Many items have been pointed to as "The Most Important Issue(s)" in the 2012 race for president.
- Repealing Obamacare
- Closing the deficit
- Border Security/Illegal Immigration
- Jobs/Cutting Government Interference in the Private Sector
- Reforming the Tax Code
- National Security and a sound Mid East Policy
- A sustainable domestic energy policy
Everything on this list, including a few others, are important in 2012. Ann Coulter writes that THE most important issues are the repeal of the Healthcare mandate and solving the illegal immigration problem. Surprising conservatives, Coulter has endorsed Mitt Romney as "the only choice left standing" in the Republican field when these issues are in consideration. Many of us find this odd, in that Governor Romney has virtually no experience dealing with illegal immigration, and then has that whole "Massachusetts was the model for National Healthcare" thing to deal with. I will concede that I take Romney at his word when he says that he'd see Obamacare repealed - that is was an experiment supported by the people of Massachusetts and not something to be force-fed to the nation as a whole.
Which brings me to the point of this post. I do not believe that there has been an election since 1980 when ideology should be the predominant issue. The seven issues I listed above, Coulter's "2 most important issues," and others are merely symptoms to be dealt with in one way or another. The way we deal with providing solutions for these issues is what's important. Yes, the treatment matters. With the proper implementation of the Executive's powers, the other issues will eventually be dealt with in a manner that is beneficial to the nation and in adherence with the Constitution (these two are really one in the same).
This is why I make the claim that the number one, most important issue for 2012 is the preservation of Federalism. And by consequence, electing a president that both understands the importance of Federalism, and is committed to governing accordingly. With that in mind, let's take a look at where it appears the major candidates stand on this principle. For the purposes of snapshot, I have ranked each candidate on a scale of 1-to-5 in the areas of understanding of and commitment to the principles of Federalism (1 being lowest, 5 being highest).
Understanding of Federalism: 3
Commitment to Federalism: 2
In this area, Romney's biggest strength is his biggest weakness. As governor and as a businessman, Romney has demonstrated a great capability to "get things done." It would be hard pressed to make the argument that Romney is not and would not be an effective executive. He is the only candidate that has a proven track record of this in both the public and private sectors. However, as is often the case with Executive-types, their "eye-on-the-prize" approach doesn't necessarily translate well to government, particularly at the Federal level. Romney is of the ilk that wants to see results - if there's a problem, let's find a solution and fix it. This isn't a bad approach in 90% of the areas of life and trade - in fact its downright admirable when balanced with a strong sense of fairness and ethics, which I believe Governor Romney has demonstrated he possesses. However, Federal government is a different animal. There are a multitude of issues into which the Federal government could (and has) intervened on the basis of "fixing a problem," but quite frankly has no Constitutional authority to do, and has no business in doing. Probably the most blatant example of this (since Healthcare hasn't really taken effect yet) is in our education system. I believe that Romney's drive to take charge and solve problems over-shadows any understanding he may have of why the federal system was established. At worst he may view it as an anachronism not applicable to 21st century America, and at best his executive pragmatism would get the better of him causing action where no (federal) action should be taking place (see 'I compromised by free market principles to save the free market . . .").
Understanding of Federalism: 5
Commitment to Federalism: 1
I have spoken highly of Speaker Gingrich in the past, and continue to hold him up as a conservative icon and hero. However, I think Newt is better suited to leading the movement from the outside rather than within. He needs to be the idea guy, and others need to decide which ideas are best to implement.
I cannot believe that Gingrich doesn't have a high-to-very-high understanding of Federalism, and why they system is the way it is. He's a history professor, a historian, a Constitutional Scholar, and a damn-smart guy. My fear is that, even if it is subconsciously, Gingrich does feel that Federal system actually is and 18th century anachronism - it served its purpose, but now we're too complex to be governed under such a system anymore. I believe that Gingrich would use Federalism in defense of non-action when it would his administration's agenda, and conveniently ignore it when implementing Federal solutions to issues that should be dealt with on the local level. Most every modern president has done this to one degree or another, so this isn't to suggest any malicious intent, but merely to point out that when Gingrich believes the Federal government could tackle an issue on national level, Federalist principles would not be stumbling block to implementation.
Understanding of Federalism: 3
Commitment to Federalism: 5
One could make the argument that Rep. Paul is the most Federalist candidate in the field. And I wouldn't necessarily disagree. I believe Paul to be firmly committed to the Federalist system, but his faults lie in apparent understanding of the system at the top layer (as opposed to the rest of the field, who lack understanding in regard to state and local levels). There are reasons the Articles of Confederation didn't work, and there is a proper - in some cases prominent - role for the Federal government and in particular the executive branch. Paul's viewpoints on foreign policy are completely inconsistent with the proper implementation of one if not the most important function of the executive - national defense. Among the clearly enumerated powers of the executive are as Commander-in-Chief of the military. It is the president's job to be the front man in foreign policy - of defensive and diplomatic natures - that acts in the best interest of the United States. The "neo-conservative" view of "preemption" has fallen out of favor now. However, I would argue that nowhere in the Constitution is a military policy of preemption either promoted or prohibited. Thus, in a president's role to "provide for the common defense," if preemption and international military presence is necessary, then so be it and that's perfectly Constitutionally correct. Our history is riddled with instances of preemption - 1812 and the Barbary Wars were both essentially preemptive strikes (yes, in both instances actions were taken against the United States, but were these actions any greater than what a Hussein regime was doing throughout the 1990's, or what Iran is doing today?). The opening of the Japanese market by the U.S. Navy is another example. These instances occurred in times where the executive branch exerted far less power than it does today.
In summation, by fear is that Ron Paul doesn't understand the proper application of what the executive should be doing, rather than what the executive shouldn't be doing.
Understanding of Federalism: 4
Commitment to Federalism: 4
Of the candidates profiled in this post, I believe that Governor Perry scores highest in the Federalism test. He hails from the heart of States-rights country. Perry has often spoken out vocally about the need to reassert the 10th amendment into decisions of national policy. Unlike Paul, I don't believe Perry would see an issue with plainly and decisively executing Commander-in-Chief duties as necessary. Unlike Gingrich and Romney, I believe that a Perry administration would ask itself before trodding into an issue if "this is an issue in which the federal government should be involved, or not." Perry's recent declaration on stage that (paraphrasing) elected officials should read the Constitution as-is, and not to try to read more into it than what's there, is refreshing. Something that particularly struck a chord with me was his mention specifically of the federal government using "clauses" to stick its nose where it would otherwise be prohibited. However often as the Commerce Clause been sited as a the jurisdiction that allows some new government program to be created, or new regulations to be enacted? From what I've read, heard, and witnessed, Governor Perry seems to understand better than most that there are limits to what the Federal government should try and do regardless of intent, and that these limits are still applicable today.
You will be able to tell from my previous posts and comments here that I am a Rick Perry supporter - I make no secret of this. This post, hopefully, illustrates a major reason why I support Governor Perry for the Republican nomination. It is not meant to be a hit piece on other candidates, but rather a comparison on a candidate-by-candidate basis of what I consider to be the defining issue of the race.