Federalism at Orlando

I just finished watching the Republican Presidential debate that took place in Orlando last night. A topic that kept coming up was federalism.

According to dictionary.com, “federalism” is defined as a “system of government in which power is divided between a central authority and constituent political units.” Conservatives and libertarians rest heavily on the Tenth Amendment to the Bill of Rights for their understanding of this division of power. The amendment states that the “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved for the States respectively, or to the people.” For conservatives and libertarians, this means that the federal government can only do what is specifically mentioned in the Constitution. Since the Constitution doesn’t give the federal government authority over matters like (for example) education or health care, they argue, those areas are the sole responsibility of state and local governments and private citizens, meaning that the feds should just stay out.

Republicans have always given lip service to the Tenth Amendment. In the 1996 Republican primaries, Bob Dole was trying to look like a conservative, so he said that he carried a copy of the Tenth Amendment in his pocket. The person who later became his running mate, Jack Kemp, didn’t interpret Dole’s Senate record as pro-small government, however. He called Dole the “tax-collector for the welfare state.” I think that most Republicans when pressed will not agree with the full implications of the Tenth Amendment. When I was an undergraduate, I heard one Republican candidate for Congress say that he would use the Tenth Amendment as the guiding principle for the federal government’s role. I wish I had asked him, “So are you in favor of abolishing Social Security and Medicare?” By and large, most Republicans are what Barry Goldwater called “dime-store New Dealers.” They accept the federal government’s involvement in a number of areas; they just don’t want it to spend as much money as the Democrats propose.

In the Orlando debate, federalism came up with respect to three issues: tort reform, homosexual marriage, and health care. Tort reform entered the debate because Rudy accused Fred Thompson of blocking the idea in the Senate. Thompson responded that he sees tort reform as a state and local concern, not something in which the federal government should be involved. Fred Thompson prides himself as a champion of federalism. And, in comparison with many, he is truly a fighter for small government. But he hasn’t exactly been an absolutist on the Tenth Amendment. He voted to fund the National Endowment for the Arts, the GOP version of the Medicare prescription drug benefit, and No Child Left Behind (see On the Issues – Fred Thompson). The Constitution nowhere grants the federal government a role in these areas. To his credit, however, Fred Thompson is admitting his past mistakes, and he has also taken some pretty gutsy positions. He now says that the prescription drug benefit and No Child Left Behind are mistakes, and he also proposes to reduce Medicare benefits for upper income people. This is gutsy, since powerful lobbies such as the AARP do not want Medicare to be touched. But something has to be done if the program is to survive, without costing taxpayers billions of more dollars.

For homosexual marriage, Fred Thompson, Ron Paul, Rudy, and John McCain oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment. They want to leave the issue to the states. That’s fine, if federal courts respect the right of states to make their own marriage laws. So far, federal courts have behaved themselves pretty well, but can we trust them to do so in the future? In at least two cases, the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down laws or state constitutional amendments that discriminate against homosexuals or homosexuality. I’m not going to discuss here whether the Court was right or wrong, but I wonder if federal courts will ever see state marriage amendments as “discriminatory” against homosexuals. We need the Federal Marriage Amendment, or at least an amendment that allows the states to decide the issue, free from the intervention of federal courts.

Regarding health care, Ron Paul was a slight disappointment. Here is a man who usually takes the Tenth Amendment seriously. He even opposes some of my favorite programs, like financial aid for students! Yet, he said in the debate that the government would have more money for health care if it would stop building a global empire. I hope Ron Paul isn’t compromising his libertarian principles to appease the anti-war people. He did say that we should move toward market solutions, so hopefully he meant that the government should be involved only in a period of transition. Tom Tancredo at least raised the issue of whether the federal government should have a role in health care in the first place. He seemed to equivocate at first, but he concluded by saying that it should not.

There are some Republican candidates who stand by the Tenth Amendment. Many are dime-store New Dealers. And many are somewhere in between.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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2 Responses to Federalism at Orlando

  1. Steven Craig Miller says:

    Do you think the 10th Amendment is important today from your political point of view?


  2. James Pate says:

    I think it is, since it’s in the Constitution. But there will have to be a period of transition. The government just can’t get out of things cold turkey. People will suffer if it does. Of course, there are questions that go into my mind. What would I do without student loans? What would my grandparents do without Medicare and Social Security? What would the poor do about food or health insurance? Would the states and individuals have enough money or resources? I think that the federal government rolling back its involvement can make things better, since often it is government involvement that makes things (such as health care and college education) more expensive. Also, I hope that the people will become more generous in handling problems that are close to them.


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