Progressive Politics

I was banned from the Facebook page for The Christian Left, this morning (Wed 09 Sept 2015); as near as I can make out, this was done in retribution for pissing on the political style of “progressives,” and more than once. Okay, so maybe I did number one and number two in their cornflakes.

Basically, the argument I was making at the time I was banned, was as follows.

American progressive politics is in the crapper because progressives have been content to use the Federal government as their court of first resort, in all fights for rights or protections. Instead of fighting on the ground, at the state and local levels, to preserve and expand liberties, they go straight to Washington DC, pay a bunch of lobbyists millions of dollars, and get a Federal law or executive action, and sometimes, a SCOTUS decision in their favor.

As a result of this progressive reliance on the national government, which has been ongoing for forty years, the conservative activists retreated to the state and local governments. They organized there, they got their representatives on the school boards, the regional authorities, the city councils, the state legislatures, and in the governors’ mansions.

The conservative successes at the ground level were not foregone conclusions. They were directly the result of the opposition — “progressives” — conceding the ground because they assumed that they’d have the shibboleth of the Federal government, with which they could beat the states into submission.

Now, we have numerous issues and struggles, in which progressives are fighting rear-guard actions. We’re fighting to roll back the accomplishments of conservatives, rather than preventing them in the first place.

  • Abortion rights.
    Boxed in, seemingly, with Roe v Wade at the national level, conservatives devised what can only be described as a brilliant strategy. They can’t outlaw abortions outright, so they make them as difficult as possible to get, unleashing an onslaught of regulations, rules, and requirements, so difficult to meet in the practical and in the legal matter, that medical clinics providing abortions have disappeared like dust in a wind.

How did this happen? The overwhelming majority of Americans favor abortion rights. Where were NARAL, NOW, and the DNC, 20, 30, 40 years ago, when the state and local legislatures were being filled up with conservatives who would promulgate these rules?

  • Gun Control.
    The proportion of Americans who favor background checks and other controls on firearms is so lopsided that pols should be lining up to write the bill. 80% of Americans favor background checks for all firearm purchases. And yet, we’ve had a decade in which we have witnessed horrific slaughters; and the images of tiny children shot dead, lying in pools of their own blood, were not sufficient to bring about even the most trivial actions to curb the general availability of firearms.

How did this happen? It happens because, again, progressives have relied on the shibboleth of Federal power to pursue measures of control that should have been pursued at the state and local levels. States have the power to implement background checks. They have the power to control all aspects of the handling of firearms within their borders.1

The Senators and Representatives in the national legislature overwhelmingly are drawn from the state legislatures, and from organizations that work with those legislatures. Recent decades have seen some fairly spectacular flame-outs by wealthy individuals who tried to buy their ways into a House or Senate seat by expending huge amounts of personal capital. Legislators at the national level more often represent the politics of their constituencies in the home legislatures, than they do the ones on the ground.

  • War on Drugs.
    Here’s another case in which the public opinion is overwhelmingly against current government policy. And yet … are we having a WTF moment? Yet?

Again, the driving forces behind this “war” are/were local. And, the driving forces on ending it are local. States are taking matters into their own hands, and decriminalizing, legalizing, regulating and taxing, the uses of drugs that a few years ago, were utterly proscribed by the Federal government. The actions to ending the War on Drugs are being taken at the local levels. Oh, but wait, slow down the bus so that the progressives, still waiting hat in hand at the national legislature, can get on board.

I find that most people do not know that Prohibition, the buzz word for making the entire United States an alcohol-free zone, was the result of a decades-long, grassroots fight by the Temperance movement. The US was dried up by a Constitutional amendment, and, as you all know (right?), such an amendment requires the approval of the majority of the states. At the time Prohibition finally came in at the national level, 37 states had already banned alcoholic beverages within their own borders. Yes, that’s right, contrary to popular mythology, Prohibition was not the overreach of a Federal government overrun by power-mad do-gooders violating states’ rights. Prohibition was the Federal government coming in behind the states and codifying states’ actions at the national level.

  • Private Prisons
    This is the issue that was on the radar when I became insufferably objectionable to the moderator at The Christian Left. Bernie Sanders has made the announcement that he is introducing a bill into the Senate to “end all private prisons” within two years. Now, I have a question as to how he proposes to do that, actually. State prison systems are just that — state systems. What is the Constitutional authority under which the Federal government is going to dictate how any individual state is going to run its prison system?

The tenth amendment to the Constitution, the final element of the original Bill of Rights.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Blood has been shed over the significance of the words of this amendment. But, to this citizen, who is not a Constitutional lawyer and doesn’t pretend to be one on the internuts; but who has read the entire Constitution, top to bottom; the power of states absolutely includes the power to design and implement prison systems as they see fit. I do not see the Constitutional authority under which the Federal government can take over all state prison systems and mandate the design of them.

Now, the Federal prison system has some dealings with private contractors, and certainly, Sanders can introduce a law that removes those contractors from the Federal prison system. And, there are some instances in which Federal prisoners are housed within state systems, instances in which the Federal government could stipulate that these prisoners could not be held in privately run prisons.

According to the ACLU, inmates in private prisons make up 6% of state prisoners, 16% of Federal prisoners, and a smattering of prisoners in local jails in certain states.2 Considering the enormous numbers of citizens locked up in American prison systems, these numbers represent a substantial number of citizens under the control of for-profit enterprises. But, they’re insignificant by comparison to the number of citizens already under care of state operated and Federally operated prisons.

I don’t want to trivialize the dangers to all those prisoners being mishandled in pursuit of profit. I do want to point out that the amount of damage being inflicted in for-profit prisons is minuscule when compared to the damage being inflicted on the 94% of inmates who already are under state care, and the 84% of inmates already being mishandled by Federal authorities.

Bluntly, the campaign against for-profit prisons has sound moral imperatives, but will have little impact on the care of prison inmates, overall. In my view, the issue of for-profit prisons is a great issue for tub thumping at campaign whistle stops, and is nearly irrelevant with respect to reducing the mass incarceration of low-level, non-violent offenders in the United States.


  1. No, they cannot control interstate commerce, so the control of what crosses the borders is beyond them. But once that weapon is within the state boundaries, states have a tremendous amount of power. 
  2. “Private Prisons.” Private Prisons. American Civil Liberties Union, 2014. Web. 09 Sept. 2015. <http://bit.ly/1ied42q&gt;. 

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