama’s two term presidency or other progress in race relations and advancement of minorities in the USA, incitement to hate, while prominent during a terrible period in American history, had staying power, as demonstrated by the terrorist plot in Colorado Springs being read in the larger context racial animus. It will remain known worldwide that regardless of its particular motive, the reaction to it has demonstrated once again that rather than moving beyond race, the US remained mired in the troubled aftermath of Jim Crow.

The United States, despite its globally awe inspiring achievements in civil rights for all regardless of identity, inborn or chosen, still remained a country in which hate has always been a preeminent motivator for ideologues caught up in and perhaps benefiting from racial and ethnic division. And regardless of the outcome of the investigation into the Colorado Springs bombing, Americans need to reflect on why such incidents illicit so much fury from the left and right and where their country is headed—whether it’s towards more inclusiveness despite identity or towards a bleak future in which immutable factors determine quality of life, health, and wealth of its citizens. Americans and the world will continue to watch and remain invested as the future unfolds.

Dr. Khalil Marrar is a professor of politics and justice studies at Governors State University in University Park, Illinois. His research focuses on the intersection of public policy and foreign affairs, and he is the author of The Arab Lobby and US Foreign Policy: The Two State Solution (Facebook page) He is currently working on a book entitled Middle East Conflicts: The Basics, to be published Routledge. His lectures and research focus on Arab and Muslim diasporas, particularly their policy preferences. Marrar also teaches American, global, comparative, and Middle East Politics. 

The Israeli Right Wins…Again…Haters Should Get Use To It

Benjamin Acosta

In Israel, the political Right continues to reign supreme. On March 17th, Israelis reelected Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu’s Likud party to power. Despite a noisy media opposition and in the face of legions of commentators claiming that Israel’s Left would resurrect, Bibi and the Right prevailed once again. Even a litany of “top” polls the day before the election showed Likud trailing the electoral alliance of Isaac Herzog’s Labor and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah parties. On Election Day, exit polls from the leading Israeli news channels put the tally at a “surprising” tie between Likud and the Labor-Livni list. However, on election night, the slow tallying of the official vote count brought into focus Bibi and Likud’s political trouncing of the Left. How could so many people get it so wrong?

Most of those who wrongly predicted this latest Israel election (as well as the last few Israeli elections) fail to recognize or accept Israel’s demographic realities. In spring of 2014, I published an article entitled “The Dynamics of Israel’s Democratic Tribalism” in the Middle East Journal. The article puts forth a straightforward method for predicting political and electoral trends in Israel. Centrally, I note: “the Israel of today is not the Israel of David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, or Yitzhak Rabin for that matter… Much has changed demographically and thus culturally and ideologically in Israel, and the coming decades promise further change.”

The Israeli electorate consists of seven main sub-national identity groups or “constituencies”: secular-Ashkenazim (Jews of European descent), Mizrahim (Jews of African and Asian descent), religious Mizrahim, ultra-Orthodox Jews, national-Orthodox Jews, olim (Jewish immigrants) from the former-Soviet Union (FSU) and their descendants, and Arab-Israelis (Muslim, Christian, and Druze). Each identity group has a unique collective memory and ideal view of Israel’s future. They maintain distinct preferences regarding the three core components of Israeli national identity: Zionism, democracy, and Judaism. Such distinctions establish the basis of political differences and consequently help explain variation in voter choice. The greatest (albeit gradual) change in the Israeli political landscape over the last few decades relates to the demise of the numerical and thus political strength of the secular-Ashkenazim.

In shaping Israel’s formal and informal political institutions, secular-Ashkenazim laid the cornerstones of national identity. During Israel’s first few decades, the national identity that the Ashkenazi-elite established worked harmoniously with the dominant Ashkenazi populace. The Promethean “ethnic-democracy,” or simultaneously Jewish and democratic state, showed few signs of internal vulnerability. But, as Israel’s population diversified, so did understandings of Israel’s national purpose, political nature, and connection to territory.

After expulsion from Arab states in the 1950s and 1960s, Mizrahi Jews immigrated to Israel en masse. In 1977, Mizrahim made their first major political impact by helping to elect the rightwing Likud party to power for the first time. Mizrahim have since led the charge of political change—seeking an Israel that exchanges Ashkenazi secularism for Mizrahi traditionalism, appreciates the Jewishness and territorial integrity of Jerusalem, and abandons the socialism of Israel’s founders. Over the last few decades, Mizrahi voters have gained allies in FSU-Israelis, national-Orthodox, and remaining revisionist-Zionist Ashkenazim such as Bibi and previous Likud leaders.

As secular-Ashkenazim have continued losing political power to other identity groups, domestic Israeli politics has entered into a state of democratic tribalism. In this socio-political system, distinct ethnic and sectarian groups contest Israel’s national character (See Table 1). The election of rightwing Israeli governments in 2009, 2013, and 2015 illustrate how demographic changes have irrevocably altered the Israeli political landscape.

ESTIMATED

POPULATION

SIZE (2010)

IDENTITY

GROUP

GOAL FOR NATIONAL CHARACTER POLITICAL TRANSLATION ELECTORAL TRANSLATION

(2015)

20% (decreasing) Secular Ashkenazim Democracy Leftwing Labor-Livni; Yesh Atid; Meretz
29% (replacing) Mizrahim Zionist (Jewish) Rightwing Likud
7% (increasing) Religious Mizrahim Judaism (Religious) Religious Shas; Yachad
5.5% (increasing) Ultra-Orthodox Judaism (Religious) Religious United Torah Judaism
4.5% (increasing) National Orthodox Zionist (Jewish) Rightwing HaBayit HaYehudi;

Likud

13.5% (decreasing) FSU-Israelis Zionist (Jewish) Rightwing Yisra’el Beitenu; Likud
20% (increasing) Arab-Israelis Democracy Leftwing Joint-Arab List

Two main demographic phenomena evince Israel’s shift to the Right. The first phenomenon concerns the steady growth of Israel’s Arab citizenry and its demand that Israel forsake its Zionist, i.e. Jewish, character. The second phenomenon stems from the gradual rise of a new dominant voting bloc that forms around the overwhelming majority of Mizrahim and incorporates the general political preferences of FSU-Israelis, revisionist-Zionist Ashkenazim, and national-Orthodox. In short, this rightwing “National Bloc” pursues the predominance of Zionism over competing elements of democracy and Judaism.

A number of events surrounding the March 17th election reflected the new demographic/political realities. The Labor-Livni alliance deceptively adopted the joint list name “Zionist Union” in an attempt to make itself more attractive. Fooling few, Labor-Livni insulted the intelligence of the average Israeli voter by employing the term “Zionist” into its name while promoting policy positions that seek to abandon Judea, Samaria, and East Jerusalem—territories essential to the revisionist-Zionist narrative.

Notably, even if the Labor-Livni list garnered the most seats in the election, the Left was never going to win. The only way it could have formed a government was if it made the Joint-Arab List a coalition partner; such an unprecedented and unlikely coalition would have entailed bringing into the government a Joint-Arab List that unifies a variety of anti-Zionist Arab and Muslim parties, some of which have members that routinely offer support for Palestinian terrorist organizations and call for the overthrow of the Jewish state. Further, the Joint-Arab List openly stated that it had no desire to take part in a Labor-led government.

The Joint-Arab List also exhibits the dynamics of Israeli politics in another way. My 2014 article predicted that a growing (anti-Zionist) Arab-Israeli voting bloc would work to mobilize the Right. Indeed, on Election Day, in a last-ditch effort to maximize the Right’s turnout, Bibi warned that foreign leftwing entities were “busing” anti-Zionist Arab voters to the polls. In response to the ideological threat and in support of Bibi’s declaration the day before that the establishment of a Palestinian state would not occur on his watch, the Right mobilized further than expected—boosting Israel’s voter turnout to the highest levels since 1999 and guaranteeing a blowout victory.

Bibi and the Right once again stand strong and should feel comfortable in the durability of a National Bloc government for the foreseeable future. Bibi would be well-founded to look across at his political rivals on the Left (whether those sitting in Northern Tel Aviv or Washington D.C.) and quote James Franco’s character from the recent film The Interview: “haters gonna hate and ain’ters gonna ain’t.” Leftists can hate the demographic and thus political reality on ground in Israel all they want, but they “ain’t gonna” change it.

Benjamin Acosta is a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Department of Political Science at The Ohio State University and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Louisiana State University. He has sole-authored articles in the Journal of Politics and the Middle East Journal. For information on Acosta’s research and publications, see www.benjaminacosta.com.

