Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Two Republican Parties: Do we still need the Senate?

by Bernie Quigley

For The Hill on 4/12/10

Two things were cleared up this week at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. First, there are now clearly two Republican parties: Big Government Republicans (George W. Bush and Karl Rove) and Small Government Republicans (Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, Ron Paul). The second thing is that it is now clear what we mean by “small government.” We mean state government.

“[W.] Bush increased federal spending on domestic programs more than any president since Richard Nixon, easily surpassing Bill Clinton, Carter and his own father, so much so that by 2008, America had two big-government parties,” write Reagan biographer Craig Shirley and American Conservative Union vice chair, Donald Devine, Reagan’s first director of the Office of Personnel Management, in a Washington Post op-ed.

The Southern Republican convention this week illustrated this healthy division in conservatism. It brought in new people with dynamic thinking, and Sarah Palin, correctly called now by the mainstream press, a “superstar.” Perry and Palin gave great speeches and so did Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, who sounded like Opie in his response to the President’s address to the joint session of Congress, but at the party conference making prominent reference to the Tenth Amendment and state sovereignty. Ron Paul, an outcast at the debates less than two years ago, was the venerable Old Grandfather. Tea Party is becoming a conservative theme, like a religious revival, instead of a doctrine or manifesto.

Five more states have joined the Constitutional challenge against Obamacare. Before Tea Party ideas are fully absorbed by heart and spirit, a few thoughts which were there at the beginning should be kept on.

In recent years both parties have tried to run up vast deficits when their party was in office, deficits so deep that the next in office would not be able to spend to actualize any programs. Ron Paul brings an antidote with a new approach based on Austrian economics. That his son, Rand, is doing well in his Senate race in Kentucky is auspicious. But it should not be allowed to happen again and the way to prevent it is for states and regions to demand a voice in economy.

“With President Obama’s policies of big government, big bailouts, big banks and big bureaucracy, the Democratic Party has jettisoned the working man and woman of America, who are increasingly coming to reject being ruled by one corrupt city along the Potomac. They want to be governed by themselves in their communities, their localities and their states, in a 21st-century version of the founders’ federalism,” write Shirley and Devine.

Instead of asking do we need the departments of energy or education, which is not about small government but about thinning and pruning big government, we should be asking today, do we still need the Senate? Nothing in our time represents the decline and degradation of the American spirit as the current bunch of coconuts in the Senate. The Louisiana Purchase and Ben Nelson’s Cornhusker kickback highlight a viral condition. The Senate today is the House of Lords. In original intent, the House of Lords might better have been seen as a group of advisors to those who make the laws.

The states and the regions offer a solution and one comes from America’s greatest of minds and greatest of diplomats since Franklin, George Kennan. Later in his life Kennan took to the idea of a Council of Elders, an idea floated by the Gorbachev Institute in San Francisco. It would in fact, play a role like a university’s Board of Visitors or a corporation’s Board of Directors. In this period of reflection he also suggested regional autonomy:

“I have often diverted myself, and puzzled my friends, by wondering how it would be if our country, while retaining certain of the rudiments of a federal government, were to be decentralized into something like a dozen constituent republics, absorbing not only the powers of the existing states but a considerable part of those of the present federal establishment. I could conceive of something like nine of these republics—let us say, New England; the Middle Atlantic states; the Middle West; the Northwest (from Wisconsin to the Northwest, and down the Pacific coast to central California); the Southwest (including southern California and Hawaii); Texas (by itself); the Old South; Florida (perhaps including Puerto Rico); and Alaska; plus three great self-governing urban regions, those of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles—a total of twelve constituent entities. To these entities I would accord a larger part of the present federal powers than one might suspect—large enough, in fact, to make most people gasp.”

A Council of Twelve. Under Kennan’s scheme states might consolidate their legislative bodies. There would be 12 instead of 50. It would require a Constitutional Convention like that proposed by James M. LeMunyon of Virginia and signed on to by 20 states. There would always be a role for feds; raising an army, maintaining Arlington Cemetary and the honored heritage, flying the flag.

And do we still need a Supreme Court?