Building a Conservative State: Partisan Polarization and the Redeployment of Administrative Power (with Desmond King and Sidney Milkis)
Any attempt to understand America’s political malaise must first make sense of the structure that contains those contests for political power. Scholars have offered a number of descriptive theories to elucidate to complex texture of political power in 2018: there is a “policy state,” a “submerged state,” a state of perpetual “gridlock,” and a state defined by presidential overreach and aggrandizement. What ties these various modes of governance, and amorphously-named “states,” together? Crucial to understanding the contest for political power is a re-evaluation of that State’s substance – a State featuring a deepening conflict between liberals and conservatives over what purposes the “State” should serve. In the final analysis, we offer a new framework, one that sheds light on the ascent of Donald Trump, but does not treat him as a novel or ephemeral phenomenon. We argue that partisanship in the United States is no longer a struggle over the size of the State; rather it has been struggle for the services of national administrative power. Despite rhetorical appeals to “limited government,” since the late 1960s, conservatives have sought national administrative power just as aggressively as liberals. Although Trump has disrupted many norms and institutions that buttressed American government in the past, he has tapped into the conservative embrace of state power several decades in the making. The bipartisan legitimacy bestowed on national administrative power has its roots in the creation of the New Deal state in the 1930s under Franklin Roosevelt and during the Cold War. Paradoxically, as the State grew more encompassing, debates over its fundamental legitimacy waned. Instead, since the 1960s, conservative administrations who inherited the New Deal state have sought to redeploy rather than dismantle or roll back state power. Through “redeployment,” conservative presidents have sustained previous levels of State spending or State activity, but in a way reflecting a new administration’s ideology. Rather than emphasizing retrenchment as the principal objective of the conservative movement or the Republican Party, we urge attention to how Republican administrations seek to exploit national administrative power for conservative ends. Even under the iconoclastic leadership of President Trump, his presidency marks the culmination of long standing developments in the battle between liberals and conservatives to command national administrative power.
Submerged Federalism: Economic Sectionalism and Intergovernmental Finance In their efforts to fundamentally transform the United States’ tax code, the Republican Party successfully took aim at a little known, but widely used, tax deduction: state and local taxes (SALT). By limiting the deduction for SALT on federal income filings, the reform hits hardest those living in states with a higher cost of living, tax rates, and property values. The politics of the policy have not gone overlooked; as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo noticed, this means that the SALT deduction matters most for those living in states that traditionally vote Democratic; California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Illinois, are the battlegrounds for what Cuomo refers to as America’s new “economic civil war” (Greve 2017). The political back-and-forth is deeply substantive, and it is tied up to an intractable feature of the American federal system: the federal “balance of payments” problem. On the one hand, those who argue for a limited SALT deduction question why some states should effectively subsidize high-spending, high-taxing experiments in others, by allowing their residents to deduct more from their taxes. The other side points to the fact that those living in those high-tax states routinely give more to the federal government than they receive back from it. In New York, for example, each taxpayer paid the federal government $2,425 more per person than it received back in the form of programmatic goods and services; the average American, however, experienced a positive balance of payments of about $1,305 (Rockefeller 2017). Little is known about how or when individuals make sense of this sectional, or state-to-state divide in government taxing and spending. Yet, if a central tenant of representative democracy is that public opinion should guide policy development and implementation (Dahl 1956) then it is necessary that the public is, at the very least, aware of how such inequities manifest. Therefore, we ask how well do individuals think in “balance of payment” terms, and how do their attitudes towards government action and efficacy change when confronted with balance-of-payment information? We do not hypothesize that individuals naturally think in balance of payment terms; it is a complicated measure of government budgeting. Yet, individuals do think geographically, and sectional divides, prejudices, and politics remain politically powerful. We ask how individuals respond to this new information.
First, we argue that respondents who live in states where the comparative payment balance is comparatively low are more likely to view the federal government as “unfair.” Poll after poll suggests diminished citizen “trust” in government institutions, but few studies attempt to interrogate the reasons for this decline; we argue that trust and perceptions of fair-treatment are intricately related. Furthermore, respondents living in states where the payment balance is comparatively low will feel more resentment towards other states; we also suspect resentment is correlated with the respondent’s partisan identity and place perception (urban/rural). Second, we argue that as the mismatch between perceptions (pre-treatment measure) and actual balance of payments increase, individuals become more hostile to the national government. Third, most research on public tax and spending attitudes focuses on individual benefits and perceptions (self-interest). This design measures a place-based, communal response to government activity. So long as most people make sense of politics through group affiliations (Conover 1984), our test considers how state-identity manifests as a politically significant group for evaluating government spending priorities.
Creating Inter-State Cooperation and Contestation during the New Deal: The National Resources Planning Board and American Federalism, 1933-1960
Land use planning and natural resource conservation were not just essential policy reforms of the New Deal era – they were efforts to transform the politics of American federalism. Contrary to extant accounts that emphasize the New Deal’s preemption of local and state control, I argue that Franklin Roosevelt and his aides displayed a unique sensitivity to America’s historic “dilemma of scale.” Roosevelt consciously sought to preserve and expand essential elements of state and local governance, with a particular emphasis on the development of bureaucratic capacity, intergovernmental communication, and regional planning efforts. This essay traces the historical development of the National Resources Planning Board (1933-1943) and its successes in establishing a network of state planning agencies. State planners viewed their role broadly, and organized state-level responses to a vast number of policy problems. As a result, when Congress abolished the NRPB in 1943, planning remained a vibrant component of the newly “modernized” state governments. Federal efforts to extend national programs into areas traditionally dominated by state-level policymaking after the New Deal had to contend and cooperate with these prevailing administrative entities. These institutional trajectories and asymmetric developments reveal enduring insights about the ability of 20th Century presidents to pursue organizational and partisan ambitions in what scholars increasingly identify as America’s “executive centered federalism”
The Political Dynamics of “Creative Federalism”: President Johnson, the Mayors, and the Development of Federal-Local Urban Policy in the 1960s
Intergovernmental administrative and budgetary reforms were essential policy initiatives of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. These goals differed from their Great Society counterparts because they focused on governmental reorganization and programmatic consolidation. Drawing on a wide range of archival evidence from the Johnson Presidential Library, I trace the political dynamics of how Johnson and metropolitan mayors responded to the political crisis insinuating American federalism. Urbanization and the fragmentation of political authority challenged the success of new federal programs. But rather than overtaking sub-national political authority, the Johnson administration devised new budgetary and management techniques for assuring “voluntary cooperation” between cities and the federal government. The development of these tools shed new light on the relationship between Johnson’s War on Poverty, and the administrative legacies subsequent presidents have had to contend with in enacting their own policies. By creating a federal-local policy, the Johnson administration ushered in a new vision of how executive-centered administrative action could help presidents achieve their programmatic goals by using local government. The momentum to enact a new “creative federalism” existed beyond any single program, and often deliberately disregarded Congressional action. By tracing the development of Johnson's signature Community Action Program into Model Cities, and in emphasizing stand-alone efforts to institutionalize intergovernmental negotiation, I highlight the role and incentives of executive in policy development and implementation. The history of Johnson’s creative federalism therefore offers important lessons in the origins of modern-day, “executive-centered federalism,” the nature of mayoral power in the planning and enactment of major federal programs, and the development of a distinct federal-local relationship in the mid-20th Century.
Party Organizations and Polycentric Governance: Political Party Reform, Administrative Consolidation, and Geographic Polarization in the Ostroms' Political Science
A common critique levied against the American constitutional system is that scant attention is paid to the ways in which the virtues or habits of mind necessary for that system's perpetuation are incentivized (Horwitz 1986; Storing 1981). The Ostroms offer several possible responses in their analysis of America's political system because of their collective emphasis on human capacity for meaningful deliberation and problem-solving: co-production in public goods (Aligica and Tarko 2013), multiple points of citizen access in overlapping jurisdictions (Ostrom, E. 1972), constitutional guarantees insuring the creation of new communities of interest (Ostrom, Tiebout, and Warren 1961).
