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.