Tuesday, July 22, 2003

What am I talking about when I rail against states rights? I mention it a lot on the blogsite, and I have just posted E.J. Dionne’s article from today’s Washington Post below:

There are a lot of ways to look at it, but let me put it like this:

States Rights is a doctrine that says that the Constitution, fairly read, is a limited partnership agreement among the states concerning how they would coordinate the business amongst them.

Despite the fact that the Constitution starts with the words “We The People,” it doesn’t have much to do with the people at all.

Even the Bill of Rights doesn’t have much to do with people, except in the very limited sense that it prevents the Federal government from passing laws limiting speech, religion, etc. It says nothing about what the states can do.

When people, like John Ashcroft and Gayle Norton, speak of their admiration of Jefferson Davis and states rights, they are admiring this construct, which theoretically ought to have nothing to do with racism and slavery.

In the event however, a conflict arose over whether the Federal power could be used to enforce the rights of some states to favor slavery, over the rights of other states to oppose it. Lincoln said that “This government cannot permanently endure, half-slave and half-free.” From the standpoint of the Constitution, in 1857, it is unclear how a state opposed to slavery could refuse to permit a slaveholder from Missouri from bringing his slave into Minnesota and living as man and slave. (Dred Scott). In the Constitution, the rights of the states to permit slavery should always overrule the rights of some people to be opposed to it. I will leave the rest of that argument to those who can address it with more passion.

So when Lincoln later said that the nation was an experiment of “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” he was overstating the construct. Day to day life in North America may in fact have been government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but the governing document, the Constitution, did not say that.

In this sense, the conflict of the Civil War can be said to be a conflict concerning differing views of what is meant by “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

The North won (duh) and put in a few amendments to the Constitution, and it was these amendments that, for the first time, prohibited the states from taking certain actions against their citizens. But the ability of the Federal government to enforce these amendments is also a matter of some dispute. For a century or so, it was a matter of fierce dispute.

When I criticize people like Gingrich (who I take very seriously and very respectfully as a thinker who I happen to have a profound disagreement with), DeLay, Archer, Norquist, Ashcroft, Gail Norton or Karl Rove (who I think are all simply corporate tools who are trying to kill a way of life, and will lead directly to my personal death --- see below), it is their insistence that a pre-Civil War, pre-New Deal, pre-World War II reading of the Constitution is the best way, come what may, that I most disagree with.

I am not sure what future Gingrich and movement conservatives think they are going back to. And since this is an open work in progress, I hope to be able to come to some of my findings on this eventually.

However, I do know where George W. Bush thinks he’s going. And those who have been following along know where I think that is. But I will put that on the record next time.