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The Violence Against Women Act?

by Gordon S. JonesVAWA

With the Senate having acted and the House set to take up the bill as early as next week, it is time for someone to answer the question posed by the Florida Times-Union: “How in the world can people vote against the Violence Against Women Act?”

(Before engaging in the kind of politically incorrect analysis that follows, it is customary for the analyst to issue a disclaimer along the following lines: “Needless to say…” and then go on to say it. I am not going to do that. Raymond Saulnier, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors in the Nixon Administration, used to note that if you did what I am going to do here, you would be accused of being “against people, and I’ve told you many times” he would continue, “don’t be against people.” So I have been warned, but I’m going ahead anyway.)

Let it be noted, however, that while I’m writing specifically about the Federal Violence Against Women Act (originally passed in 1994), my analysis applies equally to any number of categorical programs passed by Congress over the years. They include programs promoting and funding anti-gang violence (like the notorious “midnight basketball” initiative of the 1990s), early education programs like Head Start, Gifted and Talented Education programs, law enforcement sensitivity training programs, AIDS/HIV prevention programs, class size reduction programs, cops on the beat programs, and so on through hundreds of initiatives that have at one time or another made their way through Congress and into the Federal Code.

As I see it, there are two, and only two, justifications for federal action in areas like these. The first is that the states (a) don’t care about battered women (gifted children, gang violence, etc.) or (b) are not smart enough to figure out how to tackle the problems.

I reject that justification, and I think even the Times-Union might reject it as well. The good folks of Florida, the Times-Union might say, are just as concerned about the social problems that affect (afflict) every modern society—indeed, any society since the beginning of time—as any activist in Washington. Why even Texans care!

If expressed directly, this justification would be so universally rejected that it never is. Essentially, a majority of the House and Senate would be saying “women in my state (or district) are routinely mistreated, and my constituents don’t seem to give a damn.”

Not a winning strategy for re-election.

Even the slightly less insulting “my people care, but they just can’t seem to figure out how to protect the women of my state (or district) from abusive husbands, suitors, and random rapists” is problematic.

As a result, these programs are sold in a much more positive light: “The people of my state (or district) are well aware of the problems, and are clamoring for action. They just need a little help in the implementation of preventive/ameliorative/compensatory programs. We are passing this legislation today to show them that we recognize their sensitivity and stand ready to help them accomplish their goals.”

Which brings us to the second justification for federal action: Washington has more money to spend on these programs than the states do.

Which is why we have a $16 trillion national debt (and $100 trillion or so actuarial deficit in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid).

The Times-Union chided Senator Marco Rubio specifically for his vote against VAWA when it passed the Senate. It was his vote that prompted the question at the head of this article. I don’t know what Marco Rubio’s rationale was, whether he reasoned as I have here, or whether, as Saulnier might conclude, Rubio is just “against people.” But there is an answer, and the fiscal salvation of the Republic lies in more senators and representatives finding it.

NB: I am aware that there is a section of some versions of the Violence Against Women Act that deals with the treatment of non-Indian males abusing Indian females on reservations. Given the somewhat anomalous position of American Indians in the United States, there is a case to be made that federal law clarifying procedures for treatment of such accused non-Indian males can be justified. I am not convinced that such a clarification is needed, but in any case, that is not the aspect of the VAWA that is at issue here. If the Act were confined to that federal-Indian-state issue, I’m guessing even Marco Rubio would support it.

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Gordon S. Jones is a senior fellow at Frontiers of Freedom.  Jones is also an adjunct professor at Utah Valley University and Salt Lake Community College. Jones has extensive experience in Congress, in public policy, and elective politics.