States’ Rights the Best Option for Politics

Of the countless ideals of the West, perhaps none is greater than the idea of self-determination. A belief in that concept is what sparked our rebellion against England, yet somehow, in the last century, we’ve managed to hand our dearly won sovereignty right back to an equally disinterested bureaucratic leviathan known as the federal government. By the stroke of a pen, the caprices of some spooky nebulous body become enshrined into law; these decisions have tangible, dramatic effects on our private lives, whether regarding health care, drug use or even the type of light bulb we are allowed to use. But our Constitution offers a concrete alternative: state’s rights.

As much as it might sound like I pulled this from page one of “How to Get Adopted by the Koch Brothers: The Handbook,” liberals and progressives stand to gain just as much as conservatives from distribution of power further down the chain.

Those on the right notoriously hate government intrusion, but do those on the left not think their societies in California, New York and Oregon would be better if they were not subject to the whims of our current Congress? A majority of the population has not trusted the federal government to do right by them since 2001, something to be expected for the governments of North Korea or Turkmenistan, not the United States.

What if, instead, you were governed chiefly by your own state? Those in the most liberal states stand to gain perhaps just as much as those in Oklahoma, Texas and Tennessee. Just as a majority of New Yorkers would almost certainly prefer to be governed by other New Yorkers than by a Republican government, so too would Alabamians, who live in a state where conservatives outnumber liberals by 30 percent, almost certainly prefer to be governed by other Alabamians instead of Democrats.

The perfect example of this potential upside is drug policy — an issue on which those on the left are coming to love states’ rights; despite the legalization of marijuana in states like Colorado, California and Massachusetts, there are severe consequences to the federal ban on the substance.

In Massachusetts, for example, nearly two-thirds think that marijuana ought to be legal for recreational use. This is a simple majority; of course, recreational use of the drug ought to be legal in a state where two thirds of its citizens agree. Yet U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has cracked down on use in marijuana-legal states. This should be frightening to liberals — and to some, fortunately, it is.

And yet, in Tennessee, only 37 percent of adults support a legalization of recreational marijuana. Just as it would be ridiculous to enforce the prohibition in a state whose populace is overwhelmingly supportive of it, so too would it be to mandate its legalization in a state whose constituency has the opposite opinion.

My general point is this: the right to self-determination trumps nearly all else. The value system of the average person in Texas is fundamentally different from that of a typical New Yorker, both of which are different from a Californian; all three are different from someone in my home state, Ohio.

There is a place for the federal government. But it must never trump an assurance of basic human rights. Where black adults can be consistently denied the right to vote without recourse; where women can be paid less for the same work; and where men or women can be fired for being homosexual, the government can step in — must step in — to protect those voting rights, to ensure that salaries are based on basic principles of equity and that no one is fired for his sexuality.

But as far as general social issues go, as an Ohioan, I would not want my government to be based on the values of a Californian — the series of fires along the coastline in recent years has only solidified my impression of the place as having been recently dropped out of hell. But unfortunately, California, with its 53 representatives and electoral votes, continues to exert profound influence on policies, from my health care to drug policy, that should be left up to my state.

The attitude I have toward California is nothing compared to what some Californians and their representatives, like Maxine Waters, may feel toward those values extolled by areas such as the South (and their attitude on, say, gay marriage), which possesses roughly 180 electoral votes depending on how you define its boundaries. So, just as the values of Californians affect my own life, the values of Southerners intrude on the lives of Californians — states have individual needs and desires that shouldn’t be subject to federal regulation that results from big areas in the U.S. with different ideologies.

When the federal government steps in to foist their values onto the unwitting citizens of states whom they can hardly purport to represent, that is the definition of tyranny.

Grant Osborn (19C) is from Springfield, Ohio.