On Federalism

[b]It’s refreshing to read something that hinges on an inherent principle as it’s anchor.  Whether you agree with the principle or not is immaterial.  But anyone who is at least willing to try and base policy on principle vice polls is worth a hard look.[/b]

The Framers drew their design for our Constitution from a basic understanding of human nature. From the wisdom of the ages and from fresh experience, they understood the better angels of our nature, and the less admirable qualities of human beings entrusted with power.

The Framers believed in free markets, rights of property and the rule of law, and they set these principles firmly in the Constitution. Above all, the Framers enshrined in our founding documents, and left to our care, the principle that rights come from our Creator and not from our government.

We developed institutions that allowed these principles to take root and flourish: a government of limited powers derived from, and assigned to, first the people, then the states, and finally the national government. A government strong enough to protect us and do its job competently, but modest and humane enough to let the people govern themselves. Centralized government is not the solution to all of our problems and – with too much power – such centralization has a way of compounding our problems. This was among the great insights of 1787, and it is just as vital in 2007.

The federalist construct of strong states and limited federal government put in place by our Founders was intended to give states the freedom to experiment and innovate. It envisions states as laboratories in competition with each other to develop ideas and programs to benefit their people, to see what works and what does not.

This ingenious means of governing a large and diverse nation prevailed for more than a century. But today our Constitution and the limited, federalist government it established, are considered by many to be quaint or out of touch with the world we live in, to be swept aside by political expediency.

The Supreme Court sometimes ignores the written Constitution to reflect its view of the times. So does Congress, which routinely forgets that our checks and balances, the separation of powers and our system of federalism are designed to diffuse power and protect the liberties of our people. Before anything else, folks in Washington ought to be asking first and foremost, “Should government be doing this? And if so, then at what level of government?” But they don’t.

The result has been decades of growth in the size, scope and function of national government. Today’s governance of mandates, pre-emptions, regulations, and federal programs bears little resemblance to the balanced system the Framers intended.

This in no way diminishes the important role played by the national government, including ensuring our national security, and regulating interstate commerce to promote free markets. Indeed, a commitment to federalism would help the federal government do a better job in addressing national emergencies and emerging threats, because it could focus on these issues rather than on everything else it is trying to do. A proper regard for constitutional boundaries would also go a long way in avoiding the arguments that follow when Washington acts by decree, disregarding the elected representatives of the fifty states.

You know better than anyone how involvement from Washington affects nearly every policy, program, and aspect of your jobs. But beyond the nuisance of duplicative state and federal requirements, one might wonder if a division of responsibility between the federal government and the states is still important. The answer must be a resounding yes.

Federalism is not an 18th century notion. Or a 19th century notion. It retains its force as a basic principle in the 21st century, because when federalism is ignored, accountability, innovation, and public confidence in government at all levels suffer.

It is as true today as it ever was: the closer a government is to its people, the more responsive it is to the felt needs of its constituencies. Too often, however, state and local leaders have to answer to federal bureaucrats first and their constituents second. When the federal government mandates a program that states and localities are forced to implement, or when a federal grant program is created to fund a specific state or community need, it blurs the lines of accountability.

Who answers to the people if a program fails? The federal government will point to state authorities carrying out the program; the states will point to the federal government, which came up with the program in the first place. And in the end no one is more confused than the people the program is supposed to be serving, who can’t even say for sure who is responsible for what. This does not argue against all federal programs but it does require the recognition that there, indeed, are trade-offs.

Back in my days in the Senate, I found myself on the short end of a couple of 99 to 1 votes. They involved issues that had been under the purview of states for over 200 years. I asked why we should federalize what rightly were state and local issues.

I’ve been saying it for years, and it bears repeating: what works in Tennessee may not work in Nebraska and may be different from what succeeds in Oregon. That’s why President Ronald Reagan compared federalism to letting a thousand sparks of genius in the states and communities around this country catch fire. It’s not a perfect system, but it works a lot better than the alternative of central planning.

We need to allow local authorities to apply their own good ideas and use their own good judgment. Each state can find its own way, learning from the successes and failures of the others. There is a wealth of creativity and initiative out there in the states, and often the best ideas in Washington started out as state initiatives.

A good example of this early in my Senate service was welfare reform. We were warned that terrible things would happen if we went forward with a bill – a fundamental commitment would be abandoned and, among state governments, a “race to the bottom” would begin.

But key to our approach were elements of welfare reform that had proved successful in various states, such as Colorado, Michigan and Wisconsin. The result was a law that allowed us to better meet our commitments to our fellow citizens. It was one of the great political successes of the 1990’s, because Washington – for once – had the good sense to learn from state and local authorities and empower them in return.

When you hold firm to the principles of federalism, there’s another advantage: our federal government can better carry out its own defining responsibilities – above all else, the security of our nation and the safety of our citizens. Sometimes I think that our leaders in Washington try to do so many things, in so many areas, that they lose sight of their basic responsibilities.

We saw some improvement in the post-1994, “Contract with America” takeover of Congress – strings to federal programs were cut, more federal programs were being turned over to states, historic legislation to reduce unfunded mandates became law, and we rolled back the Clinton anti-federalism executive order. But in recent years we’ve seen backsliding.

The recent immigration bill was a case in point. That bill failed, and it failed for good reason. The federal government simply had no credibility on the issue.

The promises of the 1986 immigration bill have not been fulfilled. Current laws have not been enforced. The federal government has been failing in its fundamental responsibility to control the borders. Worse, when state officials have tried to act with reforms of their own, federal authorities have gotten in the way. In the end, many in both parties in Congress have learned a lesson: promises about immigration reform aren’t worth much unless you have credibility. And in this case there’s only one way that credibility can be regained. Federal leaders must do their job and secure the borders of the United States.

Law enforcement in general is a matter on which Congress has been very active in recent years, not always to good effect and usually at the expense of state authority. When I served as a federal prosecutor, there were not all that many federal crimes, and most of those involved federal interests. Since the 1980’s, however, Congress has aggressively federalized all sorts of crimes that the states have traditionally prosecuted and punished. While these federal laws allow Members of Congress to tell the voters how tough they are on crime, there are few good reasons why most of them are necessary.

For example, it is a specific federal crime to use the symbol of 4-H Clubs with the intent to defraud. And don’t even think about using the Swiss Confederation’s coat of arms for commercial purposes. That’s a federal offense, too.

Groups as diverse as the American Bar Association and the Heritage Foundation have reported that there are more than three thousand, five hundred distinct federal crimes and more than 10,000 administrative regulations scattered over 50 section of the U.S. code that runs at more than 27,000 pages. More than 40 percent of these regulatory criminal laws have been enacted since 1973.

I held hearings on the over-federalization of criminal law when I was in the Senate. You hear that the states are not doing a good job at prosecuting certain crimes, that their sentencing laws are not tough enough, that it’s too easy to make bail in state court. If these are true, why allow those responsible in the states to shirk that responsibility by having the federal government make up for the shortcomings in state law? Accountability gets displaced.

Now, there are plenty of areas in criminal law where a federal role is appropriate. More and more crime occurs across state and national boundaries; the Internet is increasingly a haven for illegal activity. A federal role is appropriate in these and other instances. But today the Federal Bureau of Prisons has quadrupled in size in little more than 20 years.

Perhaps the clearest example of federal over-involvement in state and local responsibilities is public education. It’s the classic case of how the federal government buys authority over state and local matters with tax-payer money and ends up squandering both the authority and the money while imposing additional burdens on states.

Between 1970 and 2005, federal spending on education increased nearly 150 percent without results to match. The No Child Left Behind law itself increased federal funding by some 26 percent, while creating 50 new educational programs nationally, imposing almost 7 million hours and more than 140 million dollars in compliance time and costs. The classrooms of America, where the learning actually takes place, receive but 61 cents out of every tax-payer dollar appropriated.

A little more federalist confidence in the wisdom of state and local governments might go a long way toward improving America’s public schools. The most encouraging reforms in education are occurring at the local level, with options like charter schools. And often the best thing Washington can do is let the states, school districts, teachers and parents set their own policies and run their own schools.

It is appropriate for the federal government to provide funding and set goals for the state to meet in exchange for that funding. However, it is not a good idea for the federal government to specifically set forth the means to be used in order to reach those goals. Adherence to this principle would make for fewer bureaucracies, fewer regulations, and less expense, while promoting educational achievement. There are bills pending in Congress that would move us in this direction, and I hope Congress gives them the attention they deserve.

Beyond specific policies, what’s needed are some basic rules to restrain the federal rule-makers.

A good first step would be to codify the Executive Order on Federalism first signed by President Ronald Reagan. That Executive Order, first revoked by President Clinton, then modified to the point of uselessness, required agencies to respect the principle of the Tenth Amendment when formulating policies and implementing the laws passed by Congress. It preserved the division of responsibilities between the states and the federal government envisioned by the Framers of the Constitution. It was a fine idea that should never have been revoked. The next president should put it right back in effect, and see to it that the rightful authority of state and local governments is respected.

It is not enough to say that we are “for” federalism, because in today’s world it is not always clear what that means. What we are “for” is liberty for our citizens. Federalism divides power between the states and government in Washington. It is a tool to promote freedom. How we draw the line between federal and state roles in this century, and how we stay true to the principles of federalism for the purpose of protecting economic and individual freedom are questions we must answer. Our challenge – meaning the federal government, the states, our communities and constituents – is to answer these questions together.

-Fred D. Thompson


Fred Thompson speaks on Ed Morrissey’s CQ Radio

Here’s a great statement from Senator Thompson with his reaction to the left painting him as an insider Washington Lobbyist.

Listen Here

So, How are things going for Fred Thompson?

Here’s a great piece by our friends at  Colorado for Thompson.


Well, time for a status report on the way I see things

Things have been hitting a few bumps here and there, as can be expected. After all, how many times has a candidate been drafted for President of the USA over the objection of the establishment, and over the internet? Precisely Zero. So we are breaking new ground here.

On the bright side, it looks as though our early activism (dating back to March here) has set the tide for Fred to declare a run for the presidency. He has garnered a lot of press, and has gotten a lot of net-support from all parts of the blogosphere.

On the not-so-bright side, there are the constant baseless attacks of the conspiracy loonies in the “Travis Bickle” contingent that back Ron Paul (and mindlessly attack anything that is not Ron Paul), the clueless inside-the-beltway people like the bloggers and columnists who regurgitate talking-head points – points we online folks have dealt with long ago online (see Fred Thompson FAQs for a shining example), and smear merchants and whispering campaigns from other campaigns – the ones Fred himself termed “gnats”.

It is the price you pay when you become viable – people with entrenched interests are going to attack. And attack they have. The prior issues are really not all that important in the grand scheme of things, after all Ron Paul’s lunacy is apparent to anyone that bothers to deeply research his past performance and positions, and his backing of the conspiracy cabal. And the other stuff? Its been dismissed by any reasonable observer after they have all the facts in hand – the truth is a great weapon to have on your side. The sad truth is: Half-truths, dis-ingenuousness and lies of omission have become standard operating procedure for politicians who have nothing to run for and therefore need something to run against. Which is why Fred’s opponents have started in with such things.

It is to be expected, and with the net and all the supporters out there the speed of response is so fast that these disinformation campaigns are quashed for lack of credibility before they can gain any traction (as they say in the open source world “more eyes makes for shallow bugs”).

Fred Thompson, given his power base in the Grass Roots and movement conservatives, does not need to seek the approval or permission of the insiders, nor will he need to kiss the ring (or any other part) of people like George Will and the other east-coast elites, who have set themselves up as faux kingmakers for the Republican party.

So, the big news for Prince George Will, Senator Foghorn Leghorn Lott, and your snooty elite Beltway and East Coast courtiers: your time is up.

You gave us George Bush 41 who then gave us Bill Clinton, and now George Bush 43.

Bush 43 gave us the largest entitlement program ever (Medicare prescription drug program), the No Child Left Behind act, a medal of freedom for that boob George Tenet (who should have been fired, not decorated), an untamed and undisciplined CIA that is at war with the executive branch (Scooter Libby), an incompetent Attorney General who has been so busy being a political errand boy (cleaning out prosecutors) that he has left important judicial nominations EMPTY for years. A President that started a war and then refused to defend it or appoint someone capable of articulating it well – and then he has mismanaged it completely with his misplaced penchant for loyalty over competence (Rumsfeld’s resignation was ill timed and far too late). Bush also attempted to foist Harriet Myers on us, and even now is trying to jam a disastrous improperly formed and wrong-headed bill on immigration amnesty down our throats — all whilst insulting us and impugning our motives.

You’ve had your run and it has ended in the Congressional and state electoral disasters of 2006 and the maelstrom of incompetence & pigheadedness which the Bush administration has become, all while it is circling the drain in effectiveness and public opinion.

Well guess what Kingmakers: We are coming to kick you out. Start packing – because we are going to do the one thing you fear most: we are going to do our best to make you irrelevant, just like the internet is hammering print news (As the NYT and other papers about circulation numbers). Your money and “rep” might be able to buy congressmen, but it cannot buy the most important thing: our votes. And without those, you lose. Never forget that – 2006 should have been your lesson. This candidacy and the immigration bill are your chance to show that you have learned.

But no matter what, this time, we the people are not going to vote for your handpicked “Next guy in line” candidate, bought and sold by the old Country Club and Rockefeller Repubs. No thanks to your presenting to us a Scylla and Charybdis; We will instead vote for someone that came from the Sam’s Club Repubs side of things, someone we choose: A conservative who truly believes our causes at his core, a federalist who is well spoken and can deliver the message of small government that works better, and strong on defense and the war on terror: Fred Thompson.

Whether you come along or not, this train is leaving the station in a few weeks. Its your choice to be on it or under it.

For those of you on the Thompson Chattanooga Choo-Choo already – get ready, its going to be one wild ride. Be ready – soon we will need to stand.

Thompson on Leno

I was honestly a little worried about the reluctant hero schtick that we had heard from Thompson early.  I found it a little canned.  But last night was the second time I’ve heard him deliver the  “…but I want to do some things that only a can do.” line.  Great line and great delivering.  Hat tip to whoever came up with that one.  Completely sincere and buyable.

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Fred Thompson didn’t enter the 2008 presidential race Tuesday, but he talked like he was getting close to jumping in.

Asked by Jay Leno on NBC ‘s “The Tonight Show” if he’d like the nation’s top job, the former Tennessee senator said, “I’ve never craved the job of president, but I want to do some things that only a president can do.”

“So,” Thompson added, “the answer is yes.”

Thompson – a Republican best known for playing a prosecutor on NBC’s “Law & Order” – has formed a presidential exploratory committee and is expected to join the GOP race this summer.

He insisted he wasn’t ready to make any announcements on Leno’s couch, but made a point to mention the Web site for his political committee. When asked by Leno about his reaction to the political waters, Thompson said he found them “warm.”

“I’m at a stage of my life now when I think about my country, I think about the kind of country my kids are going to grow up in,” he said.

He griped about campaigns that “are entirely too long.” And he took a swipe at Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, saying she was “trying to balance … her prior positions with the new requirements of politics in the Democratic Party.”

If he runs, it will be as a Washington outsider.

Referring to his time in the U.S. Senate, he said, “I often say after eight years in Washington, I longed for the realism and sincerity of Hollywood.”

From AOL.

Thompson tied at the top in new Rassmussen Poll

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has to share his spot atop the field of Republican Presidential hopefuls this week. The newest face in the race, former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson, is now tied with Giuliani. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds each man earning support from 24% of likely Republican Primary voters. A week ago, Giuliani had a six percentage point lead over Thompson, 23% to 17%.

