Well, cheers to former state Sen. Tom Patterson (Opinion 2, Sunday) for finding a new approach in the Republican battle against federal health care legislation, but jeers for a somewhat ridiculous and wholly specious argument based on states' rights.
As a freedom-loving American, I do not find the federal government any more, or less, intrusive than the state government. Government is government, and the individual voter in the 21st century has no more control over the workings of government at the state level than at the federal. Anyone who tells you different is simply lying.
Do not be deceived. "Legal arguments about pre-emption" were settled 120 years ago by a Supreme Court ruling on the Interstate Commerce Act. In fact, that law's history is an excellent metaphor for health care reform today.
Enacted in 1887, the Interstate Commerce Act placed regulation of a nationwide industry, railroads, under federal control. It was inspired by common feeling -- especially among Westerners and in rural communities -- that railroads were systematically abusing their economic power. Federal regulation was necessary because railroads bullied and bought local politics (e.g.: elected officials, newspaper editors, and ministers received yearly passes for free travel). The law was disputed under the same states' rights amendment that Patterson invokes.
The Supreme Court found against the challenge, as it would now were anyone fool enough to present such tired arguments. Its reasoning is most illustrative and still applicable. The law was upheld because the (then new) 14th Amendment grants Congress the power to prevent discrimination. It was the opinion of the justices that economic discrimination also falls under the congressional purview granted by the 14th Amendment. Can you say, "pre-existing condition"?
Does Patterson really believe that the health care industry would fare any better in the courts than the railroads? States' rights is an illusion, a conservative distraction put forth to mask an obstructionist agenda. It may have been a prescription for local control of government in the 18th and early 19th centuries, but things have changed somewhat. In 1790, total population in the newly constituted United States was not quite 4 million people. July 2006 estimates have 26 states, including Arizona, with a greater population.
To get the level of local control that the founding fathers understood as states' rights, one would have to assert the power of individual municipalities to contest laws whether they arise from the federal government or the state. In a super city like New York, one would have to go further and grant such power to its five counties.
And where does that end? Should individual citizens publish what laws they would like to obey and which they choose to ignore. That is the ultimate "control over the decisions of our daily lives."
While such nullification may seem an excellent idea to some fringe elements, most people with any capacity for reason would see this as wildly impractical. A society is constituted from many individuals, who must jointly share responsibilities and benefits. Each person must compromise his or her desires in order for that society to function with the greatest good for the greatest number. Simply put, we must all agree that red lights mean "stop," even when I am in a hurry.
The founding fathers understood this. The preamble to the Constitution begins, "We, the people," not "I, the citizen," nor "We, the states." It goes on to list "promote the general welfare" among the reasons to "ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." Let us understand the spirit of the founding fathers and realize that health care is far too much an issue of the "general welfare" to be addressed by a hodge-podge of state laws. Only the federal government has the authority to legislate effectively for health care.
Joseph A.J. Felcon of Chandler is a software engineer.