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Monday, August 29, 2011

Perry on Federal Power: Only the Important Stuff

It is much easier to point out the sliver in the other guy’s eye than to detect the plank in one’s own. In terms of the political consolidation of the U.S. at the expense of federalism, wherein both the state governments and the general government can check the other, it is easier to point to what the other guy is piling on the U.S. Government rather than what one is adding to it oneself. As a result, the process of consolidation into a one size fits all on the scale of empire goes on without scarce a recognized reason why.

For example, Texas’s chief executive and head of state, Rick Perry, wrote in his book, Fed Up!, “From marriage to prayer, from zoning laws to tax policy, from our school systems to health care, and everything in between, it is essential to our liberty that we be allowed to live as we see fit through the democratic process at the local and state level.” If it is essential to our liberty that these policy domains be kept within a state, then any backtracking on any of these areas would be an indication of insincerity on the claim. Moreover, the assertion would be compromised practically speaking. That is to say, the flood-gates would be opened and we would be back to consolidation.

So the following report from the New York Times is notable. “In one of his more well-publicized shifts, Mr. Perry proclaimed that gay marriage was an issue for individual states to decide, but backtracked in [August 2011 and said] he supports a federal amendment banning gay marriage. He . . . also signaled support for various federal actions to restrict abortion rather than leaving the issue to states.” More generally, if Republican office holders want to federalize “social issues” while Democratic officials insist on federalizing criminal and labor law, for example, then what we have is unintended political consolidation: one size stretching across a continent, up to Alaska and out to Hawaii at the expense of the inherent diversity therein. Any given representative could claim that his or her desired federalization would not break the camel’s back, so we are all left wondering why the camel’s back broke. Don’t look at me.

If an office-holder will not keep to even his or her own list of domains reserved to the states, then how credible is that official’s claim to safeguarding the viability of the federal system of public governance? The truth may well be that no elected official is truly interested in any governance system; the motivation may actually be a function of what is politically expedient at the time. At best, each politician may authentically believe that his or her top issues should be made to apply to all Americans—in every member state. The result is that everything is federalized. As each official is busy imposing what is most important to him or her on as many people as possible, the question needing to be asked may therefore be, who, exactly, is minding the store?

A critique of Perry's book is at "American and European Federalism."


Manny Fernandez and Emily Ramshaw, “As a States’ Rights Stalwart, Perry Draws Doubts,” New York Times, August 29, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/29/us/politics/29perry.html