It is not unusual for a candidate to gain ground in the polls when they first announce their intentions. However, Thompson’s rise has been meteoric. It remains to be seen whether the reality of his candidacy can measure up to its allure as an alternative for those dissatisfied with the other candidates in the field. At the moment, 59% of Republicans have a favorable opinion of their newest candidate. Just 14% hold an unfavorable opinion of Thompson while 27% are not sure.

Also note, that as we discussed here as long ago as April, McCain would pay the heaviest price when Thompson declared. 

Just as startling as Thompson’s rise in this week’s poll is the continuing loss of support for Arizona Senator John McCain. The man once considered the dominant front runner in the race is now supported by just 11% of likely Republican Primary voters nationwide. That’s down from 17% in May and 14% a week ago. His support is just half of what it was in January.

A big thanks to my good friends over at FredThompsonMO for the link.  Check them out for all things Fred Thompson.

Matalin-Lindsey Join Thompson team.

Also from NewsMax today… 

Mary Matalin, former counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney, is joining likely presidential candidate Fred Thompson’s team and will serve as an unpaid adviser.

Matalin, who served as treasurer for Sen. George Allen’s unsuccessful re-election campaign last year, is a friend of Thompson and his wife Jeri, Politico.com reports.

Also joining the Thompson team is Lawrence Lindsey, President George Bush’s first economic adviser and a proponent of his tax cuts. He will serve as chief architect of Thompson’s economic policy.

Meanwhile, President Bush’s nephew George P. Bush – son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush – has contributed to Thompson’s prospective campaign and co-signed an e-mail asked friends and associates to contribute as well.

Fred Thompson faces Critics on the Right.

Today must be bizarre headline day.  This headline from Newsmax leads readers to believe that Conservatives have reacted negatively to Thompson’s announcement.  But a reading of the article shows the opposite.  A nice story by NewsMax.  The headline is just a little too misleading for my taste. 

While many Republican voters view likely presidential candidate Fred Thompson as the great conservative hope of 2008, a review of Thompson’s Senate voting record and past comments could change the minds of some conservatives.

Thompson was quoted expressing support for abortion rights in 1994 when he first ran for the Senate from Tennessee, although once in the Senate, he consistently voted pro-life.

He not only voted for, but was a major booster of the campaign finance reform bill that many conservatives believe infringes on free speech. And although he has been a vocal opponent of the Senate’s current immigration reform bill, he supported legislation in 1998 to help illegal immigrant farm workers temporarily stay in the U.S.

“He’s a nice enough guy, but the idea he is the second coming of Reagan is a bit exaggerated,” David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, told Cybercast News Service.

“The interest in his candidacy signals the dissatisfaction voters have with the first tier. He could fill the void for people who are saying, ‘gee, isn’t there anybody else,'” Keene added.

The first questions surrounding Thompson and abortion appear on a 1994 candidate survey from the non-partisan group Project Vote Smart, in which he answered that abortions should always be legal in the first trimester of the pregnancy. He also indicated his support for parental notification laws.

During that same year, in the July/August 1994 issue of Republican Liberty, a newsletter for libertarian Republicans, Thompson was quoted as saying: “Government should stay out of it. No public financing. The ultimate decision must be made by the woman. Government should treat its citizens as adults capable of making moral decisions on their own.”

However, Thompson’s voting record in the Senate was pro-life. He registered a zero rating from Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America and a rating of 100 percent from the National Right to Life Committee.

Past comments notwithstanding, other pro-life activists say Thompson’s votes are more important.

“We’ve been very satisfied. We can discount a dozen year-old comment when we look at the record he has held,” said David O’Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, in an interview.

Thompson told the Weekly Standard earlier this year that he did not recall saying he supported abortion rights.

“Although I don’t remember it, I must have said something to someone as I was getting my campaign started that led to a story. Apparently, another story was based upon that story, and another was based upon that, concluding I was pro-choice.”

Thus far, social conservatives are not upset with Thompson, said Wendy Wright, president of the conservative group Concerned Women for America.

