Friday, June 26, 2015

Conservatives *do* have a point... but it's not what they are talking about

One of the most unique and successful features of American democracy, the Federal-State system, has taken several serious hits from the Supreme Court over the past few days.

First there was the Obamacare ruling, which essentially upholds the establishment of a costly, bureaucratic and complex system across all states... even if any particular state's citizens don't want it and opted not to set up a health insurance 'exchange.' This is particularly contentious for many conservatives who celebrate the principle of self-determination and fear that they are being asked to pay for someone else's health care.

Next came the ruling on same-sex marriage, which some religious conservatives may perceive as the single most fundamental affront to their religious traditions in all of US history. The opinion offered by Chief Justice Roberts makes it clear that he (& an aging but nevertheless vocal minority) considers this Supreme Court ruling an intrusion on historical tradition. Some conservatives will now feel that they are being asked to fund the marital benefits of same-sex couples, even if they are religiously opposed to same sex marriage.

There have been many other perceived abrogations of states' rights, in recent years, notably 'Common Core,' which some conservatives fairly(?) see as a Federal program to teach to a Federally-controlled test and thereby control what our kids learn. And then, after the horrid tragedy in Charleston perpetrated by a very sick lone wolf, there was the sudden popular outburst against the rebel flag, which still proudly adorns many walls and pickup trucks across the eastern half of the country. Some conservatives perceive that the Federal government is attempting to define a traditional symbol as hateful....when they don't see it that way.

The point that conservatives could make, but dare not for obvious historical reasons, is that the relevance of state law is rapidly eroding. Given the transition to larger multi-state and multinational corporations and gargantuan Federal programs, many state boundaries have become virtually meaningless in terms of fiscal and social policy.

I will attempt to state what I think conservatives might fairly argue. In my view, the very best argument they have is that the flag of these United States has fifty stars, not one. Moreover, the states have historically functioned as relatively independent places to test new programs and policies, some even quite radical. Consider, for example, Massachusetts' Obamacare-like health care law; the current experiments with legalized marijuana in Colorado; the sale of state bonds for higher education in Oregon; the various contentious laws concerning abortion, particularly in the late term; and indeed the legalization of same-sex marriage prior to this Supreme Court ruling.

In essence, the conservatives could fairly argue: if it's not broke, why fix it? States have been experimenting with all manner of contentious issues... for generations. Why compel states to do what they could decide to do on their own?

I can offer counter-arguments to the above, but for the sake of argument, I present what I consider to be the conservatives' very best case, and the one that I believe they may present in the next election.

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