The passion for smaller government provides one of the sharpest dividing lines between Republicans and Democrats. Democrats universally like big government. Republicans say they like smaller government.
Jefferson’s vision of a “wise and frugal government” must be restored…return government to its proper role, making it smaller and smarter…Limit government. Respect federalism.
— 2016 Republican Party platform
Republicans say their passion for limits on government is based on the constitution. They usually point to the 10th amendment as their authority: ‘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.’
My attention was drawn to a bill passed by the US House of Representatives on 5/13/2015: H.R.36, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which prohibits abortions in most cases when the age of the fetus is greater than 20 weeks. Of course, there is nothing in the US Constitution giving the Federal government a role in reproductive medicine. Abortion advocates are wrong in claiming a constitutional right to privacy, and the Supreme Court was wrong in agreeing. That doesn’t justify Republicans in retaliating with crowd-pleasing legislation like HR 36 that colludes in the expansion of federal power in this area.
The problem doesn’t end with abortion. Over time other issues have been exploited at the national level, with Republicans playing along:
- Republicans in Congress oppose legalizing marijuana in the states and the District of Columbia.
- The Republican 2012 platform supported the Defense of Marriage Act, which allowed states to not recognize same-sex marriages granted under the laws of other states.
There is a common fault with politicians: greed for power. When a politician spots an un-served constituency they sign them up as new clients, jump to their support and get their loyalty. In the political game that’s how you gain new votes and build your campaign budget. It’s an ethical challenge for the politician in these cases: how to reconcile a new agenda with their previous positions and allegiances. The challenge for voters is to hold politicians accountable for pandering and hypocrisy. If your legislator supports positions you agree with and manages to avoid these conflicts, count yourself lucky.
The genuine conservative position on abortion, gay marriage, and marijuana legalization is that they are matters for the states to decide. When Republicans join in by trying to put their own spin on Federal control in these areas, that’s hypocrisy.
You can’t vote for Federal involvement in marijuana legalization, abortion, and gay marriage and then pretend to respect the 10th amendment. If there is a reason for Federal control, follow the path provided by the constitution: pass an amendment and add that item to the list of specified powers.
The bottom line
Don’t say you support constitutional limits on Federal power, and then do anything like this:
- pass HR 36, which seeks to expand Federal regulation of abortion,
- oppose marijuana legalization in the states and the District of Columbia,
- pass the Defense of Marriage Act, which undermines states’ right to define marriage.