The Bigotry of States’ Rights

by JESSE JACKSON

In 1980, after receiving the nomination of his party, Ronald Reagan kicked off his presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Miss., at the Neshoba County Fair. Neshoba County is government. He went to send a message — and it was heard clearly across the South.

States are rightly hailed as laboratories of democracy, places that can experiment and try out programs and ideas that, if successful, spread across the country. But from the earliest days of the Republic, states’ rights has always been the doctrine of reaction. It has been invoked to stop national reform and to protect local privilege.

States’ rights was invoked by slave owners to protest abolition, even to the point of seceding from the union. States’ rights was then used to defend segregation from national reform. Later, it was trotted out to oppose integration of schools, as demanded by the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education. To this day, it is used to justify state restrictions on voting, often imposed to constrict the right of the minorities and the poor to vote.

America has one of the weakest systems of social support in the industrial world. And the right of states to make their own decisions — on food stamps, on Medicaid, on public schools, on welfare — contributes directly to how bad it is.

And now we’re seeing the same doctrine — states’ rights — used to undermine health care reform. Empowered by the same Supreme Court decision that upheld the Affordable Care Act as constitutional, Republican governors across the country have refused to participate in creating their own health care exchanges. They’ve even turned their backs on billions of federal dollars in Medicaid funding to keep lower income Americans from having access to affordable care. Their resistance has made an already complicated reform plan even more difficult, even as they call for its repeal.

State and local control is inherently attractive. The states have different populations and different conditions. Local governments are more attuned and responsive to local voters and local challenges. State administration can help make federal programs more manageable. But too often, particularly in the South, local control is less a way to serve people than to lock them out.

If health care reform had simply extended Medicare to all at the national level, it would have been a huge program. But it would have been far simpler to get up and running, and far simpler to administer. The combination of conservatives who invoke states rights to stop or weaken change, and so-called “progressives” who embrace state and public-private partnerships to make programs more “efficient” led to the complexity that’s built into health care reform with its state level “exchanges” and its partnership with private insurance companies.

At the end of the day, real reform will come when the claims of states’ rights are denied, and federal rights are enforced. That was true in school desegregation, in voting rights, in welfare, and with the minimum wage. Presidents Roosevelt, Kennedy and Johnson all had to assert federal authority to enforce the law against resisting states. That burden now rests on President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder concerning the provision of affordable health care for all.

In this rich nation, every person should have access to comprehensive, affordable and high quality health care. And that won’t get done until the federal government exercises its full weight on the side of the poorest Americans, the “least of these” that most need a hand up.

Jesse Jackson is the founder of Rainbow PUSH.

Jesse Jackson is the founder of Rainbow/PUSH.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care about Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks