Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Optional Federalist Legislation? A Victory for Town Hallers

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/27/09

After discussing health care longer than it took the Founding Fathers to form the republic, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this week sanctioned an idea which could likewise have historic consequences: Optional federal legislation; a provision with details yet undisclosed that allows the states to opt out of the public plan. This brings first to mind the fateful days of 1832 when South Carolina likewise interpreted federal mandates to be optional. It was forbidden then by President Andrew Jackson who threatened to hang the offenders. But state sovereignty is apparently being welcomed back today by Reid. This is a first material victory for the so-called Tenth Amendment movement; those who have gathered at Tea Parties and Town Hall happenings since President Obama first proposed the vast and unprecedented deficit spending which threatens today the dollar and America’s health, wealth, welfare and prestige and position in the world.

And it occurs at a critical moment; a moment when Republicans are ready to stop playing in the sand and cross the river to the new century. The race in the New York special election brings a critical beginning. As The Hill reports: “Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty became the latest Republican to buck his own party Monday, wading into a New York special election to offer support for Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman instead of the GOP nominee.” Pawlenty, who expects to run for President in 2012, followed the initiative of former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin, the first major figure to cross over.

This is popping up now here, there and everywhere among the learned and well washed. The venerable Lamar Alexander, Senator from Tennessee, is rethinking his stance on fuel standards after listening to the feisty and innovative young firebrand Susan Lynn of the Tennessee General Assembly. And today, the influential conservative commentator William Kristol writes in the Washington Post, it is a good time to be a conservative but the party is changing fast.

“The center of gravity, I suspect, will instead lie with individuals such as Palin and Huckabee and Gingrich, media personalities like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, and activists at town halls and tea parties,” he writes. “Some will lament this -- but over the past year, as those voices have dominated, conservatism has done pretty well in the body politic, and Republicans have narrowed the gap with Democrats in test ballots.”

Wall Street Journal’s venerable Peggy Noonan saw it coming when she wrote in her column in June, 2006: “Something's happening. I have a feeling we're at some new beginning, that a big breakup's coming, and that though it isn't and will not be immediately apparent, we'll someday look back on this era as the time when a shift began.” She may not like it now as she was first to raise her voice against Sarah Palin and the new Jacksonian voices rising in the heartland, but she was right then.

There doesn’t necessarily need to be a change of party, but there does need to be a change in sensibility. That time of change could be now. The mid 1800s was a wild and rustic time in America; a time of creative change. Our time resembles that time in many ways and has since the 1960s. Nothing is so volatile as a new idea. We could be seeing a youthful, conservative party rise now to challenge what Jeb Bush the other day called a party of “old white guys.” Two parties of old white guys. And not to leave out Hillary, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank, “old white guys” of every sex, creed, color and sexual orientation.