Politics & Policy

States’ Rights (and Wrongs)

How about this: Your state can legalize "breathing while undocumented" if my state can legalize "breathing while uninsured."

I’ve got a proposal for you. I’d call it a “modest proposal” but, thanks to Jonathan Swift, when writers say that, it means they’re about to propose something absolutely bonkers to make a satirical point along the lines of “Let’s eat Irish babies!” or “Joe Biden should be president!”

My proposal might still be crazy, but it’s not satire.

Okay, okay, I can tell you’re keen to hear it.

But wait. First, a peeve.

#ad#The president and his party jammed through health-care legislation that was objectively unpopular with the American people. It remains unpopular. It stipulates that it is essentially illegal not to have health insurance. A dozen or so states are suing on the grounds that the federal government doesn’t have the right to force people to buy health insurance.

The response from backers of Obamacare has been one of sanctimonious outrage and derision. To pick just one example, the current issue of The New Republic features an essay claiming this legal effrontery marks a return of the Confederacy’s hated and racist doctrine of nullification. The “new nullifiers,” exclaims the preening liberal historian Sean Wilentz, “would have us repudiate the sacrifices of American history — and subvert the constitutional pillars of American nationhood.”

Forget that when George W. Bush was in office, standing athwart the government was all the rage without conjuring any Confederate demons. Liberals talked about Blue State secession from “Jesusland” with condescending glee. The New York Times ran a love letter to the “states’ rights left” by contributor Jim Holt arguing that “states’ rights has not always been the intellectual property of reactionaries.”

But forget all that. Consider that even now there are more than 30 so-called “sanctuary cities” that formally ban their own police from enforcing federal immigration laws or even cooperating with federal officers trying to enforce them. But not a peep about “nullification” from the Wilentzers.

#page#Ditto when it comes to the countless, constitutionally dubious, hippy-dippy “Nuclear Free Zones” that dot the American landscape in defiance of the federal government’s fundamental rights to provide for the common defense and ensure interstate commerce.

But — and you know where this is going — when the state of Arizona opts to pass a popular law requiring Arizonan officials to comply with and enforce federal law, suddenly all of the usual suspects come completely unglued. Police will be allowed to ask people for their “papers”! Gird your loins for Götterdämmerung!

#ad#Forget being a throwback to the Confederacy; the sanctimony choir cries out that Arizona has rematerialized as 1940 Berlin, albeit with a drier climate. Ironic, since the requirement that legal immigrants carry their “papers” at all times was signed into law by FDR that very year.

Linda Greenhouse, longtime Supreme Court reporter for the New York Times and currently a Yale law professor, penned an op-ed for the Times in which she emoted that Arizona has become a Nazi-esque “police state” where it is a crime to be “breathing while undocumented.”

Now, I don’t want to dwell on Greenhouse’s gas, since she not only misread the law, she literally read the wrong law (an earlier draft that was changed before passage, actually).

But that bit about “breathing while undocumented” strikes a chord. Because, you see, under Obamacare, it is now something of a crime to “breath while uninsured,” too. In fact, if you really want to hear the government say “Deine papieren, bitte!” just wait until that law is fully implemented, assuming the “new nullifiers” fail.

So here’s where that wacky proposal I mentioned earlier comes in. Let’s throw it all back to the states. Arizona can be an illegal-immigrant-free zone and New York can hold an open house for everyone. The same goes for health care. States that want universal health care can provide it, including to illegal immigrants (or should I just say “immigrants”?). Other states can let the market rule. The feds would save piles of money that can go to paying off our credit cards (or to antiterrorism, to deal with undocumented New Yorkers/terrorists).

If it were up to me, the feds would still enforce basic civil rights, provide for the common defense and protect interstate commerce (sorry, nuke-free zones!), but beyond that, let freedom reign.

Unfortunately, for progressives who must always have their way, that’s crazier than a “Biden 2016” bumper sticker.

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. © 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.’

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