Gay Marriage Is Just One Piece of the Puzzle. by Walter Russell Mead. Via Meadia, June 26, 2013.
worth taking a step back from the emotions and technical details of all of
these events to ask about the broader trend they point to. Superficially, they
point to a schizophrenic public: leaning pro-life; increasingly in favor of gay
marriage; divided on gun control but unwilling to pull the trigger, so to
speak, on significantly tightened gun laws. But on a deeper level, these all
look like examples of the biggest cultural-political trend in America: a
response to the growing complexity of 21st century life that revives
individualism and states’ rights.
sometimes work for the Right and sometimes for the Left. The right to marry who
you choose is as individualistic as insisting on your right to bear arms. With
abortion, that same logic is muddier, which is why the public is still divided.
Pro-choichers lay claim to the individualism mantle by stating that women should
be free to control their own reproductive health, while pro-lifers do the same
by arguing that abortion involves two individuals with rights, not one.
when it comes to classical federalism, the Supreme Court’s decisions on the gay
marriage cases are both deferential to the states involved. Again, states’
rights is sometimes a liberal and sometimes a conservative cause. The DOMA case
said that the national government can’t deny federal benefits to the marriages
recognized by the states. But the Voting
Rights Act decision, for good or for ill, is an attempt to give back to the
nine states in question some powers lost in the Civil Rights Era. Two wins for
states’ rights; one each for the Left and the Right.
federal government is reaching for broad new powers. President Obama wants the
EPA to assert the power to regulate (or at least to force all the states to
regulate) emissions of carbon dioxide. Obamacare similarly involves some major
new federal interventions in the lives of millions of Americans. And it appears
that under President Obama federal surveillance of Americans has surpassed
anything that transpired under President Bush.
here, too, the Supreme Court and public opinion are demanding the return of
more powers to individuals and states. DOMA, pot legalization, the limits on
the Voting Rights Act, and a rash of new state limits on abortion all point to
a strong public interest in the decentralization of power.
federal legislature, the Court, and state governments, both blue and red, seem
to have adopted this principle of devolution as a strategy for dealing with the
most politically toxic issues of our time. America is too big and its citizens
are too diverse for one-size-fits-all solutions to some of our culture war
issues. Some traditional American views seem newly relevant as we cope with
these issues: individuals should be allowed as much freedom as is consistent
with their not harming others; wherever possible, states should be free to
settle their affairs on their own terms.
18th-century ideas are proving surprisingly useful in 21st-century America.