Monday, September 13, 2010

Our national bugbear: "States' rights"

Since the creation of the idea of the United States we've been plagued by conflict and tension between our "one nation, indivisible" ideal and our fascination for pointless distinctions to separate us from one another. Reactionaries have always exploited this distrust of the guy on the other side of the invisible line to divide Americans and gather power for themselves. Sunday's editorial is a clear example of how the idea of "states' rights" is used selectively to block or promote change according to what the speaker happens to want politically.

The unnamed Courier editor sets up what s/he sees as a clever dichotomy between SB1070 and state initiatives allowing wider use of marijuana, saying that the federal government is selectively asserting the primacy of federal law by opposing one and not the other. This amounts to pure right-wing talking points.

As one astute commenter put it, the difference is apples and oranges.

In the case of 1070, the state is trying to assert a right to preempt federal enforcement policy in an area clearly reserved to the federal government. The feds have no choice but to injunct this action, and they will.

With widely enacted medical marijuana initiatives and California's Prop 19, the states are repealing their own blanket prohibitions. They are explicitly not attempting to prevent the feds from enforcing federal law, that would be stupid and counterproductive. Rather they are saying that it's up to the federal government to do its own enforcing and they're out of it.

We've seen this process before. The New York legislature, having suffered exponential growth in smuggling and gang violence as well as a doubling of its federal prison population, was first to break the wall of Prohibition by calling for a Constitutional convention and refusing to enforce federal law, starting the cascade to repeal in 1933. Now Arizona and California are similarly suffering the brunt of the effects of prohibition, and it should be no surprise that sensible people are saying enough is enough.

Rather than the feds, the editor is trying to have it both ways in support of reactionary political groupthink, and is unashamed to employ disinformation in pursuit of those goals. Again, our community deserves better.

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