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 There is just no possible way that the federal minimum wage is going to be repealed, and even if it were, states are perfectly capable of setting their own minimum wage laws, as many do.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 It is more than implausible to imagine that a Senator Paul would be part of a Congress that repealed the prohibition against hiring illegal immigrants, and laws exist in every single state preventing liquor stores from selling alcohol to minors.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.