“I’m only speaking anecdotally, but I’ve had a lot of conversations about Fred Thompson, and I’m not sensing any concerns,” Wright told Cybercast News Service. “What they’re saying now is that he’s had a solid pro-life voting record.”

On an issue that strongly divides Republicans – illegal immigration – Thompson has staked out a position against the current Senate bill that would provide a path for citizenship for the 12 million illegal immigrants already here, create a temporary worker program and stiffen penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants.

He even used his spot as a guest host on the Paul Harvey radio program to voice opposition.

However, in the Senate, Thompson voted in 1998 for a bill that established a temporary farm worker program, similar to the guest worker program supported by Bush.

John Vinson, president of American Immigration Control, said no candidate is perfect but believes there are reasons to oppose Thompson.

“I’m happy he condemned the bill in the Senate,” Vinson told Cybercast News Service. “But I’m bothered he doesn’t seem to think we should encourage them to go back.”

Thompson’s supporters have no questions about his conservative credentials.

“I know Fred Thompson is a man of his word,” Tennessee State Rep. Jason Mumpower, a member of the national Draft Fred Thompson 2008 Committee, told Cybercast News Service. “I know that he said no to this amnesty bill. I know what he did on abortion. I trust him. If America takes a look at him, they’ll see the same thing I see.”

In the Senate, Thompson joined some moderate Republicans in voting to raise the minimum wage in 1996, in voting for a “patient’s bill of rights” in 2001 to mandate better coverage by health-care plans and in supporting the 2001 Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act.

The campaign finance reform bill, sponsored by Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, angered many conservatives who believe restrictions on political donations violate free speech.

Thompson’s support for the proposal was one of the reasons he was among just four Republican senators to support the McCain 2000 presidential campaign. McCain is also running for the 2008 GOP nomination.

“He was a reliable conservative in the Senate except for the McCain-Feingold bill, and that’s because he was enamored with John McCain,” Keene said.

On a similar front, when Thompson chaired investigative hearings probing alleged illegal fundraising by Democrats in the 1996 election, he expanded the probe to include his own party as well.

In the 1999 Senate impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, Thompson voted not guilty on the charge of perjury, but did vote to remove Clinton from office on the charge of obstruction of justice.

Among the conservative groups that rank members of Congress based on their voting records, the American Conservative Union gave Thompson an 84 percent rating in 2001. In the most recent ratings, the Christian Coalition gave Thompson a 77 percent score and the Eagle Forum a 75 percent score in 2002.

Those rankings are comparable to interest groups’ scores for McCain, who is often scorned by the right.

Because former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, two of the Republican presidential front-runners, were never in Congress, they were never ranked. However, both are facing scrutiny concerning their past support of abortion rights, homosexual rights and gun control.

Romney changed his position on these matters after entering the presidential race, while Giuliani has maintained his stances.

“[Thompson] will stand not as an absolute conservative, but conservative compared to the frontrunners,” John Geer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, told Cybercast News Service.

“Rudy Giuliani is not a conservative, Mitt Romney will have problems based on his positions as governor of Massachusetts, and John McCain — though he has a conservative voting record — has problems with campaign finance reform and immigration reform,” Geer added.

Geer compared Thompson’s record to that of former Tennessee Republican Sen. Howard Baker, for whom Thompson worked during the 1970s.

“[Thompson] has a reasonably conservative record on social issues, but that’s not what drives him,” Geer said. “He’s more of a Reaganite small-government Republican.”

While it is not in the realm of public policy, Thompson’s reputation as a lady’s man between the nearly two decades he was divorced and remarried could also come up in the presidential race.

During a meeting with House Republicans in April, he reportedly said: ” I was single for a long time, and, yep, I chased a lot of women … And a lot of women chased me. And those that chased me tended to catch me.”

Wright is not sure the issue will be a liability for Thompson. “I’ve heard a lot of people respond that at least he did it when he was single,” Wright said. “He seems to have been a faithful husband when he was married.”