Isn't it time to come up with some new material?
Almost every time the president, Congress or a U.S. government agency offers a proposal aimed at protecting American citizens, Oklahoma's Republican elected leaders bow up and wail about "federal overreach."
Overreach, of course, isn't a problem limited to the federal level -- just ask pregnant women and their physicians about state lawmakers' incessant efforts to require medically unnecessary ultra-sounds before abortions.
Nor is overreach always overreach -- like much in our democratic republic's oft-messy political realm, overreach frequently is in the eye of the beholder.
Which brings us to the latest whining about "federal overreach" -- the National Transportation Safety Board's recent recommendation that states ban hands-free and hand-held cell phone use while driving.
No texting. No talking. Just driving.
Sounds heavenly to me.
Not to state Rep. Randy Terrill who dispatched -- with the able assistance of the taxpayer-financed House media division -- a blistering news release that warned of federal efforts to "force states to ban all forms of talking and texting while driving, regardless of circumstances."
Even more ominous: The NTSB's proposal "disrespects the ability of citizens to govern themselves."
Terrill, a modern Paul Revere, sounding the alarm? More like the second coming of Sen. Joe McCarthy, spouting demagoguery in hopes of winning headlines.
Before focusing on the substance of the NTSB's proposal, consider this: The federal agency recommended that states ban the use of cell phones while driving. It didn't order that states do so.
There's one other little problem with Terrill's screed: The NTSB doesn't have the power to order states to do anything.
Terrill's a smart guy. Graduated from law school. He knows the subtle differences between what he claimed and what's reality. He may hope rank-and-file voters are not as perceptive or sophisticated.
Of course, it's true the feds -- during Republican Richard Nixon's presidency -- imposed a 55 mile-per-hour speed limit in response to the Arab oil embargo, threatening to withhold federal highway funds from states that did not comply.
And Terrill didn't hesitate to make that point. Or to compare the cell phone proposal to "the deeply unpopular federal health care law."
Aha! The ultimate boogeyman in wingnut world. When in doubt, or in need of political red meat, invoke ObamaCare.
"In my adult lifetime," Terrill said, "I have never seen the federal government overreach to the extent we are seeing today.
"From the passage of ObamaCare, to the federal government suing states that enforce federal immigration laws within their borders, to this national talking and texting ban, it seems there's no area of our lives that the federal government is not trying to control -- all at the expense of our personal freedom and liberty as well as states' rights."
Those jack-booted thugs will succeed only when they pry my cold dead fingers off my cell phone and steering wheel!
Despite what some Oklahomans believe, common sense and Legislature are not mutually exclusive terms. There are lawmakers who no doubt believe it is right and important -- and perfectly acceptable -- for the National Transportation Safety Board to draw attention to this public safety concern. Because the research is alarming:
--The NTSB recently released a report estimating 120,000 drivers were sending text messages or otherwise physically manipulating their phones at any given time of day during 2010 -- up 50 percent from a year earlier.
--Moreover, around 660,000 drivers were believed holding phones to their ears at any moment during 2010.
There is no question that multi-tasking is the new American way. But common sense also tells us there are few things as frightening as a distracted (or inebriated) driver, piloting a 4,000-pound weapon on wheels.
Serious research suggests thousands of fatalities each year involve distracted driving -- and that drivers are four times more likely to be involved in an accident if they're talking on their cell phones.
We probably could have saved numerous national governments -- including ours -- the cost of such research. We may not like the notion that cell phone use could be restricted, but we know from personal experience that it's a problem.
I just spent a week driving -- and riding -- in the wide-open American west. We put 2,800 miles on a van. Every time we saw erratic driving, it turned out the driver was talking or punching buttons on his or her phone. Speeding up, slowing down for no obvious reason. Wafting back and forth over the centerline. Every time.
As a bumper sticker for sale in a Scottsdale, Ariz. curio shop put it, "Shut up and drive!"
Yet, for some reason, Oklahoma's Legislature so far has refused to join with 35 other states to -- at a minimum -- ban text messaging while driving. Lawmakers will get another chance to do the right thing when they reconvene Feb. 6.
Unfortunately, the Randy Terrills of the House evidently will attempt to whip the masses into believing this is some sort of federal government takeover -- the Nanny State run amok.
"The U.S. Constitution makes clear that the federal government has specifically enumerated and limited powers with all other issues relegated to state governments," the Moore Republican said. "If this talking and texting initiative stands, then is there anything out of bounds for the federal government? ...
"States certainly have the power to take up this issue and enforce those laws within their borders. However, the federal government's recent efforts to bully, harass, intimidate and threaten states into taking particular actions must stop."
Lawmakers did enact a law in 2010 aimed at banning the use of electronic handheld devices by teen drivers, but its wording makes enforcement difficult, according to law officers.
"Clearly, this issue is not being ignored by state lawmakers, and it obviously is not a proper function of the federal government, so I have to ask why the current federal administration would prioritize texting bans over its actual duties, such as national security."
Au contraire. Motor vehicle safety is a national security issue. Laws are frequently approved to help keep all of us who use public roadways as safe and secure as possible.
I am not at all dismayed that state laws require me to wear a seat belt or to buckle small children into age-appropriate safety seats. Nor do I fear some sort of creeping totalitarianism because laws require that all drivers carry liability insurance.
It's no different in my mind than federal aviation requirements that we're belted-in on takeoffs and landings.
What Terrill and his ilk never seem to get -- and probably never will, if history is any guide -- is that sometimes states cannot be trusted to do the right thing.
Would African-Americans, for example, have the rights to vote or attend the schools of their choice in the Old South if the nation as a whole -- operating under the auspices of our federal government -- hadn't demanded it be so?
The NTSB isn't ordering a ban on the use of cell phones while driving. It's urging states like Oklahoma to do the right thing.
And so are many of our fellow Sooners who are tired of being trapped behind weaving, obviously distracted drivers who put our lives and our families lives at risk.
--Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; www.okobserver.net
Share this article: