TCS Daily

The Leave-Me-Alone Coalition Grows... in Surprising Ways

By Ryan H. Sager - November 16, 2004 12:00 AM

It seems that the trial lawyers have really caught the political imagination of the Left in America. Progressives, disaffected by the results of the most recent federal election, have hit upon a new

strategy: forum shopping. Or, as it used to be called, federalism.

Libertarians should be thrilled.

For the uninitiated, "forum shopping" is a strategy under which lawyers suing big companies (think, particularly, tobacco companies) scour the country for the perfect jury pools (poor and angry, uneducated and gullible) in order to secure the perfect verdicts and awards (guilty and large, respectively).

Now, the progressives want to move the forum of modern political debate from the federal level, where they've -- to put it charitably -- not done so well recently, to the states and cities. The twist is that they believe this way they can cater to the smarter set.

We all heard about Red America and Blue America after the 2000 election, but now people are busy drawing up sketches for separate flags and currencies. We've got maps annexing the West Coast and the Northeast to the United States of Canada -- to be located just north of Jesusland. We've got people saying "F--k the South." We've even got an alternative weekly, The Stranger, championing an Urban Archipelago for liberal, pro-choice, gun-hating "gay-huggers."

In other words, the national divide is beginning to sound a bit like the one between Vice President Cheney and Sen. Pat Leahy -- or at least the message is the same, "Go f--k yourself."

This could easily be seen as an obnoxious, reactionary stance on the part of the left. And to the extent that it is based on an elitist view of rural folk as sister-marrying, gay-lynching, Toby Keith-adoring Bible-thumpers, well, it is obnoxious and reactionary.

But it's also, in no small measure, refreshing.

First of all, the left is now openly embracing elitism -- a widely misunderstood and wrongly spat-upon value.

More importantly though, progressives are beginning to realize that it's extraordinarily difficult to foist your values on other people -- and maybe they should just stop trying. Now, this isn't quite as good as recognizing that it's wrong to try to force your values on other people. But it's a start.

While there's been a huge backlash among the commentariat about the idea of Red and Blue America, on account of its being an almost Bush-simple distinction, it gets at an undeniable truth. America is dividing, not just in two, but into many loosely knit, not-often-contiguous communities. America is about the freedom to live as one chooses, and typically people like to live near and associate with people who think like them, act like them, look like them (not just in the racial sense) and believe like them.

We don't have to read each other's newspapers, watch each other's cable news networks, go to each other's concerts, browse each other's Web sites or sit through each other's movies. So why should the outcome of every major political debate be binding for almost 300 million Americans spread out over a continent?

Republicans have sometimes been the party of federalism, railing in the 1990s about "unfunded mandates" from the federal government making it impossible for states to run their own affairs and complaining that federal involvement in education was ruining local schools.

Unfortunately, the party has been willing to abandon this principle whenever it's convenient -- with President Bush's No Child Left Behind law recently, and for years over the issue of states wanting to legalize medical marijuana.

But now a large number of disenfranchised Democrats seem willing to form a leave-me-alone coalition. They don't want Bush and his theologians deciding whether or not to fund stem-cell research, they want California to step in if the federal government won't. They don't want a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, they want their individual states to decide.

Now, there are two major problems here. First, the lefties talking federalism these days, if given the political power, would be ecstatic to impose their views on the rest of the nation -- though, so would many in the Bush administration. Second, the lefties want to use local politics to promote a big-government agenda on top of their social tolerance -- a problem for Blue-State Republicans, though not too much of a worry for anyone in Wyoming.

With an open-ended, complicated and potentially catastrophic War on Terrorism to occupy the federal government for the foreseeable future, might this not be the perfect political coalition to start exploring: people on the right and left who just want people on the other side to leave them alone.

Let the federal government deal with what it's supposed to -- national security. Let the states and cities sweat the small stuff. It could be the beginning of a federalist renaissance.

Thank you, trial lawyers.

Ryan Sager is a member of the editorial board of The New York Post. He also edits the blog Miscellaneous Objections and can be reached at


TCS Daily Archives