However, despite their prolific examination of American republicanism, the invention and development of the America's mass party system remains unexplored from the Ostroms' perspective. For many scholars, the advent of broad-based, national party organizations represents the seminal creation in America's constitutional experiment - an effort to create and then recreate the active, interested, and motivated citizenry necessary for self-rule. Absent political parties, the formal rules of the game -- separation of powers, federalism, bicameralism -- would scarcely follow the logic that political scientists, including the Ostroms, trace. This paper is an effort to correct that omission by reconciling these two complementary traditions within a common analytical framework. Given the Ostroms' overriding interest in the human capacity for self-government, that ideal framework is provided by the Bloomington School of political economy. In particular, this paper will highlight the various ways in which the American mass party system has intersected with various formal constitutional rules to: a) create citizens capable of self-governance in a mass democracy; b) referee disputes between multiple centers of power in a polycentric order; c) protect constitutional guarantees, given a decentralized organizational structure. The first section will more fully flesh out the connection between American progressivism, the doctrine of "responsible party government," and administrative centralization. The second part of the paper will elaborate on that tension and discuss how party organizations facilitate the civic and constitutional prerequisites for polycentrism in the American context. In other words, I argue that one reason this tension exists in Ostrom's developmental account is because his inquiry into party structure and democratic governance begins about 100 years into a long and deliberate process of constitutional reform. The final part of the paper will draw upon the insights from the Bloomington school's concern for underlying rules and emphasize the role that party organizations play in structuring the set of actions that elected officials have, and once had, as a result of rule changes governing party organization. Specific attention will be placed on how parties relate to the Ostroms' notion of "constitutional guarantees" - an essential condition for preserving overlapping, multiple jurisdictions of political choice.
Industrial Restructuring, Automation, and the Democratic Party Response, 1946-1963
The economic prosperity of the 1950s and early 1960s failed to reach many parts of the United States. Natural resource depletion, technological automation, and intra-national economic restructuring left thousands of communities wracked by unemployment and a diminished tax base for public investment. With the 1961 Area Redevelopment Act and the 1962 Manpower Development and Training Act, the federal government sought to ease the burden on state and local government for their economic hardship. These two landmark laws were not mere extensions of previous federal programs. Rather, they were deliberate attempts to not do what the federal government did before. They represent an under appreciated form of policy “feedback” – the creation of new policy initiatives in response to successful policies deemed politically toxic. This paper offers a complementary framework emphasizing how and why the political calculus of political elites often close off certain routes of policy change, even if those alternatives were programmatically successful. Tracing the policy history of two programs, I describe the political debate that led the federal government to emphasize regionalized public investment and job retraining for unemployed workers. It perhaps seems pre-ordained that the federal government would grow in the mid-20th Century to take on these programmatic obligations, but this overlooks important policy alternatives that were widespread in the previous two decades. Targeted resettlement and worker relocation were experimental projects administered during the New Deal and during World War II. Contemporaneous policy analysis suggested that these types of federal-state programs were viable options for ameliorating the economic restructuring of the post-war economy. Instead, the federal government chose a different route. Whether or not it was the more efficacious route is beyond the scope of this paper. Instead, I emphasize why the federal government ventured into these two largely new areas of economic activity. Ironically, I argue, the federal government grew at the behest of state and local political elites. These sub-national political pressures developed into a form of federated “rent-seeking,” as mayors and governors used their partisan leverage to encourage larger federal investment in regions and individuals.
In analyzing the emergence of these path-breaking programs, this paper takes seriously how federalism shaped the government’s role in establishing what would constitute the core of economic redevelopment for the next 40 years. In doing so, I suggest that narratives emphasizing national preemption of state and local activity – while not entirely inaccurate – nevertheless fall short in considering the ways in which states and localities enabled the growth of national administration. Constitutional theorists often consider federalism to be an important structure for capturing public discontent, for building political consensus, and for creating more flexible polices. The politics – and the counterfactuals exposed by such politics – suggest that federalism can also elevate the voices of the politically entrenched, stifle viable alternatives, and establish new, vested interests.
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