Rand Paul is a hypocrite on the issue of federalism.
Yesterday, The Federalist ran my piece on how Republicans can make a principled argument against Obama’s coercive federalism this summer by repealing the national mandatory drinking age of 21 embedded in the highway bill.
I had assumed Rand Paul would be one the candidates for 2016 most likely to support this idea and the larger policy goal of cutting federal strings used to manipulate the states.
But instead, I was dismayed by a report via Byron York about Team Rand’s description of one of his criminal justice reform bills:
Civil Rights Voting Restoration Act: If passed, this would restore the voting rights of every non-violent felon in the country. Non-violent felons would be able to vote in federal elections only and states that do not change their laws to reflect this would not receive federal prison funds. (emphasis added)
Unless your state legislature and governor get together to allow for felons, tried and convicted under state laws, to vote in federal elections, President Paul will take away federal prison dollars your state has come to rely on. That’s disheartening, coming from the guy who told Ben Domenech on Monday, “I believe we should leave more power in the hands of the states and local governments.”
Merits of either policy aside, this is precisely the mechanism by which the Congress coerced states into enacting a national drinking age of 21 years old. In the latter case, it is highway funding held ransom in Washington; in Sen. Paul’s legislation, grant money for your prisons.
This is coercive federalism, and it pollutes the relationship between the states and the federal government. A proper federalism respects the original compact of 1787 wherein the states are sovereign and have granted the federal government limited powers. Coercive federalism stands that notion on its head and assumes the federal prerogatives should triumph over the will of the states.
In our increasingly monarchical government, the states have become vassals relying on their feudal lords for funding. In turn, they accept the accompanying rules about what laws they may produce and what policy areas must lie fallow.
Many in the liberty movement harp on, for instance, the Rubio-Lee tax plan for social engineering through the tax code. I hope they see the same pernicious tactic in Rand’s much-vaunted criminal justice reforms.
Unfortunately, it may be the Senator from Kentucky will continue to trumpet the title of “criminal justice reformer” and garnering the ensuing accolades while using federal coercion to achieve his preferred ends.