Monday, April 20, 2009

Rick Perry: “ states rights, states rights, states rights . . .” – a Jeffersonian Awakening in Texas

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 4/19/09

Something of possibly great historic importance occurred on April 15 at the “tea party” anti-tax demonstrations. Heartland America found a voice and a natural leader: Rick Perry.

The story, which made a sardonic splash on the op-ed pages of The New York Times and the other major venues this Saturday, was not so much about the substance of what he said, but that the Governor of Texas, American native son, rancher and Texan back to the fifth generation, had the audacity to speak at all. Perry, the most temperate, main street, main stream, straight-arrow Eagle Scout of governors, was widely accused of threatening Texas secession. He did use the phrase, “states rights.” Indeed, he used it is a chant, like “ . . . states rights, states rights, states rights . . . .” He did not of course endorse Texas secession, but he did remind listeners that we are a nation of states and that states form the first circle of our responsibility and power.

History enters the world hiding in plain sight. It is ignored at first, then patronized. Next, hostility builds against it, then panic.

Libertarians still may be largely ignored by major press outlets but their ideas are being rapidly assimilated today by both major parties. And Libertarians today are the primary purveyors of Jeffersonian ideals; ideals and ideas which call for state, local and regional control and local-grown culture rather than federally dictated policy and mandates. Could New England ever find its own nature and identity again and get its mo-jo back from New York? Hard to say. So much has come and gone since 1865 and dominance by the territorial imperatives of Wall Street, the Empire State and the Hamiltonian federalists, like the huge mother ship in the movie Close Encounters, hovering over our heads.

I first felt the new Libertarian influence just five years ago when Mitt Romney, then Governor of Massachusetts, disparagingly used the phrase “one size fits all federalism,” a phrase Perry repeated in his speech on April 15. The core of the complaint is that what is right for the Gulf States and the Katrina region is not necessarily right for New England. And what it good for Kansas is irrelevant to the Pacific Northwest. People are different and they are better different.

New visions of federalism like those of Jefferson and Madison were being suggested at The Federalist Society where Romney had given a speech. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. became apoplectic when newly appointed Justice John Roberts was said to have had some relationship with The Federalist Society. Later Schlesinger’s political ally Robert Rubin, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of the Treasury, started something called The Hamilton Project. The core of Hamiltonian thinking is One Size Fits All Federalism; a centralized government which controls all; optimally, all of the world. It is a vision which has since taken a quantum leap in the Obama administration, where the New Man of Washington – Obama Man - is that bland and neurotic protagonist of so much 19th century Slavic literature, the dreary government clerk in a heavy overcoat carrying his tea slowly through the night and fog.

“In the beginning of Washington’s administration two men defined the fundamental principles of the two societies, Alexander Hamilton for the North and Jefferson for the South,” wrote the Vanderbilt Agrarian Frank Owsley. “The one was extreme centralization, the other was extreme decentralization; the one was nationalistic and the other provincial; the first was called Federalism, the other States Rights, but in truth the first should have been called Unitarianism and the second Federalism.”

The Obama interlude aside, the Hamiltonian part of our American journey may be drawing to an end. As Hamilton’s vision dominated from Jay’s Treaty in 1795 to the present, we are seeing now the Jefferson tendency arise.

That is what was going on across agrarian America in the anti-tax “tea party” demonstrations on April 15.