Saturday, March 14, 2009

Leave the Earmarks to the Federalists

~This country is increasingly becoming more federalist, and that leaves the GOP in a pickle.

By John S. Wilson

The recent earmark debate that developed from the omnibus spending bill signed by Obama on Thursday wasn't about earmarks. And though the GOP did a masterful job of framing the debate to center on earmarks (which only comprised 2% of the bill) they lost out on an opportunity to delve into the real subject matter - federalism. Even after earmarks are stripped away there is going to be more power centralized in D.C. And more power usually leads to more federal government revenue which leads to more federal expenditures - it's a vicious cycle. This basic premise led Thomas Jefferson to found the modern republican party, then known as the Democratic-Republicans, and James Madison and George Mason to fight for the Bill of Rights to be included in the Constitution.

Today various members of the GOP lack profundity on these ideals. With rapid fire words like "Reagan", "limited government", "tax cuts" and "responsibility" are shot from their mouths but seem to be falling on Kevlar-lined ears. Why? Because government programs like Social Security and Medicare are extremely popular; because the very thought of a Katrina-like disaster happening without the federal government pitching in (quickly and ably) scares the bejesus out of people; and because citizens implicitly know that if the federal government is doing less it means states, localities and citizens are left doing much much more.This country is increasingly becoming more federalist, and that leaves the GOP in a pickle.

Why would citizens want to limit the very same government they have empowered to distribute retirement income, revitalize their school systems (No Child Left Behind), and help their kids pay for college (Pell Grants)?Republicans, whether socially conservative or moderate, have also jumped on the federalist bandwagon. Social conservatives wanted a federal marriage amendment to the Constitution defining marriage as being between a man and woman, and moderates supported the prescription drug bill Bush signed in 2003 and the Patriot Act, which trumped liberty and kowtowed to neoconservatism.So what exactly are the benefits of being an anti-federalist? That's what the GOP must explain. Earmarks can frame a debate or two but they can't define a party or an era.

-John attends Virginia Commonwealth University with a triple major in economics, sociology, and women's studies. He blogs at Policy Diary, contributes to Hip-Hop, and serves as a regular contributor to PolicyNet, where he writes about domestic and foreign affairs. He recently served as a legislative fellow in the office of the Honorable David Englin (D) of the Virginia House of Delegates.


John Imrie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Imrie said...

I think it is difficult to have a debate about federalism without eventually using the phrase "States' Rights" which is linked to our shameful racial past. As a consequence, reestablishing an anti-federalist position is politically delicate.

John S. Wilson said...

John, thanks for reading and that's an excellent point. I would add however that anti-federalism's roots is the Bill of Rights, which is the backbone of not only the GOP but also progressive ideals. There doesn't need to be a mantra of federalism v. anti-federalism but the GOP must define more capably why limited government is so crucial in the first place. Unfortunately, for them, I don't think they can.

Anonymous said...

Both parties are Federalist in that both accept and embrace
the ratification of the proposed Constitution of the United States between 1787 and 1789. The Federalist Papers are documents associated with the movement for this ratificaion.

There was a group that was called
called the Federalist Party, founded by Alexander Hamilton. It opposed the Democratic-Republican Party during the 1800s.

The Republican Party was founded in Ripon, Wisconsin, in 1854 by anti-slavery expansion activists and modernizers. The Republican Party surpassed the Whig Party as the principal opposition to the Democratic Party.

The party was created in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act that would have allowed the expansion of slavery into Kansas. Their first official party meeting was held on July 6, 1854 in Jackson, Michigan. Besides opposition to the expansion of slavery, the new party put forward a progressive vision of modernizing the United States — emphasizing higher education, banking, railroads, industry and cities, while promising free homesteads to farmers. In this way, their economic philosophy was similar to the Whig Party's.

Anonymous said...

The "Democratic-Republican Party" should "not to be confused with the modern Republican Party.

"Republican" to Jefferson was not "Republican" in the Abraham Lincoln sense. The Democratic-Republican Party becamce the modern day Democratic Party
not the Republican Party formed in 1854.

The Democratic Party traces its origin to the Democratic-Republican Party founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1793. The Democratic Party itself was formed from a faction of the Democratic-Republicans, led by Andrew Jackson. Following his defeat in the election of 1824 despite having a majority of the popular vote, Andrew Jackson set about building a political coalition strong enough to defeat John Quincy Adams in the election of 1828."