The Daily Show and Political Culture: Skepticism or Cynicism?

By Meredith Conroy

About a month ago, Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s premiere fake news program, The Daily Show (TDS), announced he would be leaving in a heartfelt “Moment of Zen.”

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Once the announcement of his departure spread, speculation around who would take over for Stewart began. But before we start talking about what’s next for TDS, I think the announcement of Stewart’s departure warrants a survey of what in particular academics have uncovered, regarding the political and cultural significance of Jon Stewart’s tenure with TDS.

Over the course of its 17 years on air, TDS has evolved in scope, popularity, and political relevance. A fact not gone unnoticed from political science, and media and communication scholars. The Daily Show has been at the center of studies interested in the changing nature of political news television programs and evolving notions of journalism, in this new age of technology, where production, consumption, and distribution of information no longer rely on an antenna and electromagnetic waves. For example, Aaron McKain explores what makes TDS different from conventional newsGeoffrey Baym tackles the meaning of TDS for broadcast journalismJamie Warner argues that TDS’s dissident humor disrupts the dominant political cultureLauren Feldman finds TDS to prompt journalists to reconsider the hard and fast convention of separating news from entertainmentAcademics in political science have also been interested in the demographic features of TDS audience. TDS audience tends to be younger, smarter, and more liberal than audiences for other cable news programs, such as The Rachel Maddow Show, O’Reilly Factor, and Hardball. Yet what is the political impact, if any, of TDS on its audience? To speculate on the effect, its important to establish what TDS brings that is distinct from other cable shows. 

What Jon Stewart does best on his show is not necessarily his takedown of political foes, or even his ongoing war with Fox News, though this is related, but instead his consistent critique of modern political journalism and news. Night after night, using carefully crafted montage after montage, Stewart lambasts the cable news networks CNN, Fox, and MSNBC, and uses their foibles to bemoan the general state of political news reporting in the US. He famously took his critique to the source, when in 2004 Stewart appeared as a guest on the now canceled CNN show, Crossfire, to plead with hosts Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson to “stop hurting America.” In this Crossfire appearance, and increasingly on episodes of TDS, Stewart is critical of our political news as “partisan,” “theater,” “hackery,” and “not honest.” 

And while this takedown of Crossfire and his other attacks on the media are hilarious and entertaining, the effect, it is speculated, may be detrimental to our democratic system, which rests on a participatory citizenry. Communication scholars aptly refer to the theory that news media hinder civic engagement (political knowledge, trust, and participation), as the media malaise. Although Pippa Norris handily debunks the media malaise, her assessment does not consider the likes of TDS, in all its mocking, satirical, sneering glory. 

In particular, given the snarky delivery, and sarcastic tone, the presumption that TDS contributes to cynicism from its viewers toward government and mainstream media seems rightly founded. Soon after the announcement that Stewart was leaving, Jamelle Boiue, a Slate staff writer, wrote a thoughtful piece, as a liberal who has enjoyed the show, but is unapologetically “thrilled” to see Stewart’s tenure end, because, 

“in the world of The Daily Show, the only politics is cable politics, where venality rules, serious disputes are obscured, and cynicism is the only response that works. Not only does this discourage people who want to make a difference–like the earnest young viewers of Stewart’s audience–but it blurs the picture and makes it hard to see when those arguments really matter.” 

Boiue goes on to note, that Stewart’s “chief influence has been to make outrage, cynicism, and condescension the language of the left.” 

Political scientists of American politics, primarily interested in the democratic health of our politics, have also speculated on the cynicism impact of TDS, and have explored this effect. Using an experimental design, Baumgartner and Norris (2006) find that TDS viewers have less faith in the electoral system and less trust in media, than viewers of CBS Evening News. The authors use perceptions of trust as a means of assessing cynicism, and conclude that TDS leads to cynical attitudes about government and media. 

Moreover, In a 2007 Critical Forum published in the journal, Critical Studies in Media Communication (v. 24, 3), the cynicism effect of TDS was put on trial. Roderick P. Hart and E. Johanna Hartelius take Stewart to task for the way in which Stewart “evades critical interrogation, thereby making him an anti-political creature” (264). Indeed, by presenting the news solo, TDS enables Stewart to dismantle his enemies and take down his opponents without any contestation or debate. Furthermore, by hiding behind his title as a comedian, Stewart shields himself from those who would criticize him for also shirking his journalistic duty. 

In this same Critical Forum, Stewart’s defense was represented by Robert Hariman and W. Lance Bennett. Hariman defends Stewart by questioning whether Stewart is in fact a cynic, and furthermore, whether cynicism is dangerous to democracy. Granting Stewart is a cynic, Hariman argues that TDS humorous cynicism is a welcome relief in a political climate that is often too serious and depressing. But it is Bennett’s defense that wins me over. Bennett suggests that it may not be cynicism that is bred from TDS and Stewart’s approach to the news. Bennett concludes his essay by noting, “people exposed to Jon Stewart do not retreat behind a smug veil of cynicism, but, instead, employ cynicism as a perspective-building took to engage with politics and civic life” (283). While Bennett doesn’t explicitly say so, what I interpret Bennett to be describing in this last passage is skepticism. Skepticism breeds doubt, whereas cynicism breeds contempt. In response to feelings of doubt or questions they may have, skeptics are likely to seek out answers. In this manner, skepticism leads to learning. In response to feelings of contempt, the cynic does nothing, but harbors negative feelings toward an object or idea. And while I may be splitting hairs, I think the key to understanding the impact of TDS, and Stewart’s time as host is whether his show encourages skepticism (of government and media), or cynicism.

Measuring political cynicism has been largely commonplace in political science scholarship. It usually takes the form of questions about trust in government; questions measuring political efficacy are also considered an effective means of capturing cynicism, where low levels of efficacy are tantamount to political cynicism. To capture internal efficacy, the ANES asks respondents to agree or disagree with these statements:

“I feel that I have a pretty good understanding of the important political issues facing our country,” “I consider myself well-qualified to participate in politics,” “I feel that I could do as good a job in public office as most other people,” “I think that I am better informed about politics and government than most people”

To capture external efficacy the ANES asks respondents to agree or disagree with these statements:

 “Public officials don’t care much what people like me think,” “People like me don’t have any say about what the government does,” “Sometimes politics and government seem so complicated that a person like me can’t really understand what’s going on”

 Of the external efficacy questions, 2 of the 3 presume support for government as a necessary condition for efficacy. In particular, question 1 assumes that people who want to influence politics care that elected officials recognize them. Yet this is counter to skeptics belief system, especially those who watch TDS, who are asked to question the validity of our media and government, through its persistent mocking of those institutions. In other words, a skeptic may not grant the necessity of attention from public officials or government to have an impact on politics. Instead, those who watch TDS may be more prone to participate in government through unconventional means. And this participatory element is a far cry from cynicism. Instead, it is motivated skepticism, and crucial to our democratic system.

Night after night Stewart sits at his desk and attacks government and media, without allowing them to respond to his criticism. Furthermore, he shields himself from any obligation by reminding us he’s *just* a comedian. And yet, I would argue that he does his audience, and our political culture, a service, because his audience is asked to question, and be skeptical of our system, and to not accept it, as a cynic would.

Meredith Conroy is an assistant professor of Political Science at California State University San Bernardino. 

The tensions of American federalism

By Zachary Callen

American federalism doesn’t seem like it should be that complicated.  After all, it’s the kind of thing that we are taught in grade school and then have explained to us – again and again – up through our introductory American politics class in college.  So, defining it one more time should be easy:  federalism is the division of power among national and local political actors.  Each level of government has some degree of autonomy and independence, such as a power to tax or to enforce certain kinds of rules.  While each level has discrete powers, there is also a tendency for these levels to cooperate.  This is a useful system because it divides power, preventing tyranny.  More practically, it’s also a great way to govern a large, diverse country.  Finally, federalism also brings government closer to us as citizens:  it is easier to influence politics on the state or local level, and those political actions can still have sort of meaning since states possess meaningful political powers.

But, of course, federalism isn’t quite as simple as all that.  The problem is that this simple “division of powers” among levels of government is not a straightforward problem of dividing tasks between this legislature, that legislature, and whatever other political body we want to talk about.  Instead, as is often the case, interest and politics interfere and confuse this division of political power.

Recently, The New York Times covered a particular federalism conundrum brewing in Texas.  In this case, it’s not an issue of state nullification or cessation.  Instead, it’s something more pedestrian, but just as compelling.  In Texas, several cities have passed a number of local laws against fracking or stores using plastic bags.  And the state legislature will not abide by this local legislating.  The fear is that these kinds of laws make the state unfriendly to business interests.  Thus, the state legislature is stepping into local politics and limiting what kinds of laws cities can – and cannot – pass.  On the one hand, cities do not have constitutional status in the United States, and exist due to state charters – though the presence of home rule changes this in many place.  On the other hand, there is an ideological sense that municipalities should have freedom to make choices about local issues.  One Tea Party Republican, Darren Hodges, argues that if Republicans want to devolve  federal power to states, why not return more state power to local governments?  Now, there might be a legal limit to Hodges’s argument, but it’s certainly a politically compelling point – and it definitely exemplifies the kinds of problems that federalism produces.  In particular, we see from the Texas case how it is not always clear who is responsible for a policy area and that this uncertainty produces tension.  In addition, it also starts to become clear that one’s stance on federalism is probably not just shaped by serious legal concerns, but also by the issues at stake.  In other words, Republicans like the idea of devolution – until devolution makes life harder for other issues they care about, such as economic development.

Not surprisingly, this is hardly a new problem for federalism.  In the first part of the 19th century, the United States was a frontier nation with a burgeoning industrial economy.  And a really, really terrible infrastructure system.  But the United States was a liberal, constitutional republic whose Founders had not formally included the power to build turnpikes or canals into the national constitution.  Instead, that kind of work was a state effort.  It turned out, though, that not all states were equally good at constructing infrastructure.  States often lacked the funding and technical expertise to erect rail systems or dig functioning canals.  As a result, state legislatures argued internal improvements should be a national activity, based on their critical importance to national defense and economic growth.  While eventually states that had trouble building railroads were able to secure national support, it was not easily won.  Many states resisted federal action not just on legal or philosophical grounds, but also out of pure political spite:  states like Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York took incredible risks funding their own transit systems and their congressional representatives were, for many years, unmoved by the pleas of their colleagues from western states.  In both the case of 21st century Texas and the 19th century United States, fundamental questions about legal responsibility, the realities of local resources limits, and self-interest collide to confuse the proper way that federalism is meant to function. Significantly, these kinds of debates over federalism – and the tension between local and national responsibilities – is a perennial problem.  In addition to Texas’s debate over who has the final word on fracking laws, we only have to look at conflicts over drug legalization.  More and more states are passing laws liberalizing their drug laws – but federal drug laws still override those state jurisdictions.  Relatedly, the federal government is also considering more online privacy protections for students.  Unfortunately, some of those laws are actually less stringent than existing state laws.  There has been similar conflicts over state environmental law, where some states have passed more demanding requirements than those pursued by the federal government.  Thus, debates around federalism are hardly settled, and are also by no means relegated to seemingly slight debates over plastic bags.  These are very much alive, serious political issues that really do require sincere debate and deliberation.

Unfortunately, It is hard to not see that a great deal of our conflict around federalism is ideological, by which I mean that in many (but not all cases) our interpretation of how federalism should work shifts with the political issue at stake.  When our state cannot afford a railroad, we suddenly find new national powers in the Constitution.  When our state is becoming less attractive to businesses because of intrepid local activists, our dedication to local control starts to wane.  What is interesting is the way that we deploy federalism as a cover to argue for more immediate political issues.  Debates over federalism – what it should be, what level is responsible for what policy – are certainly important to a vital American republic.   But, unfortunately, this debate is often subsumed in the name of cheap political points.

To be clear, I am not arguing against federalism.  Confederalism is generally a bad idea:  local control gives too much power to nasty local biases.  Centralization also comes with costs, notably a loss to the competition, experimentation, and policy specialization that makes federalism so valuable.  What we do need is a frank conversation about federalism, and in particular how it applies in the modern era.  We know, better than ever, how actions in one jurisdiction can produce positive and (usually) negative externalities in contiguous neighbors.  We know how local actors do not always have the means to address big problems.  We also know that national control can generate waste and nonsensical policies that overlook local concerns.  Rather than using claims about national supremacy or local sovereignty to bash other political positions, what is needed is a really serious national conversation about the fluid, changing nature of American federalism – and how to best make use of our overlapping system of governance.

Zachary Callen is an assistant professor of Political Science at Allegheny College. You can check out more of his work on federalism here.