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Saturday, June 9, 2012
The Essential Difference Between Left and Right

Twenty-eight words in the Bill of Rights illustrate the essential difference between Left and Right in contemporary American politics. Here is a case study: the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization.

The current debate over reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) clearly illustrates the essential difference in world view between limited-government conservatives and most of the rest of the American political spectrum, especially liberals.

Here's some essential background.

VAWA provides funds for investigating and prosecuting violent crimes against women, requires restitution by those convicted, and allows civil suits in cases prosecutors choose not to pursue in criminal court. It created and funds the Office on Violence Against Women at the US Department of Justice. VAWA passed with broad support from law enforcement and victims' rights groups, among others, and was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005.

The Democrat-sponsored Senate bill to reauthorize VAWA this year includes language extending its protection to same-sex couples and allowing victims who are illegal immigrants to receive temporary visas. This bill, S 1925, passed the Senate on April 26, with Democrats unanimously in favor and most Republicans opposed. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives responded with a substantially different version of the bill, more acceptable to social conservatives. HR 4970 passed the House on May 16, with little Democratic support and very little Republican opposition.

Both sides seem willing to politicize the issue -- the Republicans by kicking and screaming about the provisions involving same-sex couples and illegal immigrants -- as if they are never abused or are unworthy of the law's protection -- and the Democrats by claiming that Republicans are making war on women -- as if we Republicans are incapable of appreciating the horrors visited upon our daughters, sisters, friends, and neighbors. But let's look past the political posturing. Let's also ignore for the moment the inevitable problem that federal money in this case, as always, comes with strings attached.

From the Left

Here are excerpts from recent columns on VAWA by White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and a prominent Utah woman, Holly Mullen, who currently is Executive Director of the Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake City.

Valerie Jarrett wrote:

The passage of the Violence Against Women Act nearly two decades ago was an historic moment for America's women and girls. The law gave women new legal protections that help ensure their safety.

Last month, Democratic and Republican Senators came together to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. The bill they approved would address the high rates of domestic violence committed against Native American women, ensure that LGBT victims have access to services, and make college campuses safer places to live and study.

This is in keeping with the tradition of the Violence Against Women Act, which puts women's safety above partisan politics. Through its bipartisan vote, the Senate not only acted to preserve the original bill -- they improved it, protecting even more women from violence and abuse.

Holly Mullen wrote:

Again last week, I tallied the numbers -- the raw data of sexual violence in our community. This is the dark reality of it all, in black and white: a high schooler raped by her stepfather; a woman with a mental disability, raped by her date; another woman whose husband beat and raped her for a whole day and night.

The numbers fill one computer screen after another.

I cull this data each quarter of the fiscal year as part of reporting duties for federal grants that support victims of crime. And at this moment, the future of one of those grant programs -- through the Violence against Women Act -- is shaky. . . .

While the political wrangling goes on, organizations like the Rape Recovery Center, the YWCA and domestic violence shelters statewide hope for a trickle of VAWA funding. We are not talking mounds of cash. The Rape Recovery Center's award this year totaled $11,369.

Yet the women mentioned above? A VAWA-funded advocate showed up for each victim, supporting one woman through a grueling hospital rape exam and helping another find temporary shelter so she would be safe from her abuser. Still another woman benefited from the advocate's outreach on her behalf for low-cost legal aid.

Again and again I wade through the bleak bookkeeping of violence toward women. But I do see the victories, and those are worth savoring. Those are worth paying for.

From the Right

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) wrote:

Everyone agrees that violence against women is reprehensible. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization has the honorable goal of assisting victims of domestic violence, but it oversteps the Constitution’s rightful limits on federal power, it interferes with the flexibility states and localities should have in tailoring programs to meet particular needs of individual communities, and it fails to address problems of duplication and inefficiency.

Here is part of his further explanation, focusing on the first two objections he listed.

First, violent crimes are regulated and enforced almost exclusively by state governments. In fact, domestic violence is one of the few activities that the Supreme Court of the United States has specifically said Congress may not regulate under the Commerce Clause. As a matter of constitutional policy, Congress should not seek to impose rules and standards as conditions for federal funding in areas where the federal government lacks constitutional authority to regulate directly.

Second, the strings that Congress attaches to federal funding in the VAWA reauthorization restrict each state’s ability to govern itself.

The Difference

The difference between Left and Right on this issue is not that one cares more about women than the other, or that one deplores violence against women less than the other, or that one thinks there are important things which should be done for victims and the other disagrees. The difference is not that one side is more compassionate or more generous than the other. The difference is that most of the Right believes we should follow the Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution, while the Left believes that, when we think a matter is important, we should not let the Tenth Amendment stop us from addressing it at the federal level.

Here is the entire Tenth Amendment:

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.

It's not that violence against women is trivial; I don't know anyone who thinks it is, except, perhaps, some of the criminals themselves. The Right does not argue that nothing should be done, or that no level of government should be involved at all. It argues that in the US Constitution the people did not grant Congress the authority to act in this policy area.

I agree with Holly Mullen; the victories are "worth paying for." But we can pay for them at the state level. The best thing we can do to protect everyone's freedom in this nation is to limit the power and scope of the federal government.

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