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May. 20 2010 - 8:25 pm | 5,727 views | 0 recommendations | 15 comments

Fetishizing Federal Power

In a post about Rand Paul, who should definitely support the 1964 Civil Rights act, Ezra Klein writes:

There is a category of scandal that I call “area politician believes kooky but harmless thing.” A candidate who thinks he was abducted by UFOs would fit here. It’s weird, but it doesn’t have many implications for public policy. What’s gotten Paul in trouble, however, is that he’s so skeptical of government power that he’s not even comfortable with the public sector telling private businesses that they can’t discriminate based on race. That, I fear, does have public policy implications.

For instance: Can the federal government set the private sector’s minimum wage? Can it tell private businesses not to hire illegal immigrants? Can it tell oil companies what safety systems to build into an offshore drilling platform? Can it tell toy companies to test for lead? Can it tell liquor stores not to sell to minors? These are the sort of questions that Paul needs to be asked now, because the issue is not “area politician believes kooky but harmless thing.” It’s “area politician espouses extremist philosophy on issue he will be voting on constantly.”

That this is the best Mr. Klein can do lays bear the absurdity of fretting about the prospect of Senator Paul. There is just no possible way that the federal minimum wage is going to be repealed, and even if it were, states are perfectly capable of setting their own minimum wage laws, as many do. Readers can follow all the links in this post to see how it’s worked out to have the federal government pass a law requiring that toys be tested for lead. It is more than implausible to imagine that a Senator Paul would be part of a Congress that repealed the prohibition against hiring illegal immigrants, and laws exist in every single state preventing liquor stores from selling alcohol to minors.

That the federal government should be empowered to pass environmental regulations is true, so I too await how Rand Paul would answer questions about oil drilling, but otherwise, Mr. Klein is casting some positions as extremist that are nothing of the kind, and other issues he mentions are about as likely to come into play as UFO abduction. There are times in American history when strict adherence to states rights would’ve been morally wrong and practically disastrous. This isn’t one of them, nor is this a time when the devolution of significant powers to state government is plausible.

But all sorts of federal abuses and misguided policies are possible. Indeed we see them in every administration. I need to read more about Rand Paul’s opponent in the general election — I actually don’t even know who it is — and to bone up on Paul’s beliefs on civil liberties, foreign policy, and executive power. Presuming they are Cato-ish, I’d much prefer Senator Paul to the kind of Democrat who voted for the Patriot Act and the Iraq War, especially if they’re also the kind of Democrat that don’t seem to care very much about a Democratic President asserting truly troubling powers in the War on Terrorism.

That is a higher priority than laws concerning lead toys and liquor store regulations.


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  1. collapse expand

    Mr. Friedersdorf,

    I think the point about Mr. Paul’s positions on Federal Minimum Wage or the Civil Rights Act of 1965 are so about the specifics of these two laws but rather how he would approach future issue of similar importance and orientation. If he would have opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1965 would he do in regards to a Civil Rights Act of 2015?

  2. collapse expand

    He said he would have voted against the Iraq war and he is against the Patriot Act.

    Why do you think Cheney and Giuliani endorsed his GOP opponent?

  3. collapse expand

    Mr. F, I believe that you have misapprehanded the key word in each of Mr. Klein’s questions. Each starts with the word “Can” rather than the word “Should.” Answering or speculating about a ’should’ question is completely non-responsive when someone presents a reasonable basis for asking a ‘can’ question, and Dr. Paul does.

  4. collapse expand

    “There are times in American history when strict adherence to states rights would’ve been morally wrong and practically disastrous. This isn’t one of them, nor is this a time when the devolution of significant powers to state government is plausible.”

    The reality is that there are plenty of cases brought to prosecution under the civil rights act every year. This is not a dead issue by any stretch. Maybe Paul wouldn’t repeal but there’s a lot of ways to curtail. What about the ADA? Paul is clearly against it.

    • collapse expand

      There are plenty of cases that are brought to prosecution over laws that say you can’t swear in public, buy a car on a Sunday, or sell a dildo in a particular state.

      Is the zealous litigiousness of our panty-wetting society supposed to be the yardstick against which just laws are measured?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  5. collapse expand

    amg Conor.
    Paul is NOT a small (l) libertarian.
    He is a Teabagger Libertarian.
    That means he advocates unregulated liberty for bankstahs and racists.
    However he advocates regulating uterii, kentucky mines, marriage, sex-education, medicare physicians pay, foreign interventionism and anything else the teatards want regulated.
    The Birchers and the Stormfronters funded his campaign.
    You should be ashamed.
    Are you turning into the younger cuter Jonah Goldberg?
    just lissen–
    Real Libertarians don’t say things like this.
    “I will always vote for any and all legislation that would end abortion or lead us in the direction of ending abortion.
    I believe in a Human Life Amendment and a Life at Conception Act as federal solutions to the abortion issue.”

  6. collapse expand

    Srsly Conor…you would nevah dare post this at TAS.
    Paul can weasel word all he wants, and you can spin for him.
    But Rand Paul can’t call himself a libertarian and neither can you.
    Call him what he is.
    A Teabagger.

  7. collapse expand

    Going for the reductio ad absurdum here: There is no possible way Congress will pass a law making bestiality legal, therefore it is okay to vote for Mr. Dogfucker for Senator, even though legalizing dog-fucking is his primary issue.

