As you’re likely aware, last week during a tea party protest in Austin, Texas, Governor Rick Perry gave a speech. Addressing a crowd of people shouting "Secede! Secede," he did not explicitly agree with the angry mob’s hate for America, but he did express that independence was a possibility. Later he said to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, "I'm trying to make the Obama Administration pay attention to the 10th Amendment." The comments made headlines, drawing both praise and criticism from other politicians and pundits around the country.
One thing that the comments should not have drawn, though, was surprise. Since President Obama took office, the Republican Party has brought to new heights the tactic of plugging their ears and shouting "no" at everything the Democrats suggest, regardless of popular support. With this move by Governor Perry, they’ve taken another favorite tactic of theirs to new heights: arguing for states’ rights when they’ve lost the national debate.
The way Republicans argue for states’ rights, you may as well call it "sore losers’ rights".
We can see this strategy used in the anti-choice movement. A week after Roe v. Wade was decided by the Supreme Court in 1973, a constitutional amendment was introduced to overturn its effects. The federal-level movement has lost steam since 1983, the only time such an amendment actually made it to a floor vote. Every session, several versions of the amendment are proposed and end up fizzling in committee, regardless of the party in power. Today, more Americans want abortion legal than not.
Since there’s no chance of removing these privacy rights nationwide, focus has shifted to state legislatures and constitutions. In the infamous Katie Couric interview, Sarah Palin said, "I think it should be a states’ issue, not a federal government-mandated, mandating yes or no on such an important issue." Beyond the fact that this is a pretty blatant piece of hypocrisy – if abortion is murder, why should it be disallowed in one state and not in others? – it’s obvious that this line of argument is a Plan B (no pun intended). If they could get a federal ban, they wouldn’t relent and allow pro-choice states to choose for themselves, would they?
Likewise, federal funding for embryonic stem cell research was popular enough to pass through Congress in 2006, but was only stopped thanks to President Bush’s veto. That ban was lifted by President Obama, and according to a Gallup poll taken this February, only 19% of Americans believe that this type of research should get no government funding at all. Clearly, the anti-science right has lost the national debate on the issue.
So, they’ve moved to the states. Just last week, for example, Oklahoma not only banned all government funds for embryonic stem cell research, it made the research itself illegal. Five other states – North Dakota, South Dakota, Arkansas, Louisiana and Indiana – also have the complete ban. Personally, I can’t wait to see what happens when we start seeing results from this research – will they tell cancer patients in their states that they can’t have a newly developed treatment, because its source was embryonic stem cells? I hope not, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
Gun laws in the United States rank our country as one of the most lax in the developed world. We have more guns per capita than any other country (by a good margin). So, in terms of removing firearm restrictions, it’s hard to imagine where Congress would go: allowing guns in elementary schools? No. Allowing illegal aliens to have guns? No. Removing background checks? According to a poll taken in March, 90% of Americans are in favor of them. There doesn’t seem to be any gun control law currently in effect whose removal has a majority support. NRA nuts say that Democrats want to add restrictions and take away everyone’s guns, but there hasn’t been a serious effort to do anything of the sort this decade. And even the assault weapons ban, which two-thirds of Americans supported renewing when its sunset provision took effect in 2004, hasn’t moved forward.
Then why did Montana just pass a law saying that any gun made, sold, and held within its state borders is exempt from federal restrictions? And why are other states taking up the same legislation? Are there conservatives so extreme as to want these common-sense regulations lifted? Apparently so, and it will be interesting to see the consequences.
On the other hand, when it comes to issues conservatives don’t support, there are no calls for states’ rights. Democrat Barney Frank introduced the States’ Rights for Medical Marijuana bill in three consecutive Congresses, but the most recent version, introduced in the 109th Congress, had just 2 Republican co-sponsors out of 37.
Likewise, in 2006, Republican Senator Mike Enzi introduced S. 1955, the Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization Act. Some states provide more regulations over the health insurance industry than others, protecting consumers and allowing more people to be covered. Enzi’s bill would have allowed health care plans to bypass their state’s regulations, provided they followed those of another state’s, essentially creating a lowest-common-denominator national health care regulation system. The bill was filibustered, with a nearly perfect party line split, Republicans in favor of the bill and voting against states’ rights.
With all this in mind, is it shocking that there was a sudden increase in declarations of state sovereignty in red states as soon as Barack Obama was elected as President? The party of no-new-ideas dusted off a classic – states’ rights – when it became politically convenient, and amplified it to the level of secession. However, it’s almost guaranteed that they’ll drop the line as soon as the federal government starts turning their way again, and they’ll resume their hyper-patriotic pandering. The way things are going, though, it may be a long time before that happens.