Jonathan Chait brought my attention to something interesting, Why Are Republicans Suddenly Fixated With Urban Failure? His take on it is that Republicans are fleeing from the “Obama is destroying America!” meme, and have gone back to their tried and true meme, “Democrats have created scary urban areas!” I think this is actually not true. What’s happening is that Republicans know that Obama is at the end of his term. In the past their argument was, “Just you wait!” It’s like the Paul Bibeau satire, What If They NEVER Come For Our Guns? So the Republicans are just marking time until they can explain that it is really Hillary Clinton who is destroying America.
But Chait does note the most important issue: where “big government” is a problem is not at the federal level; it is at the state and local level. That’s where we have problems with onerous business regulations and zoning that causes rent to be exceptionally high. It is also, it seems reasonable to note, where county clerks refuse to marry people because of their hatred of gays and where minority groups have had the most problems with the law. So it is ironic that Republicans would claim that cities are dysfunctional as a justification for stopping the federal government from repairing bridges.
What Chait completely leaves out is the Ultimate Republican Idea™ — that everything is better at the local level. So we need no national education standards, for example. But most of all, there is Block Grant mania! By this logic, the federal government doesn’t need to tell states what to do; it just needs to give them block grants and the states will innovate in ways that we just can’t imagine! So there’s no need for Medicaid: just give money to the states and figure they will sort it out.
But if that’s the case, how does highlighting dysfunction at the local level help? Well, that’s the great Republican trick. They don’t actually believe that local control is better. Block grants are all about destroying these programs that they don’t like. Making Medicaid a block grant is a way to defund it. They know that they can’t just eliminate it. They’ve tried and there is too much support for it. But making it a block grant, allows them to slowly kill it, since Congress won’t be keen on properly fund it when it isn’t really their program. So year by year, Medicaid would have less and less purchasing power to the point where it was effectively repealed.
But as for the likes of George Will, this is just a period where they relax and complain about little things. They will be back. They just don’t yet know who will be the next Liberal Destroyer of All That Is Good™. Once that person arrives, it will be back to usual. In fact, George Will can just go back and use his columns from the 1990s. It will be especially great if Hillary Clinton is the next president — he will be able to recycle some articles without even a search and replace. “President Clinton is destroying America…”