But only in specific circumstances.
When it comes to so-called “sanctuary cities” — where local elected officials have determined that it’s not their job to enforce federal immigration laws or to function as an unpaid arm of federal immigration departments — Republicans are most definitely not in favor of local control or “local accountability”.
When it comes to legalized marijuana use — many U.S. states and a few cities have taken steps “decriminalize” it in varying degrees — Republicans are most definitely not in favor of local control or local accountability.
Even within states, Republicans are against local control when it comes to cities passing anti-discrimination ordinances. In Texas, North Carolina, and other states, when a major city decided to outlaw discrimination, the GOP-led state legislatures have moved against them. When cities attempt to establish higher minimum wages, or ban single-use plastic shopping bags, or cut down on pollution — basically any regulation that helps people or the environment, then state-level GOP governments move to block the “local control.”
So what then is Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III talking about in the quotation above?
He’s talking about the agreements that the Justice Department negotiated with local police departments over the past several years, in the wake of an avalanche of findings of unconstitutional law enforcement practices. Under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department made agreements with cities like Baltimore, and failed to reach agreements with cities like Chicago, all in an effort to improve community-level policing in our nation.
Sessions wrote a two-page memo to federal agencies, asking them to review all such agreements. He said he was worried that “individual bad actors” are harming the “honorable work that law enforcement officers and agencies perform”. He ignored the obvious fact that many of the “individual bad actors” have been shown to actually be “law enforcement officers and agencies” — which was the entire reason for the agreements in the first place.
If you weren’t keeping up with policing news over the past few years, or if you’ve already forgotten, this is a good place for a reminder: almost all of those investigations, negotiations, and agreements were over racially-biased policing. The Justice Department already determined that these were not cases of one racist cop going rogue (because those instances were identified and left to local control), but that these are cases where entire departments and agencies had strong, documented trends of racially-biased policing.
This is not an isolated case of hypocrisy on the part of Republicans, or so-called “conservatives” (more accurately called regressives).
On issue after issue in the debate between local control, states rights, and federal oversight, the GOP and its supporters will claim one or the other whenever it suits them, and in each conversation they ignore that they chose differently in a different conversation.
For example, when it comes to Second Amendment issues, the GOP is typically on the side of “federal stuff overrides state stuff” — but only when the federal action is, say, a Supreme Court decision affirming the individual’s right to bear arms — and not when the federal action is, say, a Supreme Court decision upholding a ban on open carry. That one must have been particularly confusing, because it both upheld states rights and went against the Second Amendment rallying cry. (Personally, I am not anti-gun. I set down my position in 2013, if you want to read it.)
The hypocrisy also spreads far beyond the state/federal argument.
Take for an example the “small government” mantra, one of the most common typical arguments that Republicans launch against Democrats. According to the GOP, Democrats are all about “tax and spend” and needlessly increasing the federal bureaucracy, but the GOP saviors want to cut taxes and slash government spending. Yet in my lifetime, reality shows the opposite, that the National Debt has increased much more under Republicans than under Democrats. The only federal surpluses of my lifetime came during Democrat Bill Clinton’s presidency.
Federal spending, 1900-2016, as a percent of GDP, compared to federal revenue
Republicans just spend differently than Democrats; they don’t spend less money. If a Republican candidate seems desirable to you because he is promising to cut federal spending, ask him about his position on military spending, or any of the various undeclared wars we’re involved in. Ask him about his position on immigration and whether he wants to “beef up” (spend money on) border patrols, border walls, deportations, etc. Typically, the Republican will begin gushing about how much money he wants the federal government to spend on these items. “Billions and billions!” they will usually say, often worded as “we need to rebuild our military” or “national security depends on deporting poor immigrant families.”
But ask them about very tiny (relative to our military spending) programs like SNAP or funding of scientific research, and they’ll shed tears over the needless federal spending and directly relate these programs to how high your taxes are. They probably won’t publicly make the connection that money spent on SNAP (and related programs) not only keeps children from dying but also immediately goes back into the economy. When asked about cutting science funding, they’ll name a couple of studies they heard of like “studying the mating habits of beetles” and use that well-worn example to cut all science funding, regardless of how helpful it is to our lives. They certainly won’t talk about how defense spending is mostly allocated to enriching the CEOs and shareholders of the biggest private contractors, like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon, while only a small portion of it goes to the actual “heroes” they’re so willing to bring on stage with them.
Republicans hold the position that government is “too intrusive” and “too powerful”. But regularly, GOP-led legislatures pass bills increasing the intrusiveness and power of government. For example, the ever-so-popular drug-testing for welfare recipients programs, which turned out to be wasteful and unconstitutional, and showed that drug use among welfare recipients is actually lower than drug use among the general populace. Or the startlingly cruel rules to require funerals for miscarriages. Or the child-porn-esque idea that children’s genitals should be checked before they can use bathrooms. If I thought you wanted a longer entry with more source links, I could go on listing these intrusive bills all day.
For one final example, take the First Amendment. Republicans are fond of mentioning it, especially in the context of “my religion should be allowed to impose itself on other people”, but fond of ignoring it when it comes to “no, your religion actually shouldn’t be allowed to do that to other people”. Or when it comes to the right to peaceably assemble — every recent proposal to outlaw peaceful protest has come from Republican-dominated states, including the North Dakota proposal to (seriously!) allow motorists to commit vehicular murder if a protestor happens to step off the sidewalk. Or when it comes to freedom of the press. And so on.