Wednesday, March 18, 2020

COVID 19 and the American System

Not everyone is going to be happy with this post, but I guess that's the nature of the beast. I want to talk a little about "The American System", specifically the oft-maligned (and Constitutionally enshrined) system of "federalism", in which the national (federal) government is vested with specific (enumerated) powers, with remaining powers vested in the "several" states.

I think this is a good system for a number of reasons. As an ideological conservative, my mantra these days is "smart people existed before me". To this end, I think our Founders were a smart bunch of guys (sorry ladies), and they gifted to us a political system of great genius. A good deal of what passes for governance in our everyday lives is state and local, and the degree to which we interact with the federal government each day is actually quite small. This may strike some as an odd thing to say, given how much power and authority has managed to migrate its way to the federal government in the 233 years of our Republic, and given how a nationalized, internet and cable news driven media environment serves to make us feel that all issues are national and that what's happening around us (Talbot County, MD, for instance) is only our little piece of much bigger national trends and narratives.

And then we get a viral pandemic. We turned to our nationalized media. In some cases, that media, acting as a mouthpiece for our national government, misled us. Watch the video embedded in this Tweet--it is breathtaking. 

Speaking of that national government, you are not a serious person if you do not believe that the go-to move from the Administration was to minimize the threat, and point (well-deserved) fingers at the Chinese. Watch the video contained in this Tweet too:

The funny thing is--as damaging as the slow and stumbling response to the virus from the federal government was, we had fifty other relatively efficient forms of governing happening around the country, and the nation's governors--watching in horror as the feds worried about the stock market and re-election--started making decisions. Now--I don't want to go too far with this. The federal income tax system and the other streams of revenue that the federal government receives pre-determine that it is the most efficient means for centralized resourcing and national response. But utilizing these resources in a coherent response did not happen fast enough because of the government we chose in 2016. State governments have a good deal of resources and tools at their disposal to respond quickly and effectively too, and many have done just that.

What we have in federalism is an insurance policy against bad governing. If--as things are today--we have a feckless presidential administration that ultimately decides to step up its response only after one of their media lackeys turns his criticism on them , strong state responses to disasters (think about Jeb Bush responding to nine hurricanes while in office) can and should mitigate impact. If we have a strong and competent federal government, it can catalyze and coordinate action in concert with governors of energy in order to create truly effective national responses. If one lives in a state with a bad governor right now, I guess the system isn't providing as much solace.

The best of all worlds would have been a competent response from the feds coordinated with competent responses in the states. This may be finally underway, and a truly "federal" system can begin to show its strength.

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