Cuccinelli’s Strange Lesson in Federalism

By Peter Galuszka

(Note: You’ve heard from Jim and Les on Ken Cuccinelli’s book. Here’s my review that runs in this week’s Style Weekly).

Kenneth Cuccinelli, Virginia’s firebrand attorney general and Republican gubernatorial hopeful, is typically full of fire and vinegar that make him such a lively politician. But you’d never know it from his much-touted book, “The Last Line of Defense, The New Fight for American Liberty” (Crown Forum).

Nowhere do Cuccinell and co-author Brian J. Gottstein, his media man, get into the marquee issues that have made headlines such as bashing gay rights, driving legal abortion clinics out of business by tightening clinic rules, and unsuccessfully hounding Michael Mann, a former University of Virginia climatologist who has the temerity to believe that humans are responsible for global warming.

What we get instead are 250 or so dry pages of a primer on Constitutional federalism. States retain power and give it to the federal government, not vice versa. The Obama Administration, in his view, has seriously endangered this crucial balance and “are the biggest set of lawbreakers.” His chief exhibits are ObamaCare, The Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, the National Labor Relations Board and the Federal Communications Commission.

Mind you, Cuccinelli is running for governor but nowhere in this book does he talk about serious problems specific to Virginia, such as creating jobs, dealing with military industry budget cuts, funding schools or finding a way to pay to unclog the states poorly-maintained highways.

In the Cuccinelli and Gottstein view, the far more pressing issues read like an outdated Tea Party template from a couple of years back. Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act is seen as dangerous and unconstitutional because it requires all Americans to buy health insurance. Along with a couple of dozen Republican attorneys general from other states, Cuccinelli spends much time recounting his frontal assault.

In fact, he drags readers through practically half of the book, quoting patriots like Patrick Henry along the way, before we learn on page 141 that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld most of ObamaCare as constitutional on June 28, 2012. He does offer some solutions for health care, but they are the usual, garden variety stuff, such as allowing insurance companies to sell policies across state lines.

After wasting our time with ObamaCare, Cuccinelli shoots blanks at everything else. He claims the FCC is trying to regulate the Internet which has not been in the headlines for a while.

He goes into a controversy, covered endlessly by the Wall Street Journal, that the NLRB handled a complaint that charged Boeing with unfair labor practices when it moved some production work for is 787 Dreamliner aircraft to South Carolina, which is unfriendly to labor unions. The NLRB later dropped the complaint. That tends to destroy Cuccinelli’s argument that it is a threat to our freedom.

On other matters, he’s just plain wrong. He criticizes the Interior Department for going beyond a 1977 strip mining law by insisting on issue permits for coal mining. He writes that the law gives the states the exclusive right to issue permits, but in fact, the federal government oversees the state’s permit-letting in some states and handles it itself in states where the is no partnership agreement.

As for Cuccinelli’s big complaint that the EPA overstepped its bounds when it declared that masses of carbon dioxide are pollutants that need to be regulated, he ought to read the Clean Air Act that does give the EPA such authority. He claims that new rules to reduce carbon emission at coal-fired electricity stations are putting Virginia miners out of work. Nowhere does he mention that a flood of cheap natural gas brought on by controversial hydrofracking drilling is the most important reason.

To their credit, Cuccinelli and Gottstein write clearly and concisely. The book, for which Cuccinelli reportedly got a $30,000 advance, is an easy read. But given the fact that he’s been running for government for months, one has wonder whether Cuccinelli, along with Gottstein, another public servant, wrote this book on the public dime – that is, when he wasn’t filing politically-charged lawsuits against the federal government that went nowhere.

2 Responses to Cuccinelli’s Strange Lesson in Federalism

  1. I think it’s pretty clear what Cuccinelli’s priorities are – and are not.

    What are his priorities for Virginia going forward ? what issues would he tackle?

    would he propose rolling back what McDonnell did?

    would he veto any MedicAid agreement that emerged from the GA study group?

    would he be filing more lawsuits against the Federal Govt over health care, the EPA, the Dept of Interior, etc?

    What is his view of offshore oil/gas or uranium mining or mountaintop removal?

    How does he feel about pre-K education and is it worth tax money?

    for me – that was the opportunity for his book – to give us some insight into his philosophy of governance.

    I do not think anyone can seriously say – that his book has nothing to do with his philosophy of governance much less that it’s unrelated to what he might do if he is governor.

    that whole narrative is pretty suspect in my view.

  2. Tea Party: people may find this interesting. It describes a recent research paper by UCSF (a very strong university focused on health).
    The specific group got funded by the National Cancer Institute starting 2001 (i.e., under GW Bush, not that he’d be involved) to study the tobacco industry documents being released via various lawsuits. Over the years, studies have unearthed many tobacco tactics, always geared to stay in business, but increasingly trying to be less obvious, using “independent” third parties, front groups, universities (including, sad to say, at least two VA schools). The most recent connection, shown in in great detail in the paper (which is free), is that the tobacco industry started trying to create something like the Tea Party in the 1980s, (even with mention of costumes) and kept trying until it finally happened.

    1) Tobacco companies totally depend on addicting children, since very few people start smoking after brain development slows down, and if they do, they find it easier to stop. The companies have known this for decades, and also fact that higher cigarette taxes tends to inhibit children (more than already-addicted adults). Their “smoker’s rights” attempts didn’t get far, but encouraging a political movement that was against all taxes was much more effective. Anyway, the “beginning of smoker life”part is obvious.

    2) Less obvious is why the tobacco companies always fought any form of public health insurance. Cigarette staff have been quoted as saying that tobacco executives don’t smoke, they reserve that right for “the poor, the young, the black and the stupid.” See Golden Holocaust, read reviews, and if you live in VA, read that book, including about Medical College of Virginia, for example. Half of those who become regular smokers as kids will end up dying of it (lung cancer, other cancers, heart disease), but the “end of life” part of this is very expensive, and lots of people just “fall through the cracks.” The tobacco companies would hate the idea of public health insurance, since over time, the costs associated with smoking would become more obvious, and many more people would likely say “and why am *I* paying for this when it is the best-understood and known to be man-made disease?”

    The tobacco marketeers/strategists are incredibly clever, and details keep emerging from the 80M+ pages of the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library.

    Finally, see Donations to Cuccinelli, 2008-2012, by industry Coal, gas (incl. Kochs), utilities are bigger, but under agriculture, tobacco is #1.

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