STATES' WHATS? The Washington Post's invaluable business columnist Steven Pearlstein has an elegant little takedown of this week's round of supposed health reforms. "The Republicans," he writes, "are engaged in a largely cynical exercise to blame government regulation for everything that's wrong with the insurance market while offering to reward their friends in the small-business lobby with a lucrative new health insurance franchise. The proposal they back requires them to ignore everything they've ever said about federalism and states' rights." That's true enough. The proposal in question is the so-called "Enzi bill," which would invalidate all statewide regulatory structures for insurers. It's a remarkable little ball of cynicism, a clear win for the GOP's business overlords against the party's supposed conservatism. Worth keeping in mind, too, is that when state's rights collided with the moral imperatives of desegregation, the Republican Party gave primacy to the coherency of conservatism. But when the insurance industry wants out of regulations forcing them to cover colonoscopies, it turns out that principles are surprisingly flexible things. Some priorities, huh?
Pearlstein goes on to criticize Democrats for being "up to their old tricks, pandering to special interests." In this case, they're in hock to "the 'disease' groups." Damn Big Breast Cancer and their unbreakable grip on the Democratic Party! It is true, though, that the Democrat's sudden defense of states rights is nearly as strange as the conservative abandonment of the principle. That's because neither party retains a real attachment to their varying conceptions of federalism. Contemporary Democrats are advocates of a strong regulatory apparatus and contemporary Republicans are bloodthirsty opponents of the same. It is, to steal a Goreism, a people v. the powerful issue, and it need not be rendered in any more complexity than that.