We have been trained to think of states as the supposed "laboratories of democracy," but what they really are these days are a check and balance against federal inaction and Potomac Fever. That's the case I make in my newspaper column out today - especially as it relates to the housing crisis.
Last month, this situation was exemplified by the front page of the Washington Post. On one side was this story, headlined "Housing Accord Puts Builders First; Strapped Homeowners Offered Little Aid." On another side of the page, was this story, headlined, "Sweeping Bills Passed To Help Homeowners." The former was about Congress moving to use the housing crisis as a justification to give Big Money interests yet another taxpayer-funded handout. The latter was about state lawmakers using their power to better regulate the financial industry and try to help regular folks.
Such a contrast has been seen all over the country. As states move to crack down on predatory lending and abusive mortgage fees, lawmakers like Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) have been telling reporters "it's irrelevant" how many - if any - homeowners are ever helped by anything Congress does in reaction to the housing crisis. As state legislators use their platforms to demand serious aid to borrowers, Washington moves to construct a bailout for financial firms.
This is the contrast between minimally healthy (though certainly imperfect) democratic systems in the states, and a federal government ravaged by Potomac Fever - the illness whereby professional politicians forget who they were elected to serve. I offer some ideas on what precisely causes this kind of Potomac Fever in the column, and how state action may be the only hope to shock that disease out of the system.
Whether that happens or not, however, states are leading the way on the major issues of the day - as they always have. The progressive movement tends to be almost solely focused on Washington, D.C. and federal elections - but as the Right showed throughout the 1980s and 1990s, states are where the rubber really hits the road on major issues - and especially money issues (and this is why, for instance, I devote so much of my time, energy and activism to the Progressive States Network).
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