Daily Beast's Sessions: Rick Perry Practically Wants to Return Us to the Articles of Confederation

Republican presidential aspirant Gov. Rick Perry practically wants to return America to the Articles of Confederation.

That essentially is the argument of Newsweek/Daily Beast homepage editor David Sessions in an August 18 article:

 

Fresh onto the GOP field, Texas Gov. Rick Perry wants to reignite a debate about federalism.

Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington, his second book, is a rousing call to return to the federalist ideas that shaped the American Constitution. But Perry’s ideal model of a federal government sounds exactly like the system the federalists rejected: a loose confederacy of independently run states with strictly limited authority to tax, little authority to enforce national laws, and primarily responsible for waging wars.

Among other things, Sessions gripes about Perry's touting the 10th Amendment, which Sessions derides as "a late-breaking addition advocated by anti-federalists: 'The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.'"

Yes, the Tenth Amendment, along with the other nine articles of the Bill of Rights, were quickly ratified by the states following the ratification of the Constitution, a concession by federalists to critics still concerned that the federal charter didn't do enough to protect individual liberties from federal government encroachment.

Does that mean that reverence for the First Amendment's protections of freedom of speech or the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure reveal a streak of anti-federalism as well?

Sessions continued his argument by griping that:

Like a fundamentalist of the more biblical sort, Perry picks his texts and elevates them to dogma. He preaches a historically dubious view of the federalists as states-rights ideologues, obscuring the fact that they were the primary proponents of a strong central government. Indeed, their main goal in the Federalist Papers was to defend their conception of a strong central government to the skeptical anti-federalists.

Yes, John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton were cheerleaders for ratifying the Constitution, but they were seeking to assuage the fears of a public concerned that the Constitution could trample on the rights of the people and the proper authority of the states.

As such the Federalist Papers both positively defended the powers delegated to the federal government and noted how, properly interpreted, the Constitution guarded against the federal government from intrusion into the prerogatives of state government.

What's more, as Sessions surely must know, Madison and Hamilton later diverged politically, with Hamilton being an advocate of a national bank and Madison aligning with Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republican faction and its narrower read on the "necessary and proper" clause of the Constitution. Even among the defenders of the Constitution, there were practical disagreements over the limits of federal government authority and the Framers were by no means monolithic in their politics.

Sessions, however, seems to suggest that to be a classical federalist, Perry would have to favor a strong central government to the neglect of state sovereignty, something that none of the framers of the Constitution would have argued.

The Daily Beast editor also lamented Perry's swipes at judicial activism, lecturing that Alexander Hamilton defended the federal judiciary with, among other arguments, the notion that it could provide a "safeguard against occasional ill humors in the society."

Of course, in context, right before that, Hamilton argued in Federalist No. 78 that (emphasis mine):

If, then, the courts of justice are to be considered as the bulwarks of a limited Constitution against legislative encroachments, this consideration will afford a strong argument for the permanent tenure of judicial offices, since nothing will contribute so much as this to that independent spirit in the judges which must be essential to the faithful performance of so arduous a duty.

Yet later in his piece, Sessions unfairly paints Perry as anti-democratic precisely for his support of a constitutional challenge against an unconstitutional federal intrusion on individual liberty.

 "[A]ccording to Perry," Sessions complained, "'no issue is more critical for the defense of freedom' than repealing a health-care policy passed by a democratically elected legislature."

Conservatives certainly would argue that the individual mandate in ObamaCare was an "ill humor" that passed Congress in contravention of limits on federal authority and to grave damage to individual liberty.

Yet to Sessions, Perry's constitutional complaint with ObamaCare is an attack on democracy.

Closing his article, Sessions finds alarm in, of all things, Perry's suggestion that Congress needs to pass shorter bills that are not weighed down with complex policy implications that take years to untangle:

Perry even recommends Congress “pass shorter, understandable bills rather than long, incomprehensible ones.” By his closing argument, he’s made his case: He hates government far too passionately ever to be entrusted with it.

Considering that the president has a constitutionally-imposed mandate to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed," wouldn't "shorter, understandable bills" help the chief executive accomplish that end in a manner that aids him to "preserve, protect and defend" the Constitution?

Perhaps Sessions just hates the notion of limited-government conservatism too passionately to be entrusted with fairly reporting on politicians who espouse it.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters