Reasons that I think Federalism is good for Liberals:
1. It’s more Democratic.
I’m not someone who believes that more Democracy is automatically a goal in itself. But on the whole, and certainly in my own world, I have to believe that more representation and a greater level of accountability is preferable. Congress is particularly bad. Gerrymandered, representing often hundreds of thousands of people, they listen out of necessity to lobbyists and special interests. The State and Local level are far better avenues for representation and accountability. Most Liberals tend to agree that local = accountable & democratic = good.
2. It force Liberals to get serious
The past twenty years saw a dramatic withering in the rhetorical power of Liberalism and Democrats. Democrats could depend on an ironclad majority in Congress that seemed impregnable; why care about State Governments or the South when the majority is secured? Liberal interest groups grew an unhealthy reliance on the Judiciary. Even twelve years after Republicans took over the house, the Democrats struggle to GOTV.
Only very recently have Liberals, such as Dean, realized that politics is about winning every race – state, local, federal. That a majority in Congress comes from a majority of the people. That meant a long, hard road of relearning how to talk to the red states. Federalism encourages that process by re-engaging liberalism with the lost states and people that have a lot to gain from social moderation and economic liberalism.
3. It’s Tactically safer
I reached political awareness after 1994. Thus, my image of liberalism has been decline and defeat, with only occasional oases of safety and marginal victories. My goal is to preserve and protect what we have gained, even if it necessarily limits what can be done in the future. A perfect methodology is to appropriate the same strategy Conservatives used to protect their way of life – devolve political power to the States and Localities. California will be free to institute gay marriage, protect abortion, and even institute stronger health policies. We may even see the day where Federalism is the thin wedge used to break free from draconian drug laws and nonsensical immigration policies.
4. It’s more in line with the Constitution
The design of the Constitution never intended the current level of political power to be concentrated in one body. It was intended to be considerably diffused among the states, localities, and nationally. The result of political concentration has been poor management by Congress, a hyper-struggle over power within the nation, and a winner-take-all system. Not to mention considerable debt. A weaker Congress will be able to deal more efficiently with specific areas, while the States can deal with areas of their own competence. In addition, a failure by one state to act intelligently won’t really damage the other 49.
5. A Thousand Flowers…
Liberalism is partially about the willingness to experiment, to grow as a country. To try out different programs and ideas to combat a list of social problems. Often, this is best accomplished not by one massive, all-or-nothing program, but by an iterative series of experiments. States learn from other states. Good programs are emulated, bad ones ditched. This kind of low-risk, high-reward system is only possible with the growing commitment of political issues to states.