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AMEND CORNER: Federal power and political hypocrisy

A couple of years ago, then-Vice President Dick Cheney was asked for his reaction to polls that showed two-thirds of American people didn't think the war in Iraq was worth it.

“So?” he responded, and went on to elaborate.

“You can't be blown off course by polls,” he said. “This president (George Bush) is very courageous and determined to go the course.”

That answer was perfectly OK with almost all Republicans, particularly those in Wyoming, for whom Cheney could do no wrong.

That was then.

Now things have changed, and Republicans and conservatives have changed their tune. During the health care debate, they vociferously argued that the bill should be defeated because some polls showed that a majority of Americans opposed it.

The TEA partiers, who, despite their denials, lean pretty heavily in the Republican direction, also complain that the government isn't listening to them. At one demonstration I caught on a news program, for example, a bunch of them were shouting “Can you hear us now?” at the government in general and Congress in particular.

None of them were praising the president for not being “blown off course by polls.” Instead, there has been a steady stream of nonsense calling Barack Obama, among other things, a dictator, and accusing him of ramming a health care bill down our throats.

There's nothing unusual about this. The Democrats were the winners in the last election cycle, and they are taking advantage of that fact to push their agenda, using tactics they screamed about when Republicans used the same tactics to push their agenda after they took over Congress in 1994.

Such hypocrisy has always been true. The southern justification for seceding in 1860, for example, was to defend “states' rights.” In fact, one of their big complaints was that some northern states had passed laws protecting runaway slaves from being hauled back to the South. This ran afoul of a federal law that required such slaves to be returned, and southern slaveholders thought that federal law trumped the states' rights on that issue. Moreover, the South claimed the newly forming states in the Midwest and West had no states' right to ban slavery, a position that undermined their own claim to states' rights.

In fact, the South wasn't really opposed to federal power, as long as they had a better than even chance of wielding that power.

They left the union when they felt they were losing the chance to make the federal government do their will.

The reality of politics is that conservatives, just like liberals, want the government to behave in ways that conform to their conception of how things should be, and they want to deny that privilege to people who have different ideas. Despite all the current wailing about “federal intrusion” into state affairs, you can be sure that if Republicans were in power, they wouldn't be averse to wielding that power.

In a way, it's similar to an old sports adage: “You can tell the winners from the losers because its the losers that are whining about the referees.” Just change “referees” to “federal government,” and the statement fits the Republicans of 2010 just as it fit Democrats a decade ago.

That's the way politics works in America, or anywhere else for that matter.

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