Political Animal


August 04, 2011 12:35 PM Federalism at its most shallow

By Steve Benen

It’s hardly breaking news that Republican rhetoric about “federalism” and “states’ rights” lacks consistency and intellectual heft. But Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), a likely presidential hopeful, is pushing the envelope in almost comical ways.

Michael Scherer had a good piece on this today.

Texas Governor Rick Perry is not just any federalist. He is the grand poobah of federalists, an alpha-dog federalist, a federalist other federalists dare not challenge. His call for state sovereignty and a limited federal encroachment on “liberty” has been a central plank of his political rise. There is an entire section on his official website paying homage to the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, where he lays out his “Governing Principle”: “States are best positioned to deal with state issues.”

So Perry did not hesitate when he was asked on July 23 what he thought about New York state legalizing gay marriage. “That is their call,” he said. “If you believe in the 10th Amendment, stay out of their business.” A few days later, there was no quaver in his voice when asked if states should be able to allow abortion. “You either have to believe in the 10th Amendment or you don’t,” Perry said. “You can’t believe in the 10th Amendment for a few issues and then [for] something that doesn’t suit you say, ‘We’d rather not have states decide that.’”

Crystal clear. Principled. Uncompromising. Except, not really.

No, not even close. Less than two weeks after staking out purely federalist positions on marriage and reproductive rights, Perry, who no doubt received a stern lecture from party strategists, decided to abandon the philosophy that stood as the core of his national persona.

Perry said this week that he now supports a constitutional amendment to prevent marriage equality, as well as a constitutional amendment to prohibit abortions, both of which reject the idea that states are capable of addressing the issues on their own. (While we’re at it, the Texas governor also wants to change the constitution to require balanced budgets.)

Now, I understand why Perry is saying these things. He’s generally a darling of the religious right, which remains influential in some Republican circles, most notably in Iowa, and which cares far more about gays and abortion than some philosophical argument about “states’ rights.”

But Perry has to realize how ridiculous he looks. For years, federalism has been his raison d’etre. As recently as 12 days ago, the governor was sticking to the federalist line.

And now these principles have been cast aside in the name of political expediency.

It’s not quite as ridiculous as Mitt Romney’s series of radical ideological transformations, but it’s close.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • efgoldman on August 04, 2011 12:46 PM:

    Related (and also linked in the campaign thread)


    captcha tionsfun Barry,

  • DAY on August 04, 2011 12:46 PM:

    "But Perry has to realize how ridiculous he looks."

    Self awareness is not a Republican strong suit.

  • c u n d gulag on August 04, 2011 12:50 PM:

    Well, when Governor 'Perry, Perry Stupid' secceedes, Texas will be its own federation, so he'll be state federalist, or a federal statist.

    I have no earthly idea of wtf I just said.

    Sweet Jesus, does that mean I'm morphing into a Republican?

    HELP ME!!!

  • Trollop on August 04, 2011 12:59 PM:

    This guy is dangerous, I can see a new "Reagan" from a mile away. You know, the one who twists her head around and vomits a lot. Seriously though, this guy has massive idiot appeal, and as we are all well aware of, America is chock-full of idiots!

  • cmdicely on August 04, 2011 12:59 PM:

    Texas Governor Rick Perry is not just any federalist. He is the grand poobah of federalists, an alpha-dog federalist, a federalist other federalists dare not challenge.

    I think you mean anti-federalist. Federalists support a strong federal government, anti-federalists oppose that in favor of a loose confederation and states.

    Yeah, yeah, I know that, in a move very similar to the "Clean Skies Initiative", there are people who have been using up-is-down language on this issue, but you don't have to accept it.

  • T2 on August 04, 2011 12:59 PM:

    Perry is an arrogant blowhard. He is a also a take-no-prisoners campaigner- he plays to win. And if that means flip-flopping from speech to speech, audience to audience, that's what he'll do. He refuse to debate an opponent, then blame the opponent when the debate doesn't take place. Truth means nothing, winning is everything.
    This weekend Perry will host "The Response", a hardline Evangelical/Klan-style rally in Houston, sponsored by Evangelical fringe groups that also donate heavily to Perry. It will be interesting to see which Rick Perry shows up - the loud talking Preacherman or the shifty politician. I hope the Media covers it because it should be a sound-bite festival.
    Rumor has it that advance ticket sales are slow.

  • Danp on August 04, 2011 1:01 PM:

    It's no worse than insisting we follow the wisdom of the founding fathers, even if it means ammending the Constitution to truly reflect that wisdom.

  • Trollopoly on August 04, 2011 1:02 PM:

    he will also have and take advantage of a very complicit media.. Another fucking Jesus guy..

  • Anon on August 04, 2011 1:03 PM:

    Shouldn't he have declared by now? Didn't Fred Thompson wait until August and then get hampered with an image of being too half-*ssed in his approach?

