Wash. Times debunked own claims that Obama "hijack[ed]" and "borrowed" Republican language about role of states

››› ››› TOM ALLISON

A Washington Times article by reporter Stephen Dinan headlined "Obama hijacks GOP language on key issues" asserted that President-elect Barack Obama was "borrowing a line from the Republican-revolution playbook" when Obama said that, in Dinan's words, states should be "laboratories for solutions to the nation's big problems." However, later in the article, Dinan rebutted his own assertion, as well as the Times' headline, in noting that Obama "trac[ed] the concept back to Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who ... said states could 'serve as a laboratory.' "

In a December 3 Washington Times online article headlined "Obama hijacks GOP language on key issues," reporter Stephen Dinan asserted that President-elect Barack Obama was "borrowing a line from the Republican-revolution playbook" when he told the National Governors Association in Philadelphia that, in Dinan's words, states should be "laboratories for solutions to the nation's big problems." However, later in the article, Dinan rebutted his own assertion, as well as the Times' headline, by noting that Obama "trac[ed] the concept back to Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who in a dissent in a 1932 court case said states could 'serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.' " Brandeis was appointed to the Supreme Court by Democratic President Woodrow Wilson in 1916.

In December 2 remarks to the National Governors Association, Obama stated:

It was Justice Brandeis who said, during a period of far greater turmoil in our markets, that one of the blessings of our democracy was that - and I quote - "a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory," experimenting with innovative solutions to its economic problems. That is the spirit of courage and ingenuity that so many of you embody. And that is the spirit I want to reclaim in this country - one where our states are testing new ideas, where Washington is investing in what works, and where you and I are working in partnership to move this country forward.

In a dissenting opinion in the 1932 Supreme Court case New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, Brandeis stated: "Denial of the right to experiment may be fraught with serious consequences to the nation. It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country."

From the December 3 Washington Times online article:

Borrowing a line from the Republican-revolution playbook of the 1990s, President-elect Barack Obama on Tuesday told the nation's governors that he wants them to reassert states as the laboratories for solutions to the nation's big problems.

"That's the spirit that I want to reclaim for the country as a whole," Mr. Obama told the National Governors Association, gathered in Philadelphia. "One where states are testing ideas, where Washington is investing in what works, and where you and I are working together in partnership on behalf of the great citizens of this nation."

Showing fealty to the Founding Fathers' concept of federalism and states' roles in a divided government is the latest statement of humility and outreach from Mr. Obama during his transition. It's one olive branch Republicans said they hope to grab as Mr. Obama seeks to make good on his campaign pledge of change.

"Time will tell. I'm certainly hopeful he will indeed push for states to be the laboratories for change, because they can be," said Gov. Mark Sanford, South Carolina Republican. "If one really believes in change, states are going to be front and center."

State experimentation was the rage in the 1990s, when a high-profile set of Republican governors led a movement to reform welfare and education. Meanwhile, the governors' allies in Congress sparred with President Clinton over enshrining the welfare reforms in federal law, finally reaching an agreement he could sign in 1996.

Now, with a looming budget crisis facing the federal government, both governors and federalism observers said Mr. Obama should turn to the states to lead the way on some of the items on the president-elect's own to-do list of reforms, including Medicaid and expanded access to health care.

"That's how we ought to do health care reform," said David Osborne, a former senior adviser to then-Vice President Al Gore who studied federalism and is now with Public Strategies Group, a consulting firm that advises governments on how to improve their performance. "The federal government should create funding and incentives for the states to try their own models to expand access to health insurance and control costs and improve quality."

Mr. Osborne said he doesn't expect Congress to allow states that role -- "it's not the way senators and congressmen think" -- but praised Mr. Obama for raising those sorts of prospects.

"I find it reassuring," he said. "Obama seems by instinct to understand that not everything important in this country happens in Washington. Anybody who's been a community organizer kind of gets that most government is at the state and local level."

In encouraging the states to experiment, Mr. Obama didn't refer to Republicans, instead tracing the concept back to Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who in a dissent in a 1932 court case said states could "serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country."

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