The Federalist from Texas
We will know within the next few weeks whether Rick Perry will follow the course of widespread speculation and become a candidate for president of the United States. This is a very good thing -- not just because he has great hair, and not just because he's married to an ex-nurse who hates ObamaCare. It is good because Rick Perry gives every indication of being a genuine federalist.
For one prominent example, in one stroke, this darling of evangelicals appears to have neutralized a lurking social issue which threatened Republican chances for kicking out Obama in 2011: gay marriage. While noting that Perry "strongly opposes same-sex marriage himself, which he's made clear," Politico quotes the Texas governor as saying:
Our friends in New York six weeks ago 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.
Perry's forthright devotion to the 10th Amendment will also allow him to oppose Roe v. Wade and federal funding for abortion, and yet not preclude the possibility of independent and libertarian support, which can be decisive. Here are the makings of a genuine "Grand Bargain," à la Henry Clay to help get the nation through a very rough patch.
A presidential campaign exhibiting real devotion to federalism can, if properly articulated and consistently applied, enlist the support of sufficient numbers of those (mainly younger) Americans who just want their shot at a job and what used to be called the American Dream. A devotion to limited government as Perry has articulated it is the bridge that can carry both the ideological and the non-ideological self-described "independents" over to the Republican's side. As Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch have observed, independents, just because they hate the "stale choice" that partisan politics has become, are not necessarily moderate -- most particularly in their aversion to the rent-seeking, cronyism, tyranny, waste, and, most importantly, fiscal catastrophe that is big and intrusive government. Younger Americans -- both the poorer ones described by a recent Pew Research study as increasingly disenchanted by Obama and those who hitherto regarded themselves as having better economic prospects but are now panicking under the double blows of a horrible job market and a college education that looks increasingly like an investment in nothing but debt -- will at least give Perry a hearing. And if Perry is anywhere near the politician he appears to be, he should be able to close the deal.
Perry needs to offer young independents something new: not the kind of contemptuous "take it or leave it, suckers" bargain Obama and the Democrats routinely offer blacks, but an honest, respectful, and limited bargain to leave the domestic issues over which his socially conservative base and many independents disagree to be settled in those jurisdictions as far from Washington, and as close to those touched by them, as possible. Washington, meanwhile, would confine itself to doing only those things that cannot -- or, more properly, need not -- be done elsewhere. To sell this bargain, Perry will also have to emphasize that embracing limited government logically leads to the kind of politics-free zone that Gillespie and Welch see as so desirable to independents. (The only place where I would quibble with them is their imputation of novelty to this sentiment; it is as old as the republic, and it is the essential stance that makes genuinely American cultural forms American.)
Even if Perry can land the kind of grand bargain I suggest, there will, of course, still be disputes aplenty among us. We will have to confront the competing demands of security in a world made more dangerous by Obama's feckless foreign policy and the inevitable fiscal constraints and just claims of individual freedom. Likewise, economic growth that must incorporate exploitation of our energy resources will have to be squared with rational stewardship of the environment. The chorus of discredited credentialed experts and compromised establishment media who conceived and promoted the disaster that has been the Obama presidency will still be there to distort and poison these and all other necessary debates.
But Obama's trampling on law, property, and truth has served as a hard lesson for an unprecedented proportion of Americans in the high price that must be paid to secure the dubious blessings of big government. We are now awake from the dream of Hope and Change to discover our institutions, our social order, our economic health, and our cultural vitality all diminished by the deadening hand of malignant busybodies who presume to tell us how we must live.
Irving Kristol used to tell a story about a young man who approached his rabbi to confess he felt his faith was too weak. The rabbi wisely responded: "Just be observant, and faith will come eventually." Will a smartly run Perry campaign make independents and Libertarians conservatives? Of course not -- at least not right away. But Americans have forgotten what constitutional government even is, so a presidential campaign that seeks to build a new majority on a broad rejection of Obama's demonstrated alternative is a good first step.