    I guess he put out the image as the white knight riding to the rescue of a weak candidate field, but at this point he's got less than six months to make a presence in the first primary states and the other candidates have a considerable lead on him there.

    I'm beginning to think that more likely he's angling to make himself an ideal VP candidate.

  • Lindershaw on August 04, 2011 1:10 PM:

    In the CBN interview, it is not clear what kind of abortion amendment Perry is referring to, but most likely it would be one that would leave it up to states to make laws regarding abortion. That would be consistent with his federalism/states' rights philosophy.

  • Todd Pritsky on August 04, 2011 1:17 PM:

    I think you mean anti-federalist. Federalists support a strong federal government, anti-federalists oppose that in favor of a loose confederation and states.

    Well, using classic party delineations from the Founding Era, yes, Federalists argued for the Constitution and Antis preferred something like the Articles.

    But a general definition of "federalist/ism" simply means you back the idea of divided sovereignty, implying there are some things left to the lower state level (even without a strong 10th interpretation).

    Anyway, I do have to defend Perry on one thing: his calling for amendments would still be consistent with his philosophy in that the Constitution already restricts certain state powers and grants the Federal government monopolies over others. So if his worldview were that abortion and marriage falls under the national purview (ala commerce or coinage), then codifying it in the supreme law of the land is the only way to really do it (as opposed to something stupid like DOMA).

  • JM917 on August 04, 2011 1:20 PM:

    My guess is that Perry is timing his announcement for after the Iowa Straw Poll. He wasn't well enough organized for the ISP, which involves paying to bus thousands of rubes to Ames and feed 'em while they're there, so they'll vote for you. Like what politicians (including George Washington) in colonial Virginia called "swilling the planters with bumbo"--holding ox-roasts and letting the punch flow freely.

    Anyway, Perry didn't have time to organize all that bumbo business in time for the ISP, so he held off his announcement until all the bumbo has been swilled and he can excuse his lackluster performance on grounds he wasn't yet a "declared candidate." My bet is that Bachmann will emerge the bumbo champion.

    It'll be interesting to see what his traction looks like if Perry's great Jesus-fest in Houston turns out to have too many empty seats. He'll probably blame it on the hot weather--and the weather, in turn, on the machinations of Satan, who as everyone knows is a card-carrying librul.

    Actually, though, I'm pinning my hopes on Perry running and demolishing Willard Mitty in the GOP primaries. Though he's a frightening extremist (and would be a nightmare should he ever get into the White House), he should also be fairly easy for Obama to tear apart as a dangerous kook in the general election. Of course, Jimmy Carter thought that way about Ronald Reagan back in 1980. But Perry makes Reagan look almost like a Rockefeller Republican by comparison.

  • President Lindsay on August 04, 2011 1:27 PM:

    Perry channeling Groucho: “Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others.”

  • Donna on August 04, 2011 1:55 PM:

    Political expediency, thy name is Rick Perry.

    He's always been that way.

  • T2 on August 04, 2011 2:08 PM:

    Anon-Rick Perry ain't no Fred Thompson.
    JM917- if the Response is a dud, you can bet Rick will blame it on the weather or something-Rick Perry has never taken the blame for anything. That said, it is pretty damn hot down there.
    And don't think he'll get pushed around by Obama (I've not seen anyone pushed around by Obama). Perry knows how to hammer a point and stick to it regardless of how incorrect/stupid/crazy it is- he could care less about the facts.

  • Texas Aggie on August 04, 2011 2:16 PM:

    Don't make too much fun of Goodhair and for God sake do not underestimate the people who are his support crew. Read the following article from the Texas Observer to get an idea of what makes the SOB tick and how he has managed to get as far as he has despite destroying The Republic in the process.


  • Rev Larry Robinson on August 04, 2011 3:03 PM:

    the definition of marriage transcends federalism. The leftist attempt to destroy the very definition of family goes straight back to Marx as he noted in his Communist Manifesto

    "Abolition of the family! Even the most radical flare up at this infamous proposal of the Communists.
    On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain. In its completely developed form, this family exists only among the bourgeoisie. But this state of things finds its complement in the practical absence of the family among proletarians, and in public prostitution.
    The bourgeois family will vanish as a matter of course when its complement vanishes, and both will vanish with the vanishing of capital.
    Bourgeois marriage is, in reality, a system of wives in common and thus, at the most, what the Communists might possibly be reproached with is that they desire to introduce, in substitution for a hypocritically concealed, an openly legalized system of free love. For the rest, it is self-evident that the abolition of the present system of production must bring with it the abolition of free love springing from that system, i.e., of prostitution both public and private."

