Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Flip Flop: When Republicans push for a Constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage across the nation, and Democrats argue that Massachusetts should set its own standards of marriage, you might think that the political parties have reversed roles in the states-rights debate.

You'd be wrong.

Nothing has changed. Neither party has ever been the champion of states rights. They use it only when it fits their issue. Republicans may argue for states rights when it comes to allowing prayer in school and prohibiting abortion. But they conveniently ignore it when states support liberal issues.

The Department of Justice under President Bush has fought against the use of medicinal marijuana in California, even though voters legalized it in the state. The Drug Enforcement Agency has been told to prosecute doctors who recommend marijuana to treat ailments. And Attorney General John Ashcroft ordered the DEA to suspend or revoke the licenses of doctors who prescribe drugs to assist with suicides in Oregon, even though the state's population voted to make physician-assisted suicide legal.

On other issues, from education standards to the Patience Bill of Rights to food safety, Republicans have passed federal laws that pre-empt state laws, even ones that offer tougher standards. Getting government "off your back" only means cutting taxes and reducing business regulations -- which is nice, but that's not enough.

Democrats have earned the big-government label for good reason. They created Social Security and Medicare, and now they want to nationalize health care (unless health-care benefits are extended under a Republican administration). But they'll play lip service to states rights when the states are fighting for issues that serve their needs. Just take a look at their arguments on the Florida recount in 2000.

Is having a strong national government inherently bad? I don't think so. A lot of good has come from federal supremacy.

The Constitution was designed to limit the national government, giving it just enough power to make sure the states don't kill each other. But as this country matured, the national government filled the power vacuum, making that the U.S. stronger on the international stage.

States tended to abuse rights, such as by allowing slavery. Eventually the states-rights issue was decided in the Civil War and the subsequent passage of the 14th Amendment, forbidding states from trampling on individual rights.

Issues come up from time to time, including segregation and voting rights. And we usually depend on the national government to come up with a solution. Having uniform laws and standards among the states helps this country. That's not to say the federal government should decide all issues. States are best equipped to handle local issues like education, transportation, crime, etc.

But overall, the national government has done a good job of making sure local authorities don't infringe our rights. They protect 2 Live Crew. They protect the right to protest by burning the flag. They protect abortion rights.

If you ever argue for states rights on an issue, ask yourself this: Would you feel the same about states rights if the situation were reversed and the states were trying to do something you oppose? If you wouldn't, then pick a different argument.


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