Wednesday, October 05, 2005

States don't have rights.

I hear it all the time, especially when the Supreme Court is looking at issues such as Oregon's Doctor Assisted Suicide law. Discussions of "states rights." Does Oregon have the "right" to allow this practice, or, conversely, does the federal government have the "right" to stop us?

I cringe when I hear the question posed this way - and I think that conservatives are more guilty of it than liberals (probably only because conservatives tend to care more about the issue than liberals, the latter being far more comfortable with a vigorous federal government.)

But here's the problem:

States don't have rights. They have powers. Individuals have rights.

Ok, maybe this is just semantics. But I think semantics are important, because words should mean something. When we allow misstatements like "states rights" to become accepted in the media, courts and political culture, we allow the denigration of what rights actually are in the first place - something that government cannot restrict you from doing. If the body politic doesn't properly understand what rights are in the first place, how will it know if and when the government is violating them?

God knows we see plenty of politicians totally mis-use the term "rights." Hillary Clinton thinks that health care is a "right." Others think you have a "right" to a living wage. References to these bogus rights are everywhere - "patient's bill of rights," "taxpayer bill of rights," etc.

I understand why liberals don't mind if the popular political culture completely destroys the original meaning of what rights really are. The more they can sell the idea that rights are something the government must do for you (rather than what it cannot do TO you) then the more they can create the welfare state they have pushed for all these many years.

But conservatives should correct them at every turn. We cannot allow them to change the meaning of the very concept that is at the core of our Republic.

Rights are things that the government can't restrict you from doing. They come from our creator, and the government's role is to secure them.

All those other things - education, health care, welfare, - those are societal privileges.

So when you hear conservatives utter the words "states rights," make sure you don't let it go uncorrected. Just tell them:

"States don't have rights. They have powers. Only individuals have rights."

(Heck, do it to liberals too. They won't understand what you are saying, but you will get to enjoy the puzzled look on their faces.)


Rob Salzman said...

The Tenth Ammendment: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

- good call

MAX Redline said...

Excellent points, Rob. Glad to see I'm not alone in my belief that words mean things. And the corruption of our language, especially in our government and in the media, has become increasingly pervasive in recent years.