Jacob Sullum

Mike Lee calls for "a new conservative reform agenda" based on "three basic principles," one of which is federalism. "The biggest reason the federal government makes too many mistakes is that it makes too many decisions," the Republican senator from Utah explained in a speech at the Heritage Foundation last year. "Most of these are decisions the federal government doesn't have to make -- and therefore shouldn't."

So why on earth is Lee co-sponsoring a bill introduced last month that would ban online gambling throughout the country, instead of letting each state decide whether to allow Internet-assisted poker? The contradiction illustrates one reason the GOP seems destined for permanent minority status: Too many of its members are unprincipled killjoys who do not understand that federalism requires tolerance of diversity.

The bill Lee supports, which would ban "any bet or wager" placed via the Internet, was instigated by casino magnate and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, who would prefer not to worry about online competition. The motive for the bill thus violates another of Lee's three basic principles: opposition to "dispensing political privileges to prop the well-connected up."

But the blatant disregard for federalism is especially striking because the bill's backers brazenly claim it is necessary to protect state autonomy. They have even enlisted Texas Gov. Rick Perry, an avowed fan of the 10th Amendment, to testify that a national ban on Internet gambling, which would override the policy preferences of states such as Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey, is what the Framers would have wanted. The National Conference of State Legislatures sees things differently.

Poker is not the only subject that turns Republicans into advocates of a meddling, overweening federal government. Pot also brings out their inner centralizers.

Republican legislators have repeatedly criticized the Obama administration's response to marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington, arguing that the president is constitutionally bound to crush these experiments. "Federal law takes precedence" over state law, Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., told Attorney General Eric Holder during a congressional hearing last week. "The state of Colorado is undermining ... federal law, correct? Why do you fail to enforce the laws of the land?"


Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
 
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