Sunday, April 15, 2012

"Constitutionalists" versus "Neo-Cons"- The Approaching Train Wreck

Kentucky Senator, Rand Paul identified the divide in his book, "The Tea Party Goes to Washington." Paul described the two sides in this manner:

"Neo-Conservative"- Those who believe that a large, Washington D.C. based government is necessary to facilitate conservative principles."

"Constitutionalist"- Those who believe in a strict constructionist interpretation of the constitution; in essence a "more literal interpretation of the 10th amendment."

Sound complicated? It really isn't! But it does make it possible to hang a label on those competing for leadership in the Republican party. Both sides have their detractors. What complicates the divide is where and to what extent the detractors can ultimately lead the party.

"R.I.N.O."(Republican in name only)is a common label pinned on some "neo-cons." There is constant worry that Republicans who have been elected will crossover and vote with Democrats. Defenders say they "moderate" in order to "bring about a consensus." Critics call them "Republicrats." It comes from their comfort and acceptance of a big central government.

Constitutionalists open themselves up for such labels as "Anarchists" or "Racists." The more genteel descriptions are "Libertarian" or "States rights conservative." Liberal Democrats have contributed to these designations.

Up until recently any political leader who touted the 10th amendment was immediately pigeonholed as a cohort of Lester Maddox and George Wallace. This 1960's carryover related to integration. In 2012, the majority of America sees that correlation as an "anachronism." The 10th amendment is what it is: "A master blueprint for the protection and continuation of America."

Historically, those who defended the 10th amendment were Democrats. Dubbed "Dixiecrats" in the mid-20th century, they even mounted a presidential candidate in a national election in 1948. But they were regional and the part of the country that they represented was too small in population to make a national impact.

Throughout the years, these "Dixiecrats" remained registered Democrats. In the 1964 presidential election the majority cast their votes for Barry Goldwater. This began a trend of voting Republican in national elections. Jimmy Carter temporarily halted the trend in 1976. Then, as his left leaning agenda became fully exposed, these Democrats angrily voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Many sons and daughters of "Dixiecrats" left the Democrats for good. Others continued to be "registered" with their party, voting mostly for Republican candidates. The distinction held with their elected leaders. Called "boll weevils" these politicians continued to hold rank in the Democrat party. However, when the national party nominated Walter Mondale in '84 and Michael Dukakis in '88, holdouts such as Tommy Robinson of Arkansas and Ken Hance of Texas finally bolted. These eighties defectors included Texas Governor, Rick Perry.

The 1980's will always be remembered as the "great party switch." Southern conservatives defied tradition and became Republicans. Suddenly the Republican base was in the south.

To be sure, there continued to be Republicans in the tradition of Thomas Dewey and Nelson Rockefeller. They welcomed the newcomers from the standpoint that it equated to added voting clout. But they maintained their more centrist posture. Richard Nixon was typical. He was a fiscally moderate "Keynesian", a social moderate and a conservative on national defense. Gerald Ford continued that legacy. George Herbert Walker Bush was next in line.

Ronald Reagan reached out and connected with the "new Republicans." He bettered Bush in the primary and went on to set a new bar for Republicans, based on "supply side economics," social conservatism, low taxes, smaller government and a strong national defense. Baby boomers linked Reagan with recovery, success and where America could go if properly governed. Reagan had established a new standard for the party. And he had done it with a new constituency. They were called "Reagan Democrats."

The primary tool of the Reagan recovery was rediscovery of "federalism," or more responsibilities returned to the states. This principle was embraced by those later referred to as "Constitutionalists." While it was a notable success, it carried with it some red flags. The biggest concern was "where would it end?"

A constitutional purist,(some call them 10thers) believes in a systematic abandonment of the New Deal. Which translates to a systematic disassembling of Washington D.C. bureaucracies. In literal form this equates to closing Education, Energy, HUD, Commerce, Environmental Protection and likely FDA, returning the responsibilities to the states, along with block grants that would fund them.

Such a departure from the current system scares career Washingtonians. As Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell explained in his reasoning to oppose term limits, "it takes two terms for any Senator to develop the necessary relationships with key Washington bureaucrats." The Constutionalists say, "this is exactly why we need to move on it."

Neo-Conservatives are quick to point out flaws in the Constitutionalist argument. Two recently came to the forefront. One was the Massachusetts Healthcare law. Perhaps the greatest contrast between a true "Neo-Con," Rick Santorum and true "Constutitionalist," Rick Perry, surfaced in 2011.

Perry said that he opposed the idea of mandated health care coverage but Massachusetts had the right under the 10th amendment to pass such legislation. Santorum argued that mandated health care was un-constitutional under the constitution.

Their argument continued with New York's same sex marriage law. Santorum said that it should be prohibited nationally by law. Perry said that while he "supported a constitutional amendment defining sanctity of marriage," the New York legislature had the right to pass such legislation under the 10th amendment.

Santorum voted with 90 other Senators including the late Edward Kennedy for "No Child Left Behind." Perry used Kaye Bailey Hutchinson's "yes" vote on N.C.L.B. as a violation of states rights and soundly defeated her in the Texas 2010 Governors race.

Which brings us to our clash of perceptions, and probable split in the Republican party. Most Republican conservatives in power are "neo-cons." But most conservative Republicans are "constitutionalists." The real "beef" of the party no longer sits in Cambrige, Ithaca or New Haven. They now reside in Houston, Spartanburg and Provo.

The traditional Dewey-Rockefeller Republicans are more comfortable supporting a "neo-con" position because it is what it is: a position within the current system." The "constitutionalist" position signals a break and eventual destruction of the present norm. To return huge amounts of power(and money) to Austin or Nashville or Indianapolis would be synonymous with transferring control back to those locales! Sharing(in this case relinquishing) authority goes against human nature, unfortunately!

To date, traditional Republicans have suppressed these potential adversaries by saying "they are actually Democrats, not Republicans." Recently on a national Tea Party Blog, a Texas Republican reminded the readers that when Rick Perry switched parties he said "nothing has changed with me other than I now have an "R" by my name and not a "D".

For those who have been paying attention to the last thirty years, that's been the rule across the south! Perry was just being factual. His votes didn't change. They merely became consistent with his party label.

Of equal relevance are the vast numbers of "D.I.N.O.s"(Democrats in name only) who consider themselves "Constitutionalists." They may represent the tie breaker in who controls the conservative movement, especially if the arty splits. Most of these DINOS live in "red" states. While many voted for Clinton in '92(and Ross Perot)and '96, almost all voted for Bush in '00 and '04 and for McCain in '08.

They admit the only reason that they remain "registered Democrats" is a desire to vote in the local primary elections. Some quietly acknowledge their registration is for mere "protection." An unnamed DINO quietly admitted that "Eastern Kentucky Univerity has access through motor vehicles to party affiliation. If an applicant is a registered Republican, they are eliminated from employment consideration."

This kind of intimidation has actually been going on behind the scenes for decades, especially in the public sector. The emergence of a third party would change such practices forever. Expect nothing short of a tidal wave in both Republican and Democrat parties. And with better than 50% of the population claiming to be "Independent," nobody can guess where the lines could ultimately be drawn!

Which brings us to this years general election and 2016. Mitt Romney will face Barack Obama because he had consistent backing of the traditional Dewey-Rockefeller branch of the party. Even though they didn't equal one-third(perhaps not even one-fourth) of the party, it was enough to get him, in staggering fashion to the finish line. Why? Because the conservatives could not decide whether they wanted to be Constitutionalists or Neo-Cons! They will have four years to talk about it. Perhaps eight, if Romney wins.

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