The Ribald Reign of King George the Second

States' Rights, My Tushy!

If you watch the sound bites on TV news long enough, you'll be sure to encounter the Pained Sigh.

The Upstanding Man's Pantomime begins: eyebrows arch, eyes squint and cast downward. Shoulders hunch, then relax. Sigh. "Oh, the tribulations we Men of Virtue must endure."

The tide of body language turns as the Upstanding Man's jaw sets. Lost eyes turn steely and, as the head rises again, face directly toward the intended audience. "Now is the time for All Good Men...". In an astonishing blaze of Straight Talk, the truth that others dare not speak is revealed.

Long before Bill Clinton first bit his lip to feel our pain, politicians have avoided criticism by following the Painful Sigh with reference to Higher Principles. These Higher Principles explain, nay, require, otherwise odious-seeming directions in policy.

As we all know, loudly proclaimed Higher Principles are often shams used to cover up more disreputable ideals. Gary Condit and Newt Gingrich made much political hay by invoking the Higher Principle of Family Values in their attacks on Bill Clinton. Later on, we discovered that these same paragons of virtue were carrying on with their own adulterous dalliances - during the same period in which they delivered their sanctimonious speeches! When the truth came out, the baser principles motivating Gingrich and Condit's behavior were exposed: Promote Thyself and Weaken Thine Opponent.

Perhaps the most popular Higher Principle among Upstanding Men of Republican extraction for some time has been the Principle of States' Rights. The Principle of States' Rights simply holds that in matters of policy, the federal government should have as little say as possible, with state (and more local) governments given more say. As Bush put it just before he ascended to his throne: "While I believe there's a role for the federal government, it's not to impose its will on states and local communities. It's to empower states and people and local communities to be able to realize the vast potential of this country." Sounds OK, doesn't it? I contend that this much-vaunted GOP standby is, like the Family Values prop, only a convenient cover for actions of less glorious intent.

The hallmark of a false pretense is inconsistent application. It must be granted that conservatives have invoked the Principle of States' Rights for years. One of the oldest (if not grandest) patrons of the Grand Old Party, Strom Thurmond, sided with George Wallace in the '40s, '50s and '60s on the side of racial segregation. Thurmond's seemingly straightforward justification for segregation: it was southern states' right to decide their policy, and so the federal government should just mind its business and butt out.

Republican justification of racially-divisive politics continues. During his run for the Presidency, George W. Bush declined to criticize South Carolina for including Confederate imagery in its state flag. His reasoning: the state of South Carolina can do what it wants, and the rest of us in the country should butt out. It's not that George W. Bush is a racist, his defenders argue, it's just that he holds the Principle of States' Rights dear.

But Bush's allegiance to States' Rights is mighty fickle. Despite the heated opposition of the people of Florida and Governor Jeb Bush, George Bush's administration has decided to proceed with offshore oil drilling. When California wanted an exception to federal energy rules, George W. Bush denied the request, citing a need for consistency across states. George W. Bush encouraged the Republican-controlled Congress to pass a law that would prohibit localities from passing anti-discrimination laws if they apply to the Boy Scouts of America. In a sordid deal exposed last month, the Salvation Army promised support for George W. Bush. In turn, Bush promised to issue an federal executive order exempting the Salvation Army from state and local laws against anti-gay discrimination. Last but certainly not least, George W. Bush appeals to federal courts to overturn a state decision against him in his effort to leave Florida votes uncounted. His lawyers' argument: Florida state law should be modified to meet federal mandates.

So much for the Principle of States' Rights. But what is it that's driving this man, then? Just as inconsistencies expose fake principles for what they are, they betray the true principles that lurk beneath. Just look for other consistencies and you'll discover the real motivations of Bush and the Republicans. A troika of glaring consistencies shine through: Discriminate, Reciprocate, Dominate. Whether Bush clings to States' Rights or tosses them cavalierly aside, he consistently has stood for policies that legalize or otherwise encourage discrimination against gays, lesbians and members of racial minorities. He has tripped backwards over himself to reciprocate the favors of campaign contributors from the Tobacco, Energy and Insurance cartels. And he'll take whatever stance necessary to snatch electoral victory from the hands of pesky voters.

By now, the cloak of States' Rights is covering George W. Bush's ass more tentatively than a ragged piece of too-thin toilet paper. Give it up, George, we're onto your game. As my toddler son might say in a fit of pique:

States' Rights, My Tushy!


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