Friday, September 14, 2007

Thompson gets it right on federalism -- but will the GOP get it?

Fred Thompson has already taken hits from some conservatives in his own party because of his votes against federal tort reform measures when he was a Senator. While there are those who like to imply that Thompson's votes were more reflective of his having spent most of his working life as an attorney, there is no evidence that Thompson hasn't generally been an across-the-board federalist.

The Club for Growth's recent White Paper on Thompson notes that he did vote for pork in Tennessee, but that it wasn't ridiculous (cf. Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska,) and that it would be hard to find someone who didn't vote for federal spending in his own district or state.

Thompson has decided to step firmly into another particular sticky (for Republicans) federalist argument -- the Terry Schiavo case. When asked about it, he understandably wasn't excited about dredging it up, but when he spoke, it was clear:

"Local matters, generally speaking, should be left to the locals," Thompson said Thursday in what seemed to be a gentle way of suggesting that Congress had overstepped its bounds. "I think Congress has got an awful lot to keep up with."

Thompson also made sure not to impugn the motives of any of the religious conservatives whose support he now needs for his presidential campaign. "I know that good people were doing what they thought was best," he said.

Just so -- on both counts. There were disturbing things about the Schiavo case -- most disturbing of which was that decisions about her care weren't being made by the family members who seem to have cared the most about her. So it was understandable that the case was an emotional one for some conservatives concerned about the erosion of respect for human life. But this was essentially a family dispute that normally would be resolved amicably with the help of responsible physicians -- and that would normally not get past local, let alone state, courts and government. The involvement of the U.S. Congress in the case was a unwarranted direct interjection of the federal government into what was already a difficult situation for all concerned.

If we really want state and local governments to handle their own affairs without interference from the feds, we conservatives need to be consistent -- even when we find that the right thing isn't being done at the state and local level. To do otherwise makes a mockery of our federalist principles, and goes a long ways towards proving that modern Republicans are just as interested in the exercise of naked power by the federal government as Democrats have been for many decades. And not just through drunken sailor spending.

Thompson is to be commended for his stance -- it will incidentally make the GOP a more attractive place for basically conservative but recently alienated suburban voters. One hopes that those social conservatives whose initial response is an angry "what?!" will thoughtfully reflect on what Thompson has said, and learn something about Constitutional separation of powers.

Rudy Giuliani is attractive to many of those suburban voters, but he would lead the GOP and the country in a less than ideal direction, both from a social perspective and an authoritarian perspective.

If Thompson can walk that line that shows that he is a strong conservative -- but that he will not jettison traditional conservative restraint to pursue pet agendas on the right through means usually associated with liberals -- he may be just what the doctor ordered for an ailing GOP.

Recent word is that Thompson is proving to be very good connecting one-on-one in talking with voters, but there are still questions about his effectiveness in speeches and interviews -- a must for a successful GOP campaign in 2008. Conservatives continue anxiously to watch the entire GOP field to see if the leader we need will emerge.

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