    Redefining marriage is an essential element in this goal of destroying the historic institution of marriage and family and thus our entire US society

    "A vitiated state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom. No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue; and by a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles."-Patrick Henry

    "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
    John Adams, Address to the Military, October 11, 1798

  • ckelly on August 04, 2011 3:18 PM:

    Texas Governor Rick Perry is not just any hypocrite. He is the grand poobah of hypocrites, an alpha-dog hypocrite, a hypocrite other hypocrites dare not challenge.

    Rick Perry is the grand poobah of fake, phony, frauds. He's a sack of shit wrapped in a tight bow of lies and dishonesty blowing in the prevailing political winds. He stands for nothing but monetary and political gain.

  • Anon on August 04, 2011 3:24 PM:

    T2, I certainly agree that Perry is a far more credible candidate that Thompson was, but one of the (many) big missteps of Thompson's campaign from what I gathered was that he waited far too late in the season to declare, which was at the time late summer. At this point the other candidates have a five or six month lead on Perry for just getting their names out there and being a presence in the primary states. Has he even formed an exploratory committee?

    Yeah, I think he's got huge backing from both the Teapartiers and the religious right (he's been very shrewd about locking those two until now quite different contingencies up) but it's still odd to wait THIS long.

  • ckelly on August 04, 2011 3:24 PM:

    Anyway, I do have to defend Perry on one thing: his calling for amendments would still be consistent with his philosophy in that the Constitution already restricts certain state powers and grants the Federal government monopolies over others.

    Except Perry opposes these restrictions of state powers and abhors Fed govt monopolies over others. Yet here he is granting Fed control over the issues of his choosing.

  • ckelly on August 04, 2011 3:29 PM:

    Is this "Rev Larry Robinson" for real? I've been away for a while and am not sure if he's a parody. If real, Rev Larry, I eagerly await your proposal and support for Constitutional amendments outlawing divorce, separation, and adultery.

  • cmdicely on August 04, 2011 4:17 PM:

    But a general definition of "federalist/ism" simply means you back the idea of divided sovereignty, implying there are some things left to the lower state level (even without a strong 10th interpretation).

    But that still makes it an inaccurate label for an advocate for change in the direction of states rights over federal power; divided soveriegnty with some things reserved to the states is the status quo. A noted and fairly extreme, rhetorically, advocate of exclusive state power in areas of traditional responsibility isn't "the grand poobah of federalism", if they are the grand poobah of anything, it is balkanization, not federalism.

  • T2 on August 04, 2011 5:15 PM:

    Anon, point taken. However Pawlenty has been in from the start and where's it getting him (short answer: out ). I think Perry can read at least at a 4th grade level and the polls are telling him that once he gets in, he's going to the top.....he can wait. Also, remember one key thing about Perry - like his predecessor Bush, he's pretty much a lazy guy, doesn't like work. I mean he barely campaigned at all for the past governor race, knowing he was gonna win anyway. As a matter of fact, he's never lost any race he's entered.

  • INTJ on August 04, 2011 5:44 PM:

    Except not quite...it isn't at all inconsistent for 10th amendment supporters to support a constitutional amendments to prevent some states from forcing other states to accept their views, which those who support gay marriage wish to do by killing DOMA. The amendment itself prevent gay marriage from "crossing state lines" as it were, and that is certainly within states' rights boundaries.

    You seem to have him on the abortion issue, but he would hardly be the first politician to have flip-flopped on some aspect of that issue, and his would not even be on the central question of whether it should be legal in the first place.

  • Old Uncle Dave on August 04, 2011 6:46 PM:

    I'd sure like to see some of the states rights republicans defending a state's right to pass its own marijuana laws.

  • Daniel Kim on August 04, 2011 7:10 PM:

    Any effort to have the government define marriage on so-called Biblical grounds should include the statement:

    "And is dissolved only by death."

    Anyone who wishes to be married will have to be married until death. If the married couple chooses to live separately, take on adulterous partners and have other illegitimate children, like Reagan, Gingrich, McCain, etc., that's fine. They just can't get "married" again or claim any of the other benefits that go with marriage for their adulterous partners or illegitimate progeny.

  • John D. Froelich on August 04, 2011 7:22 PM:

    Logically, Abortion and "Gay Marriage" should both be either Federal or State together.

  • JM917 on August 04, 2011 7:31 PM:

    @ Daniel Kim:

    Great! And under the new biblically inspired federal law the penalty for adulterous spouses should be death by stoning. I'm sure that would become a popular spectator--no, make that participatory--sport down in Texas.

  • Doug on August 04, 2011 9:07 PM:

    While not doubting those who aver that Gov. Perry is not completely insane, it should be noted that "The Response" auto de fe in Texas has serious problems. The venue seats 71,000 and, as of yesterday, there were only 7,000 seats sold.
    One can only hope that's a true reflection of Perry's "draw"...