Fred Thompson On Federalism

First, let me make it clear. Fred Thompson is not a libertarian, he’s a conservative. Nonetheless, he does have interesting things to say.

Today, he has a column up at NRO that addresses criticism about his votes on tort reform while in the Senate, but has this interesting quote about federalism:

As I understood it, states were supposed to be laboratories that would compete with each other, conducting civic experiments according to the wishes of their citizens. The model for federal welfare reform was the result of that process. States also allow for of diverse viewpoints that exist across the country. There is no reason that Tennesseans and New Yorkers should have to agree on everything (and they don’t).

Those who are in charge of applying the conservative litmus test should wonder why some of their brethren continue to try to federalize more things — especially at a time of embarrassing federal mismanagement and a growing federal bureaucracy. I am afraid that such a test is often based more upon who is favored between two self-serving litigants than upon legal and constitutional principles. Isn’t that what we make all the Supreme Court nominees promise not to do?

Adhering to the principles of federalism is not easy. As one who was on the short end of a couple of 99-1 votes, I can personally attest to it. Federalism sometimes restrains you from doing things you want to do. You have to leave the job to someone else — who may even choose not to do it at all. However, if conservatives abandon this valued principle that limits the federal government, or if we selectively use it as a tool with which to reward our friends and strike our enemies, then we will be doing a disservice to our country as well as the cause of conservatism.

There are many things about the Constitution that can be considered the work of genius, but perhaps the most important among them was the idea of Federalism. As originally intended, the Federal Government was supposed to have only limited jurisdiction over matters that truly impacted the nation as a whole. The vast majority of the rules that impacted every day life were supposed to have been made at the state and local levels, where people would have more control over their legislators.

As with most everything else that the Founders believed, that idea has faded into history. Today, the Federal Government inserts itself into virtually every aspect of our lives and the states have become more and more irrelevant. Over the past 30 years, the Federal Government has used the power of the purse to force the states to change policy on everything from the drinking age to seatbelt laws. And when the voters of California decide that people who are dying of cancer should have the right to utilize marijuana to alleviate their pain and suffering, the DEA steps in and shuts down the clinics……and the Supreme Court says it’s okay.

With the exception of Ron Paul, nearly every Presidential candidate is talking about what the Federal Government can do for you. Almost nobody is talking about the idea that maybe there are some things that it shouldn’t be doing at all.

If Fred Thompson becomes the exception to that rule, then he may be a welcome addition to the race.

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  • B. Moore

    How about simply going back to Senators being appointed by the States rather than elected as the Constitution originally called for. That way they will represent the views of the States and protect the rights and powers of the State and its citizens against the encroachment of the Federal Government as the Founders intended them to do.

  • Brad Warbiany

    I think you’ll find a lot of agreement here on repealing the 17th Amendment…

  • Bret

    Ponnuru now his reponse up:

    I find both the argument he made in the original letter and the one in his response to be weak and extremely lackluster. He seems to blame Thompson for turning this into a philosophical debate. I suspect this is because Ponnuru’s arguments seem to be void of any philosophical cohesion.