Fed Up with Phony Federalism

My Washington Examiner column this week is on Rick Perry’s 2010 book Fed Up! Stylistically, if Conscience of a Conservative is Merle Haggard, Perry’s manifesto is Lee Greenwood. Still, like Goldwater’s book, it contains some fairly radical ideas, coming from a top-tier candidate. As Ezra Klein puts it, the book’s big idea is that “most everything the federal government does is unconstitutional.”

And, indeed, most of what it does is unconstitutional – no surprise to those familiar with Cato’s constitutional work. Still, it’s surprising to hear a major national candidate indict the New Deal, call Social Security “a Ponzi scheme,” and identify – correctly, I think – the combination of the 16th and 17th amendments as a death blow to robust federalism.

Interestingly, Perry all but promises that as president, he wouldn’t prosecute medical marijuana violations in states where it’s been legalized (which would be an improvement on Obama’s record).

“If you don’t like medicinal marijuana and gay marriage, don’t move to California,” Perry writes. He complains that the Raich case made clear that “the federal government has the full prerogative to intervene in your private home if you are engaged in any activity that has some minimal relationship to the exchange of goods.” He calls the medical marijuana movement “a movement I disagree with, while appreciating the desire of Californians to decide for themselves.”

Would he stick to that? I’d bet not – it took him all of a couple of days to perform a Romney-style double-axel backflip on gay marriage. As I note in my column, his campaign is already backing off of what the Governor wrote about Social Security.

What Perry says about federalism and enumerated powers sounds sincere. Of course, Obama made all the right noises about civil liberties before he was elected. Is this sort of thing just cultural signaling to constituent groups?

In any event, it’d be a better world if promises of constitutional fidelity were taken even half as seriously by the candidates as are no-new-taxes pledges.