Federalism at its most shallow

It’s hardly breaking news that Republican rhetoric about “federalism” and “states’ rights” lacks consistency and intellectual heft. But Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), a likely presidential hopeful, is pushing the envelope in almost comical ways.

Michael Scherer had a good piece on this today.

Texas Governor Rick Perry is not just any federalist. He is the grand poobah of federalists, an alpha-dog federalist, a federalist other federalists dare not challenge. His call for state sovereignty and a limited federal encroachment on “liberty” has been a central plank of his political rise. There is an entire section on his official website paying homage to the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, where he lays out his “Governing Principle”: “States are best positioned to deal with state issues.”

So Perry did not hesitate when he was asked on July 23 what he thought about New York state legalizing gay marriage. “That is their call,” he said. “If you believe in the 10th Amendment, stay out of their business.” A few days later, there was no quaver in his voice when asked if states should be able to allow abortion. “You either have to believe in the 10th Amendment or you don’t,” Perry said. “You can’t believe in the 10th Amendment for a few issues and then [for] something that doesn’t suit you say, ‘We’d rather not have states decide that.'”

Crystal clear. Principled. Uncompromising. Except, not really.

No, not even close. Less than two weeks after staking out purely federalist positions on marriage and reproductive rights, Perry, who no doubt received a stern lecture from party strategists, decided to abandon the philosophy that stood as the core of his national persona.

Perry said this week that he now supports a constitutional amendment to prevent marriage equality, as well as a constitutional amendment to prohibit abortions, both of which reject the idea that states are capable of addressing the issues on their own. (While we’re at it, the Texas governor also wants to change the constitution to require balanced budgets.)

Now, I understand why Perry is saying these things. He’s generally a darling of the religious right, which remains influential in some Republican circles, most notably in Iowa, and which cares far more about gays and abortion than some philosophical argument about “states’ rights.”

But Perry has to realize how ridiculous he looks. For years, federalism has been his raison d’etre. As recently as 12 days ago, the governor was sticking to the federalist line.

And now these principles have been cast aside in the name of political expediency.

It’s not quite as ridiculous as Mitt Romney’s series of radical ideological transformations, but it’s close.