Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rick Perry and Federalism

I love  Very often they do some of the best libertarian-based analysis of any issues that are offered around the intertubes.  Today, however, Jacob Sullum strides to the plate with the confidence of Casey at the bat, and like Casey, screws himself into the ground with a huge swing and a miss at Rick Perry.   

I was much more offended by the alacrity with which Perry, who is expected to announce his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination next Saturday, abandoned his avowed federalist principles to embrace the legislative agenda of the Christian right. It took less than a week.

"Our friends in New York," Perry told GOP donors in Aspen on July 22, "passed a statute that said marriage can be between two people of the same sex. And you know what? That's New York, and that's their business, and that's fine with me. That is their call. If you believe in the 10th Amendment, stay out of their business."

It soon became clear that Perry, who wrote a book championing federalism, does not really believe in the 10th Amendment. In a July 28 interview, he assured Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, that he supports amending the Constitution to declare that "marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman." So much for letting states define marriage as they see fit.

Perry did a similar about-face on abortion. On July 27 he told reporters in Houston he favors overturning Roe v. Wade, which would leave states free to set their own policies in this area. "You either have to believe in the 10th Amendment or you don't," he said. "You can't believe in the 10th Amendment for a few issues and then [for] something that doesn't suit you say, 'We'd rather not have states decide that.'"
Two days later, Perry's spokeswoman told The Houston Chronicle he "would support amending the U.S. Constitution…to protect innocent life." Most versions of the Human Life Amendment would ban abortion throughout the country, even in states that want to keep it legal.

On its face, this seems like an anti-federalist about face, but really, it's federalism at its core.  How can mandating this or that at the federal level be federalist, you ask?  The answer is simple.  Amendments to the constitution are not fly-by-night mandates on the people a-la Obamacare's mandate that we all buy health insurance or face stiff fines.  Amendments to the Constitution represent one of the most federalist processes we have to govern ourselves.

First, an amendment must be introduced in Congress, go through the rigorous process of debate and revision and whatnot, and then be passed by a 2/3 majority in both the House and the Senate.  After this happens, the amendment is then sent to the states to be voted on, where it must be approved by 3/4 of all of the states to be added in as part of the Constitution.

This is not some top-down, anti-federalist ignoring of the 10th amendment to further ones agenda.  This is the process by which a massive, massive majority of the country decide that we are going to fundamentally change the laws under which we live.

In supporting amendments to the constitution, Perry is indeed supporting the federalist process.  While his support of an amendment like the Human Life Amendment, which limits the freedom of people anywhere to have an abortion, even in states that wish to keep it legal, would appear to be anti 10th amendment, it's not really anti 10th amendment if the massive majority of all the states, and thereby the people, voted to change our laws in this manner.  The point of federalism is for states to decide what is best for themselves.  Amending the constitution would be a case of all of the states deciding for themselves.

I take Sullum's point to heart, even though his argument is technically incorrect.  I like Rick Perry for his economics.  I don't particularly like Rick Perry's social politics.  I don't think it's any government's place, local, state or federal, to have any place in deciding who can marry whom.  Nor is it any government's place to decide whether or not a woman should be able to decide whether or not to have a baby, or whether or not we should be mandated to pay for birth control or abortions for that matter.  These are places where no matter the opinion on the issue, government just needs to take its nose out of our personal business and let us live as we will.

However I see this for what it actually is: Rick Perry playing to his evangelical base during the primaries.  A candidate needs the base in the primaries.  Neither of those amendments will ever see the floor of Congress, much less be passed by 2/3 majorities in both houses, and you can forget 3/4 of the states ever ratifying.  Come the general election, Perry will be dancing on the head of a pin to articulate the reasons why his positions are indeed not anti-federalist, but if he speaks the plain truth, that amendments are a federalist process, he should get through to the likes of Jacob Sullum.

We don't have to enjoy or even agree with Perry's social politics.  But let's not intimate the man is a power-hungry emperor-in-waiting when that is clearly not the case.


  1. I understand how difficult it is to pass an amendment like that. I can't imagine any social issue that would currently galvanize 290 congressmen, 67 senators and 38 state legislatures. The problem, as I see it, is that Perry holds the view that we should amend the US Constitution for the purposes of his personal morality. Someone with that worldview is far from the type of person I would want leading and representing our country. The fact that his goal will never come to fruition is not a reason to ignore it. For example, President Obama's perfect world would probably include universal health care. Doesn't mean it will happen, but it tells you something about him as a person. I would think that people take it into consideration when evaluating him as a politician.

