I’ve written a lot about the hypocrisy coming from the right on a number of issues, particularly federalism and “judicial activism.” There are signs that these issues are beginning to split conservatives as well, roughly along the line dividing those who actually believe the things they’ve been saying and those who have just used such issues to gain political power only to ignore them once they get that power. The St. Petersburg Times has a fascinating article about it pointing to lots of other examples as well:
The trend is becoming a source of squeamishness among many conservative intellectuals, who warn that Republicans’ frequent disregard for the limiting principle of federalism won’t come without a price.
Last week, House Republicans pushed an energy bill that would limit the ability of coastal states to challenge offshore oil and natural gas projects. And states couldn’t require more energy-efficient ceiling fans.
An immigration proposal, called Real ID, would strictly dictate how states could issue drivers’ licenses, and to whom. And the recent Terri Schiavo case set a new level of congressional involvement in an issue that historically has been handled by the states.
“There is a level of hypocrisy here that is breathtaking,” said Norman Ornstein, an expert in Congress at the American Enterprise Institute, who echoed the sentiments of scholars at other conservative think-tanks in Washington. “You’ve got conservatives who have just absolutely wrapped themselves in the cloak of the 10th Amendment who miss no opportunity to talk about how government closer to the people is better, and how the federal government should be curbed. Then they go to these incredible lengths because they don’t like the decisions that states are making.”
This highlights the distinction I have made between the intellectual right and the pedestrian right, and it’s heartening to see some of the intellectual conservatives speaking out. It began with Judge Birch and his scathing rebuke of Congress for their actions in the Terri Schiavo case. Now others are speaking out as well:
“Now you’re seeing Republicans embrace that idea” of federal intervention, said Stephen Moore, president of the Free Enterprise Fund, a conservative lobbying group in Washington.
The trend is most apparent on two fronts: undercutting the regulatory authority of states, particularly on environmental matters; and advancing a conservative social agenda, such as with the Schiavo case and the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
Matthew Spalding, director of the Center for American Studies at the Heritage Foundation, the nation’s largest conservative think-tank, suggests looking at the problem from a different angle: Name a recent case where Republicans in Congress chose not to act because they felt constrained by the Constitution. “It’s extremely difficult to point to an example of that,” Spalding said.
They list numerous examples in addition to the ones previously mentioned: the recent bill that moved class action lawsuits from state courts to federal court; federal action to overturn Oregon’s assisted suicide law and California’s medical marijuana law; and an administrative rule change that determined that state consumer protection laws no longer apply to federally-regulated banks. It’s time for people to wake up and see the distinction between rhetoric and action. When they talk about wanting “smaller government” or less federal intervention in state affairs, they simply don’t mean it, any more than the Democratic party means it when they talk about being the party of the “common man”.