Abstract

This article examines the growing impact of partisan polarization on intergovernmental relations under the Obama Administration. Increasingly, red and blue states have taken different trajectories in implementing Obama Administration policies, with resistance from many conservative state leaders and enthusiasm from Democrats. To manage these challenges, the Administration has turned to an array of old and new tools for accommodating territorial variations in politics and policy: opt outs for reluctant or resistant states, accommodation for states that wish to go beyond federal standards, aggressive use of waivers, and so forth. This “variable speed federalism” model—marked by increasingly diverse patterns of state implementation of national policies—has been the paradoxical outgrowth of what President Obama once hoped would become a “new nationalism.” This article explores these themes in more detail, briefly recapping the principal domestic accomplishments of the Obama Administration, examining emerging patterns of intergovernmental relations, and discussing the increased federal tolerance of state diversity in federal intergovernmental programs.

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