Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

July 29, 2007

Fred Thompson — Federalist?

by Brad Warbiany

I’m pulling for Ron Paul, but I have to have a question in the back of my mind. If Ron Paul doesn’t get the nomination, should I vote Republican or Libertarian in 2008? The question comes down to this: “Is there anyone other than Ron Paul in the Republican field that I want to vote for, instead of just voting against Democrats?”

Since I live in California, the question is largely academic. California isn’t in danger of being a close state in the general election, so I have to vote for principle. I’ve already ruled out Giuliani, McCain, and I’m already leaning against Romney. But I know very little about Fred Thompson.

I received an email from Jon Henke, one of the bloggers from QandO, who is a Fred Thompson supporter. The email contained the last two paragraphs of this post, making me think that perhaps Fred Thompson believed in the same strain of federalism that I do:

A good first step would be to codify the Executive Order on Federalism first signed by President Ronald Reagan. That Executive Order, first revoked by President Clinton, then modified to the point of uselessness, required agencies to respect the principle of the Tenth Amendment when formulating policies and implementing the laws passed by Congress. It preserved the division of responsibilities between the states and the federal government envisioned by the Framers of the Constitution. It was a fine idea that should never have been revoked. The next president should put it right back in effect, and see to it that the rightful authority of state and local governments is respected.

It is not enough to say that we are “for” federalism, because in today’s world it is not always clear what that means. What we are “for” is liberty for our citizens. Federalism divides power between the states and government in Washington. It is a tool to promote freedom. How we draw the line between federal and state roles in this century, and how we stay true to the principles of federalism for the purpose of protecting economic and individual freedom are questions we must answer. Our challenge – meaning the federal government, the states, our communities and constituents – is to answer these questions together.

Sounds pretty good, no? But when I read the whole think, I started to backtrack on that…

First, he points out that federalism creates 50 little “laboratories” across America, where different ideas can be tested out. Unfortunately, he first points out how wonderful it was that we could take those different ideas and start standardizing them across our entire nation:

A good example of this early in my Senate service was welfare reform. We were warned that terrible things would happen if we went forward with a bill – a fundamental commitment would be abandoned and, among state governments, a “race to the bottom” would begin.

But key to our approach were elements of welfare reform that had proved successful in various states, such as Colorado, Michigan and Wisconsin. The result was a law that allowed us to better meet our commitments to our fellow citizens. It was one of the great political successes of the 1990’s, because Washington – for once – had the good sense to learn from state and local authorities and empower them in return.

I’ll give him half a pass on this one. After all, one can make the argument that the welfare reform bill was an improvement over what existed, and federalism did assist to make that more efficient. However, Thompson doesn’t make the argument that welfare should be a state matter from the beginning, he argues that the federal government learned from federalism. Allowing states to compete ensures continually improving efficiency of future programs, codifying the results of past competition and keeping power in federal hands doesn’t prepare for the future.

But another point is just inexcusable. He again suggests that federalism might help efficiency of the federal government, but then states that the funding must remain in Washington’s hands. How does the guy who fondly references Ronald Reagan’s executive order leave out the fact that Reagan campaigned on the promise to abolish the federal Department of Education, and then suggest that the feds have a responsibility to fund education?

Perhaps the clearest example of federal over-involvement in state and local responsibilities is public education. It’s the classic case of how the federal government buys authority over state and local matters with tax-payer money and ends up squandering both the authority and the money while imposing additional burdens on states.

It is appropriate for the federal government to provide funding and set goals for the state to meet in exchange for that funding. However, it is not a good idea for the federal government to specifically set forth the means to be used in order to reach those goals. Adherence to this principle would make for fewer bureaucracies, fewer regulations, and less expense, while promoting educational achievement. There are bills pending in Congress that would move us in this direction, and I hope Congress gives them the attention they deserve.

It is appropriate for the feds to provide funding? I thought he was a federalist, and a Constitutionalist. Sure, Thompson can read the Tenth Amendment, but apparently he’s reading between the lines of Article I, Section 8 if he believes that the federal government has a role in local education, whether funding or control. I would remind him that with funding comes control, and that’s one of the biggest reason to sever the funding link, not try to ignore the fact that one follows the other.

