cover image Laboratories Against Democracy: How National Parties Transformed State Politics

Laboratories Against Democracy: How National Parties Transformed State Politics

Jacob Grumbach. Princeton Univ., $29.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-691-21845-8

Grumbach, a political scientist at the University of Washington, contends in this lucid analysis that the nationalization of America’s major political parties threatens democracy. Led by politicians with national agendas, states have become “the center of American policymaking,” according to Grumbach, a shift that runs counter to traditional notions of federalism and Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis’s theory that states are “laboratories of democracy” that “can emulate each other’s successful policy experiments and reject the failed ones.” Grumbach employs large data sets and statistical methodology to show how Democratic and Republican activists, frustrated with congressional gridlock, have increased their attention on state politics since the early 2000s, and he makes a convincing case that many state leaders are more concerned about emulating their fellow partisans in other states than effective governance. Though Grumbach notes that states have a history of resisting federal oversight, he argues that recent developments, such as the “lame-duck coups” waged by Republican legislatures in North Carolina and Wisconsin against their Democratic governors, pose a critical threat to democracy. Though the academic prose can be challenging, Grumbach’s claims are persuasive and timely. This is a pinpoint diagnosis of a troubling political trend. (July)