Archive for Thursday, February 18, 2010

State’s right supporters wave fists at Washington

February 18, 2010

The Kansas Senate voted last week, 33-7, to stand proudly in the long line of warriors for states’ rights.

Senators said they wanted to put Washington on notice that they were speaking for Kansans who are upset with health care reform, gun control, abortion rights and immigration policy.

Specifically, the resolution passed by the Senate directs “that all compulsory federal legislation which directs states to comply under threat of civil or criminal penalties or sanctions or requires states to pass legislation or lose federal funding be prohibited or repealed.” If the resolution now passes the House, it will be sent to President Barack Obama and other federal leaders.

Here we go again. As William Allen White put it years ago, Kansas “has started in to raise hell … and she seems to have an overproduction.” A few years ago conservatives on the State Board of Education made Kansas a laughingstock by trying to outlaw the teaching of evolution. Now must we pick up the cudgel for states’ rights?

Granted, the banner of states’ rights once was raised by such luminaries as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, in defiance of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. It certainly figured prominently in the utterances of men like Jefferson Davis, who engineered the bloodiest war in American history. They said they were fighting for states’ rights – principally, their citizens’ right to hold other human beings in bondage.

In modern times, however, the phrase, spoken by men such as Orville Faubus, Lester Maddox and George Wallace, has become a euphemism for resistance to the federal government’s efforts to promote racial equality.

Just in case no one remembers, Faubus was the Arkansas governor whose opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling that separate-but-equal schools are inherently unequal caused President Dwight Eisenhower to send federal troops into Little Rock; Maddox was the segregationist governor of Georgia from 1967 to 1971 who previously turned away black protesters who sought to enter his restaurant by brandishing a handgun; among other things, Wallace, who proclaimed in his inauguration speech as Alabama governor in 1963, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” is remembered for standing in the schoolhouse door in an attempt to bar the entry of a black student at the University of Alabama.

While it is true that all three of these men’s actions in office never quite lived up to the harshness of their rhetoric, that rhetoric certainly had a role in fanning the passions of those days. Are we now to paint ourselves with the same brush?

The thought of us brave Kansans bravely standing up to those pesky, pointy-headed bureaucrats in Washington has a certain appeal, but I’m not sure it gets us any closer to what we need to accomplish.

By all accounts, what we need in Kansas is a way out of the financial morass that the recession has left us in. We need to fund our schools, and provide the essential services without which our state cannot continue to function. I may be a little dense, but I just don’t see how shaking our fists at Washington accomplishes that.

— John Beal is the retired editor of the De Soto Explorer’s sister publications The Shawnee Dispatch and Bonner Springs Chieftain.

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