Fred Thompson appears to be a federalist in the same way that George W. Bush appears to be a conservative: when it’s politically expedient.

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  • Buckwheat

    If the Republican Establishment, in the Blogger Era, can pull off a successful transformation of Fred Thompson from lobbyist congresscritter to Reaganesque Federalist Defender of the Constitution, I will renounce my ideals of liberty and admit that the American population is too stupid to be ruled by anyone but neoconservative Nietzsche and Machiavelli fans.

  • FreedomDemocrat

    If I lived in California, I’d vote for the Libertarian candidate. No point sending mixed messages with a vote for the GOP.

  • mind

    if ron paul doesn’t win the nomination, i would consider voting for say kucinich, gravel, or _maybe_ obama (i’d really have to see if he proposes any concrete solutions, rather than vague notions about ‘changing the dialog’). i’d rather see the fed govt switch directions and go bankrupt because of things like national healthcare and other entitlements, than to see it collapse due to spending on domestic military and prison camps.

    i had read an article a while ago about bush quietly backing fred thompson. thompson hasn’t even declared his intention to run for president, which seems ridiculously sketchy given how much media coverage he’s been getting. remember that george w talked a decent game back in the 2000 election, and it was only in 2001 that he made a b-line for tyranny.

  • http://unrepentantindividual.com/ Brad Warbiany

    FreedomDemocrat,

    If Ron Paul doesn’t make it to the general election, I’ll likely vote Libertarian. My question is whether I can vote for any other Republican in good conscience. At least here in CA, Paul will likely still be in the race come primary time, so I’ll definitely get a chance to vote for him.

  • http://republicanrenaissance.blogspot.com David McClain

    Fred talks a good game, but his record shows he’s no Federalist, not by a long shot.

  • http://www.no-treason.com Wild Pegasus

    I’m pulling for Ron Paul, but I have to have a question in the back of my mind. If Ron Paul doesn’t get the nomination, should I vote Republican or Libertarian in 2008?

    I can tell you, regardless of which way you vote, that it won’t matter.

  • somebody

    Yeah, Thompson isn’t much of a federalist. I get this queasy feeling that he’ll just be another Bush. Remember all the conservative principles Bush touted before the 200 election? And how about the fact that many of the Republican elites (the same ones who absolutely hate Ron Paul) are pushing for Thompson? From now on, based on Dr. Paul’s consistency, candidates need to back up their talk for me to vote for them. I will not vote Republican unless the nominee completely disowns Bush’s demented form of compassionate conservatism.

  • Buckwheat

    Value-added comments please, Pegasus. There are lots of other sites to spout propaganda.

  • Scott McDonnell

    If Ron Paul doesn’t win the nomination, I will write him in. The only wasted vote is one you cast with reservation. I want Dr. Paul to be the president of the U.S. and I want the Republicans to start offering candidates more in line with Ron Paul. If he doesn’t win the nomination, I will still vote for him anyway to send them a message.

  • Scott McDonnell

    mind,

    If Ron Paul doesn’t get the nomination, I can guarantee your other choices on the democrat side are not going to get the nomination. While it would be great to see Kucinich or Gravel on the democratic ticket and Ron Paul on the republican ticket, at this time, the focus is on the primaries.

    If we don’t vote for Ron Paul in our states’ primaries, we leave it up to the entrenched establishment to pick our choices. We are mounting a state effort to ensure our 600+ (so far, growing by about 40 people a week) volunteers all show up to vote in the primaries. We are focusing on delegates, getting involved with the local GOP committees and speaking in front of them. When they see 40+ new members interested in joining the GOP, they listen. Most of these local county groups have 20 people or less in them.

    This is how you do it. If you don’t support whichever underdog you want in the primaries, you might as well call this mental masturbation. In my state, the turnout for the primaries is around 10% of registered voters. It is there that a single person can make a large difference.

  • Paul

    I read that the Bush family is backing Fred. That’s all I need to know…

  • http://www.lunchworks.net Jeff Molby

    If Ron Paul doesn’t win the nomination, I will write him in…I will still vote for him anyway to send them a message.

    That message won’t be received. That’s not just cynicism, I don’t believe they even look at the write-ins unless there are more write-ins than the difference between the top two candidates.

    You’d be better off the vote LP, because that would actually register in the election stats.

  • http://www.kaligulawired.com Kaligula

    The Republican party is a bunch of snake oil salesmen. Fred Thompson is as much as federalist as George Bush is. Every 4 years these charlatans dust off their ronald reagan speeches and then go right back to doing what they always do when they get back to Washington. Libertarians should stop voting for these frauds and just let the GOP die a natural death. According to the LP, Libertarian candidates received 14 million votes in the 2006 elections. Libertarian candidates do so poorly in presidential elections because–And i’ve been guilty as well–we vote GOP. No more(okay, I’ll make an exception for Ron Paul).

  • GMEllis

    Saying that it is OK for the Federal government to provide funding is not anti-Federalist. Note that he never specified that directly applied to education, although he was discussing education at the time. He also added that it is NOT OK to stick strings on the funding.

    Fred Thompson is the strongest Federalist candidate that has any chance at getting elected.

    BTW, do you support repeal of the 17th amendment (at least the portion calling for the direct election of Senators)?

  • Sean

    Fred Thompson is definitely not a federalist. If elected the country would move towards bigger federal government. Maybe not as fast as Hillary would, but the destination will remain the same.

  • TanGeng

    I don’t know if we’re suppose to have a positive view about a Federalist. Compared to what we have today, a Federalist would certainly be an improvement. But I don’t think Libertarians should be satisfied with a Federalist and even less with a politician whose rhetoric is confusing and whose actions fall far short of that rhetoric.

    I would be sympathetic if Federalism is represented by the compromise that ratified the Constitution and immediately attached the Bill of Rights. But I fear that Federalism is instead of the Lincoln ilk which sparked the Civil War. It depends heavily on how much power we allocate to the government in Washington. Fred seems to think that we can get away with a 5% 10% reduction in size and power. I’m thinking more like 70% 80%.

  • http://unrepentantindividual.com/ Brad Warbiany

    GMEllis,

    Yes, I support repeal of the 17th… But I would again say that the 17th was an effect of a wider transition of power away from states, not the cause of that transition. So I’m not sure it would do as much good as I’d like to think.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/2007/05/07/reparations-for-guam-insanity-squared/ Doug Mataconis

    Brad,

    I’m not convinced that Federalism is always pro-liberty.

    As I noted myself last week, Ron Paul essentially holds to a Federalist line when it comes to gay marriage and, while that may be Constitutionally correct, from an individual rights viewpoint, it’s not necessarily the correct position to take.

  • http://youtube.com/watch?v=yCM_wQy4YVg js290

    As I noted myself last week, Ron Paul essentially holds to a Federalist line when it comes to gay marriage and, while that may be Constitutionally correct, from an individual rights viewpoint, it’s not necessarily the correct position to take.

    How do you explain his statements made at Google when asked specifically about gay marriages (about 12 minutes and 30 seconds into it):

    I support all voluntary associations, and people can call it whatever they want.

    That’s about the most succinct statement on individual rights as you’re going to hear from any politican.

    Ron Paul’s federalist point of view seems to simply be “don’t let the central govt fuck it up for everybody.” He pretty much states this on his abortion view. While you’re correct that federalism isn’t necessarily pro-liberty, it’s at least pointed in the right direction.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/2007/05/07/reparations-for-guam-insanity-squared/ Doug Mataconis

    JS290,

    Then why did he also say that he would have supported something like the Defense of Marriage Act ?

  • Monitor

    Here’s the thing if Ron Paul DOES get the nomination:

    That necessarily means that the whole basis of political dialog will have shifted into previously undiscussed areas of monetary policy/Fed Reserve, empire building, the legitimacy of the current welfare state, and other fringe things.

    I dont see this happening other than the usual “debate moments” and other soundbites. I see America as “embracing the stupid” pretty much for the forseeable future.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/2007/05/07/reparations-for-guam-insanity-squared/ Doug Mataconis

    Monitor,

    That’s what I’d like to think will happen, but Paul seems to be building his entire campaign around one issue — opposition to the Iraq War.

    It might be a smart strategy electorally, but it belies the fact that when it comes to issues like those you mention, there’s virtually nobody in Congress, Republican or Democrat, who agrees with him.

    If the goal is really to change the political system, electing a President who couldn’t get any of his programs through Congress isn’t the way to do it.

  • http://unrepentantindividual.com/ Brad Warbiany

    Doug,

    It would still be a hell of a lot better than electing Rudy or Hillary, wouldn’t it? At least we’d be having the discussion.

    And think of the sort of Supreme Court justice a guy like Ron Paul would appoint. They’d make Alito and Roberts look like big-government social conservatives… Or, rather, MORE like big-government social conservatives…

    Say it with me: Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown :-)

  • Pingback: Con Law Geek » All the Same to Me()

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/2007/05/07/reparations-for-guam-insanity-squared/ Doug Mataconis

    Brad,

    If nothing else a Ron Paul Presidency would guarantee four years of gridlock unlike anything we’ve ever seen. And I’ve long believed that, when I comes to the operation of the Federal Government, gridlock is liberty’s best friend.

    And, except for the pesky matters of foreign policy and international trade, a Ron Paul Presidency would be quite nice.

  • savealife

    It always amuses me to see people equate people who point out the hypocrisy of trade agreements and how the agreements themselves in toto are anti-free trade. Real international trade that’s free was going on throughout all of human history without benefit of WTO or any of the pantheon of daughter agreements.

    Also, no one can approach RP over foreign policy issues, seeing as how his is by far the most intelligent and sustainable. If you mean the global entities that expect more American subsidizing of foreign ventures will balk at RP being elected, why would you care? A real libertarian would never use the people’s income for these ventures. It seems that no one on Earth can imagine a United States without the entitlement largesse motherland thing.

  • savealife

    Also, those in Congress who “dont agree with” RP on Fed Reserve, Empire, the entitlement state, are barely cognizant of these issues to begin with. There is truly no discussion of any of these critical source issues because the Federal environment isnt condusive to even acknowledge these issues. The Federal environment isnt even condusive to acknowledge that the Fed Reserve, the US plan for Empire, or the gargantuan entitlement system even exist.

    Isnt it your job as a libertarian to try to change the media and political dialogue to include and even center around some of these foundational realities? Or is the American public and most of the American politicians just too dumbed down and sophmoric for that?

  • robert haley

    Back about 1960, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller published a book called, “The Future of Federalism.” It was a laudatory discourse on the great value of the federal system as a “laboratory” for the federal government in much the same terms that Thompson describes. It was not at all a defense of state’s rights. So Thompson’s views pretty much parallel those of Rockefeller.

    More significantly, Thompson is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a hard-line neo-con think tank. It’s doubtful that there’s an intervention in the wind that he wouldn’t like.

    He’s George Bush with a deeper voice. Even the conservative positions that he does spout are the result of a flip-flop somewhere in his career.

  • yar

    URGENT MESSAGE FOR ANY RP CAMPAIGN STAFFER!!! :

    It’s time for the campaign to shift both money and effort into realtime mail/TV exposure over the primarily free internet focus. I’ve examined the internet interest and campaign benefit created by the internet for RP, and it has now PEAKED. Ron Paul internet news is more and more jaded and circular in argument. It is time for the campaign to move into the next phase!!!

  • http://www.youtube.com/JiveDadson Jive Dadson

    Brad: Nope, Ron Paul is the only one in the two big parties who is worth voting for. All the others are big government demagogues. If he doesn’t get the nomination, we are screwed. But vote Libertarian anyway.

    Yar: I am not a staffer, but… Give it 11 days. The big push right now is on the Iowa Straw poll. Furthermore, the internet is being used to get boots on the ground through meetup.com. You ARE in a meetup group, right? Check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkjUimC1owY

  • http://www.youtube.com/JiveDadson Jive Dadson

    Thompson is laying back, deciding what kind of makeup will sell his basset hound visage, and what the vulnerabilities of Rudy and Julie are. Notice he hasn’t said much? He and Julie are both trying to co-opt some of Ron Paul’s platform, but it’s all inconsistent.

  • http://www.youtube.com/JiveDadson Jive Dadson

    Doug, electing a president who CAN get his measures through congress may be suicidal. First do no harm. I do not think this country can stand four more years of war-mongering or socialism.

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