Friday, December 31, 2010

America is in prehistory: In the year ahead, how about a Council of Elders?

by Bernie Quigley

For The Hill on 12/31/10

Obama had such a bad two years because he had no major executive experience and just put in people like Joe Biden. But he cleverly ditched the left and moved to the center this past week which gives him strong support. He could bring in new people now including Arnold Schwarzenegger and maybe Elizabeth Warren in a more prominent position. They are appealing and capable. It would give the President a better year.

But the change we face now is systemic. The new Tea Party Congress may be a bunch of Jacksonian rustics but it will bring a chorus for substantive issues in the states where governors will rise in importance. 17 newly elected GOP governors are coming in, most with a Tea Party bent. It is significant that mainstream conservative commentators like George Will support Judge Henry Hudson's decision on Obamacare. A year ago this was considered esoteric and libertarian. Now the state rights initiative is accepted by the responsible mainstream.

But this is not an existential threat to America. It is growth pains. Michael Gerson today has an excellent and necessary essay in the Washington Post on religion which brings perspective. In 1985, he writes, according to the British Social Attitudes survey, 63 percent of Britons called themselves Christians. In 2010, it was 42 percent, with 51 percent claiming no religion at all. But here in the U.S. there is “a fluid marketplace of faith that is favorable to faith itself.” Strong and vital religious attitudes reflect the life force of a people: Gerson’s observations suggest that Europe is in post-history, while America is in prehistory. They recede, we ascend. “Faith,” he writes, “in freedom, is ever new.” And our story of faith and freedom has barely begun yet.

America, starting with the new Congress, will begin to find regional expression because the regions and their governors will now demand it. The Tenth Amendment is the key to regionalism. I have been pitching Texas Governor Rick Perry this past year because he fully understands the state-sovereignty-as-progress paradigm and power flowing to Texas and the southwest follows the demographics. This change could easily fall into bad hands. But Perry is honest, smart and competent.

And it is serendipitous that Perry has been named chief of the Republican Governors Association this year. It indicates that the states and regions have developed a different attitude than the Washington elite to the Tea Party issues of the last two years, particularly those which pertain to state rights and responsibilities. It is historic. America has learned again the first lesson of the Founders: The only defense against federal malfeasance and unconstitutional action is the states.

Under Perry’s tenure the governors might consider an idea that took the imagination of the great ambassador George Kennan late in his life. He proposed a national Council of Elders, an idea actually first discussed by a handful of undergraduate students at Wake Forest University 16 years ago. It would be something like a national Board of Trustees or a Board of Visitors intended to advice and occasionally warn; a board of six or a dozen governors. And better than a Congress burdened by its own banality and bound by its own traditions, could sustain and amplify the new directions of the past two years.

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