In true Franklin Roosevelt-fashion, President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus, or what many are calling his own “New Deal,” is being applauded by supporters as bold and progressive. Few liberals have accused the president of dragging the United States “backwards,” because in terms of massive government expansion, most “progressives” consider 1930’s America a good place to be.
The same cannot be said of 1830’s America, when the concept of unlimited federal government was still considered a menace, not a solution. When South Carolina recently joined a number of states in passing a state sovereignty resolution, the bill’s author, Rep. Michael Pitts, said it was a “wake-up call,” and that Americans had ignored federal intrusions for too long — economic, cultural or otherwise. Said Civil War historian W. Scott Poole of the bill, “I was fairly horrified actually … it clearly harkens back to nullification,” referring to U.S. Sen. John C. Calhoun’s famous defiance of federal tariffs in 1832.
So being “backward” or “reactionary” now means questioning the power of government or invoking “horrible” men like Calhoun. And being “progressive” or “forward-thinking” now means fully embracing government and invoking those like Obama and liberal hero FDR.
And yet, I know few liberals who support the War on Drugs, marriage “protection” amendments, or the Patriot Act. In fact, if you talk to the most vocal Leftists about drug criminalization, gay marriage, or the loss of civil liberties, their anti-government rhetoric can sound downright reactionary. “Government has within it a tendency to abuse its powers,” Calhoun said. Today, much of the American Left agrees with him.
So how do liberals square their fear of intrusive government with their enthusiasm for Obama? The opposite question could also be asked: how did so many conservatives square their fear of big government with their enthusiasm for President George W. Bush, whose unprecedented spending and increasing of the power of the state set the stage for Obama?
Sadly, most liberals or conservatives never think in such terms. Bush Republicans had no problem with big government so long as their guy was in charge of it, and now the same is true of Obama Democrats.
Some already comprehend the liberal value of states’ rights. In an article entitled “The New States’ Rights?” published by the San Francisco Chronicle in 2007, authors David Davenport and Gordon Lloyd wrote, “Just when you thought federalism was dead, and the 10th Amendment guaranteeing power to the states had been erased from the Constitution, state governments have asserted themselves on an astonishing array of issues traditionally the province of the federal government.
“Suddenly, there are state laws on everything from global warming to same-sex marriage, and states routinely challenge Uncle Sam’s authority in court … Can we really have 50 state global warming policies or 50 different definitions of marriage? We are a long way from that academic question posing any kind of real problem. [But] why not allow for more state, regional, and local differences on social issues? If Oregon wants to be more flexible about the use of medical marijuana, for example, and Kansas does not, why should that become a federal issue?”
Indeed, as of this writing, Vermont has pending legislation that would make full-blown same-sex marriage — not merely civil unions — legal, and California is looking for ways to legalize and tax marijuana to generate government revenue. Both constitute direct challenges to “Uncle Sam’s authority.” Liberals should find both developments encouraging.
And so should conservatives. While the recent state sovereignty resolutions that have been passed in multiple states are no doubt reactions from the Right to Obama’s statist agenda, any attempts to put the federal government back in its constitutional box is unquestionably a conservative endeavor. Reports the Charleston City Paper on the author of S.C.’s state sovereignty bill, “Pitts notes he first designed his bill in response to mandates that the state provide education and emergency medical treatment to illegal aliens. [But] it goes beyond that to other concerns, like the threat of stricter gun control laws under the new Democratic administration, Pitts says, as well as Bush-era policies, like No Child Left Behind and the Patriot Act. The U.S. government has been continuously overstepping its bounds since Roosevelt, Pitts says.”
In rejecting Roosevelt’s big government legacy and invoking the 10th amendment, are Pitts and his colleagues suggesting states can — and should — nullify unconstitutional federal laws? Damn straight. And liberals who still find states’ rights objectionable, laughable, or horrifying, can expect to continue enduring the War on Drugs, give up on gay marriage, and surrender their civil liberties unless Obama comes to their rescue — or until the next Republican president comes to take their liberties away.
Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the “Morning Buzz with Richard Todd” on 1250 AM WTMA.