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What 'States' Rights' Actually Means

If you've heard it once you've heard it a thousand times: states' rights. Along with "states' rights" goes the idea of "small government" which is actually "small federal government." Only this idea of a smaller government and states' rights is a

If you've heard it once you've heard it a thousand times: states' rights. Along with "states' rights" goes the idea of "small government" which is actually "small federal government." Only this idea of a smaller government and states' rights is a formulated, poll tested, concept that means "no federal taxes" and the South doesn't have to be bossed around by Yankee Presidents any more.

What's rarely talked about is if these ideas were actualized. What would that mean for our country?

Rick Perry is the latest in a long line of rogue statesmen who shout the rallying cry of the 10th Amendment, but the New York Times questions if he's just opportunist.

"In one of his more well-publicized shifts, Mr. Perry proclaimed that gay marriage was an issue for individual states to decide, but backtracked in recent weeks and now says he supports a federal amendment banning gay marriage. He has also signaled support for various federal actions to restrict abortion rather than leaving the issue to states. And he used $17 billion in federal stimulus money to balance the state’s last two budgets."

the Texas Tribune similarly details the struggle Perry seems to have with women's reproductive choice, which, according to a true states rightsman, should be left up to the states to decide. Not according to Perry. The Tribune interviews an anti-choice advocate who, twelve years ago, couldn't get Perry to even push parental notification in the state legislature. Today, it's a different story as he advocates for "personhood" and the "preciousness of life" across the early primary and caucus states.

But Rick Perry isn't the only presidential candidate to advocate for a small federal government while conveniently ignoring social issues. Texas Congressman Ron Paul was the poster boy for libertarian politics, bringing about a movement within the GOP before the tea party was ever AstroTurf-ed.

In an astounding statement this past weekend Paul said he didn't believe natural disasters should fuel increased money to the states. If we lived under a Paul-pocracy these dollars wouldn't have left the states to begin with, and if the state ran out of money do to a preponderance of disaster - they would just file for bankruptcy. Paul doesn't just believe in states' rights; he proved that even when it's unpopular, he believes in states' rights. Except, of course, for the social issues.

Paul voted for the ban on late term abortions in 2003. Paul voted for Don't Ask Don't Tell in 1993 - but then voted to repeal in 2010, but then he condemned President Obama for not abandoning the Defense of Marriage Act. So much for states rights.

It doesn't stop at Presidential candidates, however. Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn is a big fan of states rights …. except of course on gay marriage and abortion, which according to him, the federal government should ban on both accounts. I wrote a few weeks ago about his idea to pull funding from his own state for critical USDA and agriculture programs that were the only line of defense against another Dust Bowl. I also wrote about Coburn and Republican freshman Congressman James Lankford's bill to send back transportation and infrastructure money because they don't believe the federal government should be in the roads and bridges business.

It seems the only consistency with Republicans is the strive for this kind of focus group politics that makes everything sound like a great idea until you sit down and actually think about how it will impact our country. My guess is they're not expecting voters to think about it at all.

When it comes to the states rights argument, the most disappointing (or perhaps amusing) thing is that it destroys the "Republicans are the only patriots" image the Bush Administration worked so hard to manufacture after 9/11. While Bush's America, with its warrentless wiretaps, state sanctioned torture, multicolored threat levels, and warmongering wasn't my ideal America, I did really love that for a while we were all one country. His, and his party's, attempts to own patriotism in those elections after 9/11 forced me to stand up stronger and demand recognition of my own party's faith in our country. It didn't make me be a stronger patriot it made me a louder one in efforts to show that peace and protests were just as patriotic as the fabricated threats.

Remember what it was like after 9/11? Those few weeks as we watched New Yorkers post photos of loved ones across their fallen city. The tears we all shared for the loss of an innocence we never really understood we had. We were all together in what followed, just like we were all together during World War 2. Whether we win Olympic metals or lose our treasured heroes, we have always been a stronger people because these things we share together.

What happened to that America? And why do Republicans want to take it away?

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