The “states’ rights” fear tactic recalls names like George Wallace and Lester Maddox, governors respectively of Alabama and Georgia who, along with like-minded souls looking to buck the civil rights push in the ‘60s, invariably invoked states’ rights as their go-to bulwark against racial equality. Thanks to LBJ’s determination and his consummate skills in getting legislation passed by Congress, Wallace, Maddox and their ilk didn’t get their way in those attempts to keep segregation in place. It seems surreal today that these incensed forces of reaction were aligned with the Democratic Party, albeit a whole other “Democratic” animal. And as Johnson correctly called it, once Civil Rights and Voting Rights legislation became a fait accompli, the states’ rights crowd found a new home in the GOP. Which is where states’ rights, after a fashion, lives again.
Supposedly, the political trajectory in the country today suggests that gaining an Electoral College majority is becoming an ever greater challenge for Republicans. The consecutive Obama presidential wins brought home a reality that many in the party no doubt though highly improbable. And with Hillary Clinton the likely Democratic nominee next time around, there’s every reason to believe the GOP standard bearer, whoever he is, will again come up short. Hence the party’s emphasis, for some time now, on consolidating power in the states. Consolidating power, as the GOP sees it, encompasses opposing, confronting and in some instances even defying the central authority reposed in the federal union that gave birth to this country. And like Wallace, Maddox et al of yesteryear, today’s champions of a superseding state power are relentless in their efforts to make that ambition unassailable truth…with even more boost than usual fueling their jets at this time, the guy now sitting at the very apex of federal authority unwittingly giving impetus to the reactionary fervor.
We’ve seen this thrust in the flurry of activity in GOP-controlled states to circumvent federal authority, activity bent on passing so-called “religious freedom” legislation. Indiana’s Republican governor, Mike Pence, found himself in the glare of nation-wide publicity after fellow Republicans in the legislature passed a religious freedom bill that was widely seen as sanctioning anti-gay discrimination. The firestorm, including threats of travel boycotts to Indiana and a whole lot more, forced Pence to move from the defiant stand he initially took, of his unqualified support for the legislation, to a seemingly modified posture of requesting that lawmakers “fix” the bill to have it specify that no discriminatory intent is included among its positions.
The Republican in the governor’s seat in Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, got into the national headlines as well when he too sounded off about legislation passed there that he vowed to sign into law. Intense pushback again caused Hutchinson to relent and call upon the legislature for a re-do. But, as in Indiana and wherever else a similar scenario has played out, the more cynical among us will probably remain unconvinced about any of these moves to “fix” measures whose objective is, from day one, crystal clear. It’s no secret, how much the sea change that has taken place in the country with respect to attitudes toward same-sex marriage and LGBT equality is anathema to the Christian conservative community. Their designated point men, in state houses and legislatures across the country, not to mention the hard-right renegade flank in Congress, are all too willing to push an agenda reflective of sentiment in the religious conservative movement. It’s not difficult to imagine that if not in the initial effort to restrict “offending” parties to the sidelines, they certainly will attempt again to do so down the road.
An offbeat situation in Arizona broke into the news too, also focusing attention on the religious element, although the GOP lawmaker at the center of that brouhaha insisted hers was just a “flippantly” made comment. The state senator who suggested that a law should be passed that makes church attendance on Sundays mandatory – as a means of spurring moral re-birth in America – said she saw no need to apologize for doing so because it was not an utterance she made seriously. It was indeed something she said while contributing to debate on expanding gun-owner rights, allowing for greater freedom in moving around with concealed firearms. True to her Republican core, the senator did vote to give broader license to Arizona folk packing concealed heat…including when attending church, we presume.
The alleged church attendance “jesting” aside, Arizona is one of the bunch of states aggressively moving on the “religious freedom” front. Elected Republican office holders engaged in the crusade evidently consider themselves sworn to deliver on a strategic “right” demanded by the Christian conservative base. For many of us, though, it cannot but rekindle the specter of states’ rights, from an unsettling time we’d just as soon forget.