President George W. Bush, elected as a supporter of state prerogatives over federal power, is getting heat from his critics for violating such pledges to uphold states’ rights.
Of course, Democrats can hardly complain about the president’s change of heart. Their party has spent the last half-century or so promoting federally imposed solutions to just about any perceived societal problem.
Despite distortion of the doctrine by some states in the past to justify racial discrimination, states’ rights remain today a crucial concept, contained in the 10th Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
States’ rights are one of the many checks and balances on the accretion of power by the central government the founders feared.
After winning his election, Bush said: “While I believe there’s a role for the federal government, it’s not to impose its will on states and local communities.”
Unfortunately, those were only words. As The Associated Press reported Saturday, Bush has “aggressively pursued policies that expand the powers of Washington in the schoolroom, the courthouse, the home and the doctor’s office.”
The president’s two biggest assaults on states’ rights have been the No Child Left Behind Act, which imposes strict federal standards on local school districts, and the Patriot Act, which imposes new security requirements on states and localities.
We find both measures costly and intrusive — as much an assault on liberties and taxpayers as on states’ rights. But one must wonder even about some good federal laws the president is pursuing, such as one trying to limit class-action lawsuit abuse.
This debate is a good reminder that the federal government is supposed to have severe limits on its power. It is not supposed to be involved in so many of the areas in which it is now so intimately involved. Of course, President Bush is following in the footsteps of every modern president before him. That is what is most disturbing about his proposals.