    I also do not think that Perry is an emperor any more than I believe Obama is an emperor (as some claim). I don't think that the existence of the Constitution will be in jeopardy if Perry were president. We survived eight years of Bush, although I don't think we're better for it.

    As far as playing to the base, I agree with you. Politicians are disingenuous as a rule, particularly during the primaries. I don't think that President Obama places much importance on faith, for instance, but he needs to pay it lip service if he wants to stay in office. Perry's act might play well in GOP primaries, but I think he would have a very hard time in a general. Axlerod and company would have a pretty easy time showing that President Perry would bring us right back to the GWB years, and I don't think anyone wants that.

  2. I think maybe you give too much heed to the fact that Perry is a Texas governor. I don't think he's personally, or politically, and definitely not economically, anything like Bush was.

    This is a different guy for different times. He's most certainly not winning the spot, assuming he does, because he's the next Good Old Boy Republican in line for the spot.

    If he wins it will be because he's a man of conviction that has concrete ideas about what he wants for the country, that a broad majority of the people will go along with.

    As to your argument about not wanting someone who would amend the constitution for the purposes of his personal morality, what else do you expect the constitution was ever amended for? Somebody somewhere sometime looked at FDR's reign and decided it offended their personal morality, and so offered up an amendment that the president could only serve two terms. Obviously this was a pretty commonly shared personal morality since it passed.

    Every decision anybody ever makes anywhere about anything is couched in his or her personal morality. You mention Obama's perfect world of universal healthcare. To me, that looks like a lot of waiting in line and denial of simple services, like dental maintenance or simple surgeries denied, as happens routinely with the NHS in Britain. That's a lot of other peoples view as well. Many more just see another "free" handout without thinking about the consequences. We're kind of at the brink of an era where we can no longer ignore future consequences for the sake of current free handouts.

    I can't say as I agree with Perry's social agenda, but I also can't say as I think he will run with much at all to say about social politics. I also don't think, if he becomes president, he will have any time or space to pursue any kind of social agenda, as we are staring down probably a decade or two of fixing our finances before all else. I think he's probably got the best conviction and character for that purpose among the Republican field, while also being a good enough politician to actually get things done, something that I think it's pretty abundantly clear our current president is not.

  3. I agree that his social agenda will not stop him from getting the nomination, and may not even hurt him too much in a general. If Republicans nominate him, he has a chance. I still think it's too early to say whether he will be a real factor - don't forget that four years ago at this time we were gearing up for Giuliani vs. Clinton. Hell, Giuliani just beat Obama LAST WEEK in a poll from CNN. I'm a huge polling nerd, but even I am trying not to read too much into the numbers right now.

    The larger problem for Perry (although I know it doesn't bother you) is his extreme views on the role of government. He is willing to talk about ENDING Social Security and Medicare, and while that resonates with the Tea Party, it's going to be very hard to get mainstream Republicans and independents to buy into it.

    Perry can pander to the religious right during the primaries and then talk more rationally during the general. Obama did the same thing for the left in '08. Maybe I'm jaded, but that stuff doesn't bother me*. It's just part of the game. It will be much more difficult for Perry to run away from some of his other statements. I admittedly am not as much of a policy wonk as you are, but I do follow the political aspect of government closely. Right now I think that Obama has about a 50% chance of being re-elected. A lot (fair or not) depends on the economy, and a lot depends on who the GOP nominates. I just happen to believe that Perry is not someone who can win a general election.

    *OK, it bothers me personally, but I am not going to spend my time looking for a non-hypocritical politician. They don't exist.

  4. I think it will be interesting to see what happens when Perry gets into the debates. Last night's debate was actually pretty excellent, and surprisingly Romney came across pretty strong across the board, and largely stayed out of the fray. He will be a target for Perry, so if nothing else, the debates going forward will be very entertaining.

    I think we are in a situation right now where just about any Republican is going to beat Obama, just as in 2008 any Democrat was going to win simply by running on not being George W. Bush.

    I don't think there are any candidates talking about ending Social Security or Medicare. Ending things "as we know them" does not mean killing them completely.

    The big push from a policy standpoint will need to be getting people to wake up and take responsibility for themselves for things like social security, medicare and unemployment. The government can help to provide the funds, but the consumer needs to be the one making the decisions with that money at the market level.

    It's a question of efficiency of the money. People spending money in the most cost effective way for themselves will ultimately drive prices down.

    This will be the change they all need to preach, rather than getting caught up in rhetoric about ending all benefits forever and pushing grandma off a cliff.