  8. collapse expand

    Conor: best I could tell, Paul’s position in the Maddow interview was that private ownership of property gives the property owner the right to do more or less anything on or with her property (I assume with the usual caveat about not harming others.) If the government can tell a diner owner to seat blacks, that apparently counts as “government ownership” of the diner.

    This is helpful: for the first time I have some sense of why people in the Tea Party think that Obama is a socialist. (Although on this view, Jefferson was a socialist.) But it does raise the question whether Paul believes in *any* government regulation of what people can do with their private property. Does he think minimum wage laws or food safety laws or zoning laws are wrong and/or unconstitutional? This is important for any number of reasons, the two most obvious being: (1) if he doesn’t, then he presumably thinks a whole raft of regulations are wrong/unconstitutional as well, and (2) he is — well, I’ll politely say “way out of the mainstream”.

  9. collapse expand

    I thought we were trying to get rid of the lying corrupt lunatics in government? Of course if you are a doomer it would be easier to get rid of the handful that aren’t criminals and hurry up the collapse.

  10. collapse expand

    Refreshing to see someone in the media thinking somewhat rationally on Rand Paul.

    What is clear, is that American’s own citizens are woefully uneducated on the issues that Paul mentions — and on their own Constitution. Given a true knowledge of these historical events and documents, most wouldn’t have the slightest interest in the hysterics coming from the media.

    That brings up an interesting point, Isn’t it government schools that these self-same government-loving media gang rapers are so fanatical about who are responsible for providing a basic level of competence in American history? Do they really think they got an education because some teacher stood at the front of a classroom for a year and postured on her opinions about how things should have gone?

    We’ve been letting our schools be used for too many years as propaganda podiums rather than for the teaching of nuts-and-bolts facts of our own unique, wars and all, American history, which explains a bit about why Americans would rather turn on Dancing with the Stars instead of a political debate.

  11. collapse expand

    BTW, to highlight my point above, not one of the commenters here seems to comprehend that both the Civil Rights Act and the ADA are unconstitutional at the federal level, but that they are perfectly constitutional at the state level — in all 50 states. All Rand is pointing out is that it is the citizens responsibility to enact these pieces of legislation, to suit the specific needs of their local populations, within their own state legislatures.

    It is the unconstitutional, whim-ful, lazy, one-size-fits-all approach to problem solving that libertarians oppose. This country was set up as an experiment in competitive democracies, knowing full well that any one piece of legislation is never perfect the first time, but that it has a better chance to become good legislation if it has competition in amendment, when it can learn from the mistakes and gains of its competitors.

    Learning from your competitors is something the Southern Confederacy did, which is why they outlawed the slave trade in the South in its initial adoption. Slavery remained legal though, in the North, for several more years, until the Civil War Amendments could be enacted. The North Constitution had to be amended because the Federalists who had wanted a one-system-fits-all system had enshrined slavery in the original document.

    Fortunately, back then, State Rights were still given enough accord that many, but by no means all, Northern States had already banned the slave trade, based on the principles articulated by Jefferson and Madison in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolves. Many Federalists in the North had already lost their “property” as a result of these anti-slavery laws. (“Lost” isn’t exactly the correct word, they weren’t required to free their slaves, they simply sold them to southern slave holders when the norther states outlawed ownership.) It was the Federalists who subsequently attacked these State’s Right laws freeing slaves by passing the Fugitive Slave Act. They wanted to make sure that property they sold down south, stayed down south. More importantly, they now that they no longer enjoyed the benefit of free labor, they wanted to be sure that other states didn’t have a competitive advantage of it. And finally, most crucially, that needed to put a stop to the idea that the stats could act on their own in changing the rules of the game. State’s Rights had to go — it had cost the Yankees to much. That as much as anything, set in force the dissolution of the union, because the North was more willing to lose the country than to lose centralized power.

    The Northern Constitution eventually had to be amended to force a different one-size-fits all system down the throats of the entire country. The only difference was that since the Federalist had used slavery as a war wedge, whereas their goal in centralization had once been to protect their slaves, now, only 75 years later their goal was to force everyone else to sell their slaves. That’s the funny thing about great power, it can just as easily be used for great evil as for great good, and it is impossible to ever know which way the political winds will blow in a few decades time or who will be in control of the power at the time.

    And speaking of blowing wind, the U.S. continued to let the U.S. flag be used as a flag-of-conveninence for ships of other nations in the slave trade, right up to the end, when Brazil, without firing a shot, finally freed the last of its slaves in the Americas only a quarter of century after Lincoln destroyed the old Republic, supposedly to save it (and in the process killing 620,000 Americans and setting the country’s economy back by at least a half a century). This process allowed for a U.S. officer, the “Captain of the Flag,” to travel on the slave ships of other nations, to quickly take temporary ownership of a ship if they were challenged by anti-slavery nations, to run up the U.S. flag has a sign of defense, and to then move on their way unmolested with their cargo of human beings. In short, the Civil Was was not about slavery; the U.S. Federal government continued to materially participate in the slave trade of other countries for as long as their was a market.

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    Conor Friedersdorf is a writer, a Californian by upbringing, and a nomad at present. Refresh his page often.

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