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 It was a fine idea that should never have been revoked.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 â€œforâ€ federalism, because in todayâ€™s world it is not always clear what that means. What we are â€œforâ€ 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 â€“ meaning the federal government, the states, our communities and constituents â€“ 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 â€“ a fundamental commitment would be abandoned and, among state governments, a â€œrace to the bottomâ€ 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 1990â€™s, because Washington â€“ for once â€“ 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. Itâ€™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.