West Wing Strikes Again: State’s Rights Activists Are Happy to Take the Federal Government’s Money

Aaron Sorkin and his show West Wing have a knack of predicting the future of politics. First, the show predicted that one day Vermont would help lead the country into legalizing gay marriage.

In Season 5’s episode entitled “The Supremes,” when President Josiah Bartlett (played Martin Sheen) faced two openings on the Supreme Court at the same time, he wanted to nominate Glen Close, an extremely liberal, pro-choice appeals court judge. But if he wanted to nominate her, the politics of the situation would also require him to nominate William Fichtner, a young, archconservative appeals court judge. At one point during the show, the two potential nominees were sitting in a in the room together in the White House and proceeded to debate (like “cats and dogs”) DOMA (the “Defense of Marriage Act”).

For those not familiar with DOMA, it is a federal law that, among other “wonderful” things, says that State A need not recognize a gay marriage performed in State B if State A forbids gay marriage (technically, it repeals the Full, Faith and Credit Act for same sex marriages). Normally, under the Full Faith and Credit Act, one state must recognize such things as contracts and marriages entered into another state. But Congress in its infinite wisdom decided that it should not apply to gay marriages. It was out of a fear that some crazy liberal state such as Hawaii, Vermont or Iowa might actually legalize gay marriage and then every other state would have to recognize those marriages even though the other states specifically forbid same sex marriages.

Back to our show already in progress: Judge Fichtner defended DOMA by arguing that the country can’t have Vermont dictating marriage policy for the whole country. “So, Vermont gets to steer a nation on wide marriage legislation? Vermont?” Well, yes Vermont. Vermont, as I previously wrote about, was the first state to legalize gay marriage through legislation.

Well, Sorkin strikes again. In Season 4’s episode entitled “Game On” President Bartlett debates the Republican Nominee Florida Governor Rob Ritchie (played by James Brolin). The first question went to Gov. Ritchie:

Perhaps the biggest philosophical difference between you and the President is over the role of the federal government itself and whether national problems really have national solutions. Can you explain your view?

Ritchie responded:

Well, first, let me say good evening and thank you. It’s a privilege to be here. My view of this is simple–we don’t need a Federal Department of Education telling us our children have to learn Esperanto, they have to learn Eskimo poetry.  Let the states decide. Let the communities decide on health care, on education, on lower taxes, not higher taxes. Now, he’s going to throw a big word at you– “unfunded mandate.” If Washington lets the states do it, it’s an unfunded mandate. But what he doesn’t like is the federal government losing power. But I call it the ingenuity of the American people.

President Bartlett Responded:

Well, first of all, let’s clear up a couple of things. “Unfunded mandate” is two words, not one “big word.” There are times when we’re fifty states and there are times when we’re one country, and have national needs. And the way I know this is that Florida didn’t fight Germany in World War II or establish civil rights. You think states should do the governing wall-to-wall. That’s a perfectly valid opinion. But your state of Florida got $12.6 billion in federal money last year– from Nebraskans, and Virginians, and New Yorkers, and Alaskans, with their Eskimo poetry. 12.6 out of a state budget of $50 billion, and I’m supposed to be using this time for a question, so here it is: Can we have it back, please?

This brings us to Governor Perry. Governor Perry is supporting House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) 50 in support of states’ rights under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In support of this bill, on April 9, 2009, he said:

I believe that our federal government has become oppressive in its size, its intrusion into the lives of our citizens, and its interference with the affairs of our state. That is why I am here today to express my unwavering support for efforts all across our country to reaffirm the states’ rights affirmed by the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I believe that returning to the letter and spirit of the U.S. Constitution and its essential 10th Amendment will free our state from undue regulations, and ultimately strengthen our Union.”

According to a Press Release issued by his office:

A number of recent federal proposals are not within the scope of the federal government’s constitutionally designated powers and impede the states’ right to govern themselves. HCR 50 affirms that Texas claims sovereignty under the 10th Amendment over all powers not otherwise granted to the federal government.

It also designates that all compulsory federal legislation that requires states to comply under threat of civil or criminal penalties, or that requires states to pass legislation or lose federal funding, be prohibited or repealed.

Five days later, Gov. Perry all but said he might support secession by Texas:

“There’s a lot of different scenarios,” Perry said. “We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot.”

You would think with statements like these, Governor Perry would be the last one to ask for federal aid. I mean how could you be any more hypocritical. Of course, you would be wrong. On April 25, Governor Perry, facing the possibility of a swine flu outbreak in his state, requested that the CDC send over 37,000 courses of antiviral medication to Texas. Wait, I thought that the federal government is oppressive and stomping on the state’s prerogatives to governor itself? There is a Yiddish word for this, CHUTZPAH.


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