Conservatives contradict their doctrine of federalism—the common name is states’ rights—by pushing for federal intervention to save the body of Terri Schiavo. Several have pointed this out in our own pages. Today David Broder of the Washington Post says so, and Wednesday our own Danny Westneat said so in a column that I thought was more on point than Broder’s.
The conservative response to this argument has been to say, yeah, we’re violating states’ rights, but life is more important, and, second, that the liberals who raise this argument don’t believe it themselves. Here is Rich Lowry, editor of National Review. Lowry concludes his column with this: “One suspects that as soon as they are considering anything other than the fate of poor Terri Schiavo, liberals will lose their newfound suspicion of federal action.”
In other words, liberals are hypocrites. Of course, the whole argument we’re analyzing is that conservatives are hypocrites. I think both sides share that distinction.
States’ rights is an argument about process. Most people don’t care about process. If they can use an argument about process to get the result they want, they use it; if not, then not. When liberals control the federal government, which they mostly did when I was growing up, the conservatives resent it. Roe v. Wade, the abortion decision, took away a right of the states. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, and a conservative federal authority is trying to impose its will on such matters as gay marriage, medical marijuana, the right to die and Terry Schiavo, liberals raise the issue of state’s rights. Rich Lowry says they don’t really care about that—and he’s right. Most of them don't. But he doesn’t, either.
I do. I think states’ rights are an important check on federal power, and that in the long run the greatest danger to individual freedom is unchecked federal authority. I think the state of Florida reached the wrong decision in the Schiavo case, and that it ought to have sided with the parents. But I oppose the federal usurpation: Outcome bad, process good. I agree with the policy reasoning in Roe v. Wade, but I think it should have been left to state legislatures to decide: Outcome good, process bad. I don’t see my view supported either by mainline liberals or conservatives. Each cares about other things than federalism.
Respond to Bruce.