Questions for Fred Thompson

Over at Red State, possible presidential aspirant Fred Thompson recently posted an intriguing, dare I say "promising," response to a criticism from Ramesh Ponnuru. Ponnuru had attacked Thompson for his votes on a couple of tort reform bills that would have used federal law to preempt state law to punish trial lawyers.

Thompson's post shows a refreshing respect for and understanding of the principles of federalism, one that's been sorely lacking on the right of late:

Republicans have struggled in recent years, because they have strayed from basic principles. Federalism is one of those principles. It is something we all give lip service to and then proceed to ignore when it serves our purposes. During my eight years in the Senate, I tried to adhere to this principle. For me it was a lodestar. Not only was it what our founding fathers created – a federal government with limited, enumerated powers with respect for other levels of government, it also provided a basis for a proper analysis of most issues: “Is this something government should be doing? If so, at what level of government?”

As I understood it, states were supposed to be laboratories that would compete with each other, conducting civic experiments according to the wishes of their citizens. The model for federal welfare reform was the result of that process. States also allow for of diverse viewpoints that exist across the country. There is no reason that Tennesseans and New Yorkers should have to agree on everything (and they don’t).

Those who are in charge of applying the conservative litmus test should wonder why some of their brethren continue to try to federalize more things – especially at a time of embarrassing federal mismanagement and a growing federal bureaucracy.

[...]

Adhering to the principles of Federalism is not easy. As one who was on the short end of a couple of 99-1 votes, I can personally attest to it. Federalism sometimes restrains you from doing things you want to do. You have to leave the job to someone else – who may even choose not to do it at all. However, if conservatives abandon this valued principle that limits the federal government, or if we selectively use it as a tool with which to reward our friends and strike our enemies, then we will be doing a disservice to our country as well as the cause of conservatism.

Here's my question for Fred Thompson: Does this eloquent defense of federalism apply to the drug war, too? Would a President Thompson support ending federal enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act in states that have legalized medical marijuana? What about cities or states that want to decriminalize the drug in general?

Seems to me that if we're going to separate the principled federalists from the fair-weather federalists, this is the issue that would do it.

I'm not being flip, here. It's hard to read Thompson's thorough defense of federalism and see how he could convincingly still carve out an exception for the drug war.

If Thompson wants to respond, I'd be happy to post his reply.

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  • ||

    Sounds like Thompson's main argument here is that Federalism is a good idea mostly because it made sense in 1789.

    It appears he's not willing to even entertain the notion that it doesn't make as much sense given the challenges of running a large civilization in 2007, even though it's pretty obvious to most people.

  • ||

    Even if he can't make a convincing distinction and favors continuing the drug war anyway, if he only adheres to federalist principles on a third of the issues he confronts, he's still miles ahead of his peers.

  • mllh||

    QGD

    I think the quintessential lib response to your observation would be that a large civilization should not be run.

  • ||

    I think it's rather that:

    a) The Founders' essential principles should be our guide, because they are our LEGAL foundation, and

    b) New York and Kentucky don't have the same needs/wants.

    c) To quote George Will, "not every great idea should be a Federal program."

  • Xmas||

    QGD,

    Are you saying that centralized Federal laws and bureaucracy is better than state or local laws and bureaucracy?

    And does the government run and define a civilization? Or does civilization define the government?

  • ||

    Anyone know which votes Sen. Thompson was the one in the 99-1 votes?

  • Guy Montag||

    Go Fred GO! And just ignore the surrender monkeys who don't think you are socially liberal enough for them.

  • Guy Montag||

    Anyone know which votes Sen. Thompson was the one in the 99-1 votes?

    One of them was the federal DUI law.

  • ||

    It appears he's not willing to even entertain the notion that it doesn't make as much sense given the challenges of running a large civilization in 2007, even though it's pretty obvious to most people.

    Oh, I dunno.

    The larger and more complex anything is, the less it is subject to being comprehensible to a top-down controller, the less likely it is that top-down control will establish just the right set of requirements to achieve optimum results, and the more likely it is that top-down control will spin off a set of disastrous unintended consequences.

    If anything, modern society is less suited to single centralized ruler than the agrarian/proto-industrial society of the Founders.

  • ||

    Queen's Gambit Declined,

    Not to me. Or to many who inhabit these here parts. If anything, I think the idea of decentralization is making more, not less, sense these days. Another benefit is that we can have fifty (or more, considering local government) laboratories for experimenting with different laws--a good thing, in my book.

    Nor do I think Thompson is just citing the Holy Ancestors here. He's stating that a limited government with enumerated powers was and still is a good idea. Note that we're talking limited, not nonexistent, government. Some functions of government maybe should be handled at the federal level. Just not all such functions, which I think is Thompson's point.

    Pray tell who is supposed to be "running" our civilization?

  • mllh||

    Pro Lib

    my point, even better. no one "runs" the market. no one should "run" the civilization.

  • ||

    Running a complex civilization?

    I've got news for you, when I need to go to the bathroom, I just go. I don't askpermission.

  • ||

    QGD,

    By that logic, I guess we should have a world government. I mean, surely the challenges of running this worldwide civilization in 2007 are daunting indeed.

  • ||

    Are you saying that centralized Federal laws and bureaucracy is better than state or local laws and bureaucracy?


    Not necessarily, but I do think that the geographic boundries and travel/communication limitations of the past that made Federalism a kind of necessity are increasingly less significant.


    And does the government run and define a civilization? Or does civilization define the government?


    Perhaps "run a civilization" was a poor choice of words. But there's no doubt that the government provides a framework for our society just like society determines what kind of government it wants.

    Along those lines, I guess a response to Thompson might be this: if the people don't want Federalism any more, why push it on them?

  • ||

    (deep breath) The people of 1789 and 2007 are the same and so is government. Therefore time makes no difference 218 years later or even 1000 years from now.

  • ||

    By that logic, I guess we should have a world government. I mean, surely the challenges of running this worldwide civilization in 2007 are daunting indeed.

    Well, the case could certainly be made for a single world government, especially since the world is becoming more and more of a united civilization.

  • ||

    Responding for Fred:

    If the people don't want federalism, take it out of the Constitution. There's a whole process for amending it, you know. Beats ignoring it, which undermines the legitimacy of the government and, consequently, the stability of our political system.

  • mllh||

    QGD

    a much better point

    One prob with federalism is similar to one faced by international businesses: a multitude of laws, often conflicting, can be a legal nightmare. Unity offers some advantages.

    Still, I favor the chaotic (and even competitive) variety to the unified vision.

  • ||

    I guess a response to Thompson might be this: if the people don't want Federalism any more, why push it on them?

    First, that's why we have a Constitution with specific hoops to jump through before it can be amended: so that the basic rules don't change every time the majority's likes and dislikes change.

    Second, the fact that Thompson is in a tiny minority among politicians at the federal level doesn't mean that "people don't want" what Thompson wants.

  • ||

    Responding for Fred:

    If the people don't want federalism, take it out of the Constitution. There's a whole process for amending it, you know. Beats ignoring it, which undermines the legitimacy of the government and, consequently, the stability of our political system.


    But you're back to my first point - Thompson seems more concerned with appeals to tradition than addressing the challenges of 21st century civilization.

    Not to mention that the "stability" and "legitimacy" of Federalism led us to the Civil War. No wonder nobody is really interested in returning to that style of government, since ignoring much of the Consitution has served us much better.

  • ||

    Pro Lib beat me to it. Glad to see we think alike.

  • ||

    Unfortunately, Fred offers no guidance beyond his gut as to what is appropriate and what is not appropriate. I wonder if he also believes in Raich style "Commerce".

  • ||

    Not to mention that the "stability" and "legitimacy" of Federalism led us to the Civil War.

    One could convincingly argue it was a belief in the super-state that led us to Civil War.

    But not on this thread. Please.

  • Marc||

    I'm curious to know in what ways (who?) ignoring much of the Consitution has served me better. Which parts, and how?

    Seriously. Clearly you have something in mind.

  • ||

    Not to mention that the "stability" and "legitimacy" of Federalism led us to the Civil War. No wonder nobody is really interested in returning to that style of government, since ignoring much of the Consitution has served us much better.



    Uh, huh. I'm starting to think that you're pulling my leg, but in case you aren't, let me reiterate that we can always get rid of the whole thing. Convene a constitutional convention and replace the whole document with a statement that the feds can do anything they want for "the public good". Easy enough. However, until that time, the Constitution, battered, twisted, and hole-poked as it may be, still holds as the law of the land.

  • ||

    But you're back to my first point - Thompson seems more concerned with appeals to tradition than addressing the challenges of 21st century civilization.

    What Thompson is appealing to (at least in the excerpt that Radley provided) is the utility of the federal system. He explains why the principle of federalism has good consequences.

    With regard to your Civil War point, that was such a unique situation that no policy should be condemned or praised because of it.

  • ||

    Re: Fred Thompson.

    He voted to increase penalties for drug offenses (there's your answer right there folks). Also, he voted YES to ban partial birth abortion (isn't "murder" a state crime?). He voted to ban same sex marriage (marriage is a state issue). He voted to limit jury awards and class-action suits (tampering with the state courts).

    Fred Thompson is a flip-flopping panderer. He's also a philistine on social issues, but that's a side issue given his token pandering to the federalism crowd.

  • ZenMasterThis||

    The masses are best served by a power monopoly.

    The masses are even better served when they are disarmed by that power monopoly. The power monopoly must, of course, remain armed to serve the masses' best interests.

    It's so self-evident that it's hardly worth discussing.

  • ||

    Lamar,

    Just to make it clear, I'm not jumping on the Thompson bandwagon. Not unless he becomes the least of all the evils running. Right now, he's clearly inferior to Congressman Paul as far as the GOP primaries go.

  • ||

    Pro Lib: I wasn't directing that post at anybody, and Thompson has voted against federalization of other items, though it isn't clear whether he did so on federalism grounds or on philistine social mores. I saw Ron Paul on Red Eye. God bless him, the Congressman does not come across very well on TV.

  • ||

    Guy Montag:
    Don't blame Thompson for voting against the nationwide DUI bill. I was not only thoroughly against it but stopped contributing to MADD because they supported it. Driving laws are not within the scope of the federal government; they used a form of extortion (withholding road funds) to get the states to accept it. I don't think extortion is a good example for the kiddies!

  • mllh||

    So, hasn't Fred come out in favor of civil unions on a state-by-state basis?

  • ||

    Lamar,

    Just wanted to make sure no one thought I was going Hollywood :)

    Paul's not Captain Excitement, no, but he's got my vote as long as he wants it. He's flawed in other ways, too, but who else even comes close to having a libertarian perspective?

  • ||

    mllh:
    I think Thompson's stance on state-by-state civil unions is constitutionally necessary given his vote to dictate state law on marriages.

  • mllh||

    Fred supported the illegal McCain-Feingold act.

    I submit that there should be no litmus test before this one.

  • mllh||

    As for his, and others', civil union thing, I really think it a cheesy cop-out to "favor" civil unions and/or even marriages on a state-by-state basis when there are federal ramifications for both. I really don't think it matters what the state calls it if the national government (unconstitutionally) refuses to accord equal benefits and responsibilities. Mass. (a sovereign state, you know) has same-sex marriage. The US (theoretically respectful of Mass law) refuses to concede any benefit for legally-married Mass citizens.

  • mllh||

    To simplify my point:

    I am fully in favor of federalism and support all those who are. But I despise those who claim to be federalists (usually as a way of apssing the buck) yet overlook the constitutional bit about "full faith and credit". This applies to marriage, drug laws, sex laws, and everything else. If the state, within its extensive legitimate parameters, says "this is OK," then the nation must agree.

    Massachusetts says its citizens Adam and Steve are married--the US must agree.

    California says Bob and Cindy may smoke pot--the US must agree.

    I like the fat actress known as Fred Thompson, but she does not believe that federalism means any of that.

  • robc||

    mllh,

    Thompson has said he was wrong voting for McCain-Feingold. Doesnt change the fact that he voted for it.

  • mllh||

    apssing = passing

  • mllh||

    robc

    Can't tell whether you're serious or not, but I agree with your statement as written. "I'm sorry" doesn't cut it unless it comes with "...and this is what I intend to do to correct this lapse in judgment."

  • ||

    So, mythbusters, have we busted the myth that Fred Thompson truly believes in federalism? Like most politicians, he believes in it when it suits him.

  • ||

    Busted.

  • mllh||

    Lamar

    yes. He, like so many others, believes in it as a way of not taking responsibility for his own positions.

  • robc||

    mllh,

    The interview I saw his "Im sorry" in did have a sorta "this is what I intend" bit. Basically, he now favors open giving with instant reporting.

    Not being a senator now, he cant fix the problem he helped cause. Prez cant really do it either.

    I look at it as "Its a strike against him, but not a full one".

  • mllh||

    robc

    accepted. Although I will defintely consider giving my vote to the first politician who, in reference to a particularly crappy position, says outright, "I was stupid. I was wrong. I take it all back, and will make no excuses. I should have known better, and I promise not to do it again."

  • Guy Montag||

    Guy Montag:
    Don't blame Thompson for voting against the nationwide DUI bill. I was not only thoroughly against it but stopped contributing to MADD because they supported it. Driving laws are not within the scope of the federal government; they used a form of extortion (withholding road funds) to get the states to accept it. I don't think extortion is a good example for the kiddies!


    Blame? Try praise. I am the non-bashing Thompson person here.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "As I understood it, states were supposed to be laboratories that would compete with each other, conducting civic experiments according to the wishes of their citizens. The model for federal welfare reform was the result of that process. States also allow for of diverse viewpoints that exist across the country."

    Well that's good as far as it goes, but someone who is a complete adherent to federalism and the Constitution would also point out that the federal government never had any legitimate authority to create any federal welfare programs at all in the first place.

  • mllh||

    Garcon lundi

    you like the federal DUI bill?

    Quick, give a reasoned defense before the dogs eat you alive!

  • ||

    This applies to marriage, drug laws, sex laws, and everything else. If the state, within its extensive legitimate parameters, says "this is OK," then the nation must agree.

    You overreach here. Yes, the "full faith and credit" clause creates a problem on the issue of same-sex marriage from a federalism standpoint. But I don't see that with those other laws you list. A drug can be legal in California with no ramifications for Mississippi if they choose to decide otherwise.

    Obviously, as a libertarian I would prefer to see all states and the feds favor liberty. But federalism in practice seems to promote liberty better overall than does centralization, even if federalism also results in some things I don't like.

  • ||

    One could convincingly argue it was a belief in the super-state that led us to Civil War.

    But not on this thread. Please.


    Well, a lot of things contributed to the Civil War but you can't say that a form of government that either led to it or couldn't prevent it should be praised for its stability and legitimacy.

  • ||

    My question has to do with tort reform. If a southern state runs a bad experiment of being run by lawyers for lawyers and makes it structurally easy for people to sue companies and win, what is to stop them? Can a company protect itself from lawsuit simply by refusing to do business in that state? Are other states legally allowed to insulate themselves and their citizens from such lawsuits?

  • ||

    One other point that I don't has been mentioned here is that Federalism basically died when it was adopted by the racial segregationalists of the 50's and 60's.

    Federalism (aka State's Rights) was used as an argument that the right to mistreat people was more important than the right to not be mistreated.

    So yeah, nobody wants to go back to Jim Crow so don't count on a return to Federalism anytime soon.

  • ||

    LoneSnark: The companies can move to have the cases heard in federal court, which is intended as a check against "biased" state courts.

  • BeetleB||

    mllh,

    With that reasoning, if Tennessee wants to ban gay marriage, why would Tennessee's law not be covered under the full faith & credit clause?

    Why are Mass. laws allowing civil union superior to that of TN or VA? I have a problem with that. We become ruled by a tyranny or the minority.

  • ||

    If the state, within its extensive legitimate parameters, says "this is OK," then the nation must agree.

    So, why weren't the slaves still slaves when they left the Southern states?

    Why isn't my Texas concealed carry license good in New York?

    Why isn't my Texas law license good in California?

    Just askin', is all.

  • ||

    One other point that I don't has been mentioned here is that Federalism basically died when it was adopted by the racial segregationalists of the 50's and 60's.

    No, it died when we went to direct election of Senators. At that point, the States as political enemies lost all power in Washington, and the die was cast.

  • ||

    No, it died when we went to direct election of Senators. At that point, the States as political enemies lost all power in Washington, and the die was cast.

    So the irony of Federalism is that it died because power was transfered from the varius state governments to the people.

    Any true libertarian should then be against Federalism.

  • ||

    To be fair, marriage has traditionally been subject to full faith and credit. It took an act of congress to give the states the ability to refuse recognition of a marriage from another state. RC Dean, I think the difference has to do with one being a civil status and the other being a license to engage in a certain activity. I really don't know the answer. My driver's license is good in the 50 states, but not my law license. I vaguely remember this topic in Conflicts of Law.

  • ||

    To the people? Which people?

  • Gilbert Martin||

    Here's another question that sort of relates to federalism:

    How was it that any land within the confines of a state that was not legally titled to anybody at the time that state joined the union became "owned" by the federal government is considered to be "federal lands" - as opposed to a presumption of being owned by the state government?

    What article of the Constitution authorized the federal government to claim title to all that land?

  • ||

    To the people? Which people?

    Citizens, at least those who care enough to vote.

    Assuming you're asking me.

  • ||

    [i]"So the irony of Federalism is that it died because power was transfered from the varius state governments to the people. "[/i]
    Ha ha. As any good libertarian should realize, Democracy as practiced is not an example of "rule by the people" but rather rule by special interests, etc.

