The Conscience of A Conservative - States' Rights

Continuing in my Challenge from Rush, I am reading through “The Conscience of A Conservative.”  Here are my notes:

The next chapter of the book is about States’ Rights.  With talk of successions and bailouts, it could not be much timelier.  Goldwater builds the case that the Conservatives SHOULD make regarding bailout money for the states. 


Goldwater starts out by citing a story about Franklin Roosevelt.  As the Governor of New York in 1930, he eschewed government interference with banks, insurance, businesses, etc. and he said that “Washington must not be encouraged to interfere” in those areas.

But, as we know, he eventually abandoned these principles.

To Goldwater, FDR’s eventual “doctrine of unlimited government” was to be expected from a Democrat, but it was not from Republicans.  Regardless, both parties in Goldwater’s time were seeking unlimited government. As a result, no one in the political arena was committed to the principles of States’ Rights.  No one was making that argument.

“Thus the cornerstone of the Republic, our chief bulwark against the encroachment of individual freedom by Big Government, is fast disappearing under the piling sands of absolutism.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  Even now, in 2009, the Republican Party “gives lip-service to States’ Rights” during election season, but fails to understand the concept once sworn-in.  Unfortunately in times of distress, both parties run to the government as the sole way to fix any ill. 


If you have never read this book, hold on!  This is getting very interesting.


Goldwater focuses on “grants in aid” as one example of how the federal government encroaches on the states.  These are federal programs that are created in order to do something they don’t think the states are adequately providing.  Oh, and they’re done to help stimulate some aspect of the economy.  Imagine that.

Pardon the long quote, but I think it is worthwhile to the discussion:

“There are two things to note about these programs.  The first is that they are federal programs – they are conceived by the federal government both as to purpose and to extent.  The second is that the “stimulative” grants are, in effect, a mixture of blackmail and bribery.  The States are told to go along with the program “or else.” Once the federal government has offered matching funds, it is unlikely, as a practical matter, that a member of a State Legislature will turn down his State’s fair share of revenue collected from all of the States.  Understandably, many legislators feel that to refuse aid would be political suicide.  This is an indirect form of coercion, but it is effective, nonetheless.” 

While the author of “A Republican Looks at His Party” argues that if the States do not do something that the federal government deems necessary, the federal government has the authority to force the States to act or step in on the behalf of citizens living in that state to ensure the federal governments’ wishes are accomplished.

But Goldwater asserts that the federal government does not have the authority even to determine if the States’ are fulfilling their duties!

“The trouble with this argument is that it treats the Constitution of the United States as a kind of handbook in political theory, to be heeded or ignored depending on how it fits the plans of contemporary federal officials.  The Tenth Amendment is not a “general assumption,” but a prohibitory rule of law.  The Tenth Amendment recognizes the States’ jurisdiction in certain areas.  States’ Rights means that the States have a right to act or not to act, as they see fit, in the areas reserved to them.  The States may have duties corresponding to these rights, but the duties are owed to the people of the States, not to the federal government.  Therefore, the recourse lies not with the federal government, which is not sovereign, but with the people who are, and who have full power to take disciplinary action.”

The Constitution is clear on the jurisdictional lines of federal and States’ roles.  “The federal government’s failure to recognize that line has been a crushing blow to the principle of limited government,” states Goldwater. And the Republican Party’s unwillingness to make the argument is what the Democrats need to succeed.

Goldwater states what we all know to be true: people living in the States know what their State needs better than a federal bureaucrat living in Washington.

At this point, he makes a statement that seems to be anachronistic with the book’s uncanny contemporary parallels.  He asserts that people know that government aid isn’t free.  “They know that the money comes out of their own pockets, and that it is returned to them minus a broker’s fee taken by the federal bureaucracy.”

Unfortunately, very few people in 2009 America seem to have grasped the concept that any money that government has to give was merely confiscated from taxpayers.  Simple concept really, but few grasp it. 

So what is the lesson to be learned, especially in these challenging times?  Goldwater states it best:

“Nothing could so far advance the cause of freedom as for state officials throughout the land to assert their rightful claims to lost state power; and for the federal government to withdraw promptly and totally from every jurisdiction which the Constitution reserved to the states.”

A worthy, albeit lofty, goal.