In Obama's America, the federal government comes first

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. says the expansion of Washington's presence in our lives has been the hallmark of this administration

August 11, 2013|Robert L. Ehrlich Jr

Elections have consequences. People who attain political power daily make decisions that affect citizens in myriad ways, some not so obvious.

For example, one of the more underanalyzed (but long lasting) consequences of a re-elected Barack Obama is the ongoing expansion of federal control, overseen by an administration intent on federalizing just about anything standing in its way.

No halfway-interested citizen can claim surprise. This president's life is a model of progressive activism, from Harvard Law School to (Chicago) community activist, to law professor, to candidate for public office. Even a brief private sector (law firm) stint was focused on civil rights and community advocacy issues. Further, his personal testimonies speak to the influences of uber-progressive friends and mentors such as Rev. Jeremiah Wright, poet Frank Marshall Davis, and anti-war activists/bombers Bill Ayers and wife Bernardine Dohrn.

The collective impact of these experiences and associations was a decidedly far left voting record while a member of the Illinois legislature and the U.S. Senate. It follows that our 44th president entered the Oval Office with a clear game plan to enlarge the federal presence in the lives of every American.

This preference for governmental activism is a political fact of life in deep-blue Maryland. We are home to tens of thousands of federal employees and countless thousands of private vendors dependent on federal largesse. Accordingly, we (almost) always vote Democrat over Republican in presidential elections. And we (almost) always do what the federal government tells us to do, regardless of its impact on state sovereignty.

But we are proving to be more the exception than the rule when it comes to acceptance of Obama-era interventionism. Indeed, increasing numbers of state legislators, governors and attorneys general are passing legislation or turning to the courts in order to protect their traditional 10th Amendment rights.

A sampling of recent activity:

•At last count, 37 states have entertained bills that would negate one or more aspects of federal gun control regulations (this according to the anti-gun Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence).

•Since its unfortunate passage in 2009, 20 states have passed legislation to either challenge major provisions of Obamacare or simply opt out altogether. (If only it was that easy to escape the reach of this mammoth turkey.)

•Texas is known for its fierce sense of individualism, so it should come as no surprise that the "Lone Star State" has 18 lawsuits pending against the federal government. Although many of the suits pertain to alleged Environmental Protection Agency overreach, the state's attorney general has also sued over the Dodd-Frank financial services bill (dismissed last week) and federal pre-emption of state election laws — a hotspot for the Obama Justice Department.

•States have resisted the performance benchmarks and lack of flexibility set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act for many years, particularly those designations identifying "failing" or "persistently dangerous" schools.

•The debate has even reached to Federal Emergency Management Agency reform, as advocates attempt to redirect the agency back toward its original mission of handling catastrophic national emergencies and away from routine events traditionally handled at the state level.

Some of the state responses are more serious (and important) than others, but all focus on the pre-emptive use of federal power that usurps duties properly left to the states or local government.

In some instances, Republicans (and conservatives) must share the blame. Traditional state jurisdiction over issues of juvenile justice, medical malpractice, driving privileges and local education have witnessed a GOP inclination to selectively ignore 10th Amendment strictures. (My former colleague Barney Frank of Massachusetts, much maligned on the right, regularly and gleefully went to the floor of the House to condemn these Republican violations of principle — much to my chagrin, since he was on target with his criticisms.)

But these GOP lapses are relatively minor in comparison to a Washington-centric administration on a roll. There are no more elections in this president's future. He need not engage in any election year pretense to govern from the middle. Dodd-Frank, stimulus, Obamacare, new EPA emissions rules, challenges to state photo identification laws, broad new gun control proposals, and relentless calls for higher taxes reflect an enthusiastic preference for feeding the ravenous appetite of our Big Brother in Washington, D.C.

You should be uncomfortable with the country's present infatuation with federal power. History teaches how difficult it is to divest authority once legally obtained. Relatively few in Washington wish to counter this historical trend. And those that rebel are often subject to harsh treatment by the city's dominant left-wing media.

In light of our present course, there is little reason to believe "the drive to federalize" can be moderated over the next three years. Not a positive development for a country (and culture) that used to believe bigger was not necessarily better.

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s column appears Sundays. The former Maryland governor and member of Congress is a partner at the law firm King & Spalding and the author of "Turn this Car Around," a book about national politics. His email is ehrlichcolumn@gmail.com.

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