    What it did was transfer control of the Senate away from one group of special interests, the states, towards another group of special interests which already had representation in the House of Representatives.

  • ||

    My question has to do with tort reform. If a southern state runs a bad experiment of being run by lawyers for lawyers and makes it structurally easy for people to sue companies and win, what is to stop them? Can a company protect itself from lawsuit simply by refusing to do business in that state? Are other states legally allowed to insulate themselves and their citizens from such lawsuits?

    A very complicated issue of law, to be sure. Generally, judgments in one state are subject to full faith and credit in other states, but there are exceptions to that.

    Refusing to do business in a state to avoid being subject to the jurisdiction of its courts has been a legal topic for decades. Not a simple matter, and one governed by the due-process clause of the 14th Amendment. The "minimum contacts" test set out by the U.S. Supreme Court decades ago is pretty settled, but subject to lots of lawyerly wrangling.

  • ||

    Companies exit states all of the time. Ask Mississippi. Or Alabama, which got tired of losing businesses and cleaned up its act.

  • ||

    I think that Fred Thompson's remarks about federalism are code words aimed squarely at voters in Southern states, who ever since the War Between the States (aka the Civil War for Yankees) have taken a dim view of a strong federal government. While that doesn't make Fred a libertarian by a long stretch, he sure comes across as more libertarian (or less statist) than the two Republican front-runners, or any of the Democratic candidates. I'm still gonna cast a Libertarian protest vote, assuming someone makes it on the ballot for my state.

  • LarryA||

    It appears he's not willing to even entertain the notion that it (Federalism) doesn't make as much sense given the challenges of running a large civilization in 2007, even though it's pretty obvious to most people.

    Really? Does it make more sense for the federal government to maintain levees around New Orleans and flash-flood warning systems in Kerrville, when none of the administrators live within a thousand miles of either?

    Or does it make more sense for the City of New Orleans to maintain the levees and Kerr County to maintain the warning systems, given that in each case the people responsible have incentive to perform because if they screw up, they end up wet.

  • Guy Montag||

    mllh,

    How could my praising Thompson's voting against the federal DUI bill be thought of as anything like supportig it?

    I would question all of this other "evidence" against Thompson presented here as the presenters seem to read as well as you do.

  • Guy Montag||

    With that reasoning, if Tennessee wants to ban gay marriage, why would Tennessee's law not be covered under the full faith & credit clause?

    Why are Mass. laws allowing civil union superior to that of TN or VA? I have a problem with that. We become ruled by a tyranny or the minority.


    I sometimes wonder why this is handled in the opposite way of fenders and bumpers on cars.

    If it is pwrfectly legal for you to drive without bumpers or fenders on your car in State X then you drive to VA and get caught, you are getting a ticket and it will stick.

    I know there must be some legal difference between the two, but I see no practical difference.

  • Old Hand||

    I'm not an expert on full faith and credit, but I do know the general picture here. States generally have an obligation to enforce money judgments awarded in other states, and abide by other judicial decrees issued by other states (such as divorce decrees). But states can generally set their own rules as to what people can do in the state -- they can control who can drive, who can practice law, who can practice medicine, who can engage in other businesses, who can carry a gun, who (if anyone) can buy alcohol, and so on. That's part of the state's sovereign power.

    So as a result, states need not honor all sorts of licenses issued by other states. In practice, there's a good deal of "comity" -- voluntary accommodation of other states' decisions. I believe that this is why states honor out-of-state driver's licenses; they don't have a constitutional obligation to do this, but they do, for good pragmatic reasons. (Congress may also mandate that states honor certain out-of-state licenses, but I don't think it does so for driver's licenses.) Some states make it easy for members of out-of-state bars to become a lawyer, but not all do; California, as I understand it, makes it quite hard. But as a general matter, one state may not export its lawyer licensing policy, physician licensing policy, gun carry licensing policy, and so on to other states unless the other states acquiesce.

    Anyway, the full faith and credit clause has never been interpreted to mean that every state must recognize every marriage performed in every other state. Every state reserves the right to refuse to recognize a marriage performed in another state if that marriage would violate the state's public policy.

    This "public-policy exception" is well established. I have not found a single case where a federal court has forced another state to recognize a marriage where the state asserts that said marriage would violate the public policy of the state.

  • Guy Montag||

    Mor of Fred in his own words here, talking about Va Tech, IMs and other stuff. Oh, and he is on the side of letting people make their own decisions vs. a "campus lockdown".

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