The Left has worked hard over the last century to replace that flexible federal framework with a rigid national one. Want to define marriage in your state? Not if a federal judge has anything to say about it. Even policy as mundane as the minimum drinking age isn’t free of federal influence. The net effect is that state residents no longer live under the laws of their creation. New York sensibilities dictate social policy in Tennessee. The ability to vote with our feet has been incrementally diminished, and even denied.
As a result, the stakes of national debates have risen to ridiculous levels. Supreme Court nominations have become carnival coronations. Congress has crowded out the role of state legislatures. Any sense of national unity has given way to partisan animosity in a contest to control a national oligarchy. This is why so many have noted that our political discourse is more polarized than ever, because there is more at stake then ever. That’s what happens when you take away the ability of states and municipalities to set their own rules.
The argument for a renewed federalism is one which a broad spectrum of activists should be able to embrace regardless of their positions on particular issues. It enables each state to experiment with different policies and meet the particular needs of their residents. The success of those policies are then vetted by people’s willingness to live under them.
Of course, moving the forum for argument from Congress to legislatures still leaves open the question of what positions Tea Partiers might take and how they might argue them. There are a variety of answers.
The dividing line on abortion is the same within the Tea Party as it is outside it. The issue always comes down to whether or not the unborn are human. If they are, then their right to life must be protected the same as anyone else’s. If the unborn are somehow subhuman, an argument can be made that their mothers ought to be able to terminate them. In either case, the argument rests upon presupposed rights. The pro-choice position touts a woman’s right to make medical decisions concerning her own body. The pro-life position presupposes the right of the unborn to live. What everyone within the Tea Party seems to agree on is that people have rights, even if they can’t all agree that the unborn are people.
Marriage is another issue argued from presupposed rights. Gay activists pursuing a redefinition of marriage cite the constitutional requirement for equal protection under the law. Traditional activists point out that individuals are equally protected, since they may marry members of the opposite sex whether inclined to or not.
Often lost in the marriage debate is discussion of whether the government ought to have a role at all. Like so many issues in our political discourse, the perceived problem to be solved with government was created by government.