The New Federalism Speech
The Speech Rudy Should Have Given
By Dan McLaughlin Posted in 2008 | 2008 Presidential Campaign | Roe v. Wade | Rudy Giuliani | Schism — Comments (28) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
As regular readers know (see here and here), I continue to believe that Rudy Giuliani is the best potential president in the GOP field - and specifically, the one most likely to accomplish conservative policy priorities - and would be a strong candidate in the general election. That assessment, which I won't rehash here, is based in large part on Rudy's personal characteristics, temperament and accomplishments; after all, ideas don't run for president, people do. Of course, Rudy's record on social issues has long been the primary obstacle to winning the nomination, and everyone who paid any attention whatsoever to Rudy's record and to Republican politics over the past few decades knew that. Thus, a Rudy for President campaign needed to have a well-thought-out plan from Day One as to how to deal with that obstacle.
Since the summer of 2005, I have been laying out in public and in private - including to people who hoped, at the time, to have the ear of the Giuliani camp - my roadmap to how Rudy could overcome this obstacle. I never thought he could win over everyone, but I believed then and believe now that there was an opportunity, had Rudy played his cards the right way at the right time, to take the goodwill and respect Rudy enjoyed with socially conservative voters who respected him as a leader and offer a compromise that would keep enough pro-lifers, in particular, on board to build a winning coalition in the primaries and hold enough of the party together - and appeal to enough independent or swing voters - to march to victory in November.
Rudy has followed some of the paths I laid out (not that I take credit for this), but he never gave the speech I thought would really make the difference. When voters go to the polls tomorrow in Florida, they may breathe new life into Rudy's campaign, or more likely they may end it. Either way, it's probably too late to give this speech - and so I offer it to you, dear readers, and to posterity.
First, the setup. A presidential candidate who wants to change the public's perception of him (or her) can't rely on position papers or even, standing alone, a speech or press conference; what is needed is to create a news event. The ideal time to do this, if the candidate is addressing a weakness rather than a strength, is very early in the campaign, before the media has crafted its narratives, before officeholders have endorsed, before opponents have launched their attack ads (or, in some cases, even decided whether to get in the race), before voters and donors and pundits have become emotionally committed to particular candidates. The news event's timing and choreography should be planned for maximum effect, and be able to be summarized in pithy enough fashion to be embodied in the kind of shorthand talking point that can endure the game of telephone that is the media's and public's perception of candidates' positions.
An old-fashioned way to do this was to give a particular set of positions a Title in Capital Letters, such as the Square Deal, the New Deal, the New Frontier, the Great Society...well, actually this fell out of favor after the Great Society, for good reason. "Compassionate Conservatism" is such a slogan, and was effective in rebranding George W. Bush, for good and for ill, as not Newt Gingrich.
So my thought was a speech at or near the announcement of Rudy's official campaign, early in 2007, promoted in advance with much fanfare, setting out his vision of the New Federalism, and proposing it as a break from the status quo in national politics. If presented in the right way, such a speech could co-opt both conservative themes and liberal media stereotypes in a way that could have created for Rudy an enormous opportunity. Here it goes:
I'm going to be talking about a lot of issues in this campaign, and about my record and my plans on those issues. I'll be talking with you about the terrorists' war on us, and the threat it poses and how we fight it. I'll be talking about victory in Iraq. I'll be talking about tax cuts, economic growth, cutting spending and reforming government so we focus on giving people more opportunities to control their own lives. I'll be talking about enforcing the law, from the border to the inner city. I'll be talking about how we improve our responses to disasters and emergencies, man-made and natural. All of these issues have one thing in common: they are all the day-to-day job we hire presidents to do, the most basic functions of the federal government.
But somewhere along the way, we wound up spending way too much time in presidential campaigns talking about a whole lot of things that really should not be the job of the president - in fact, things that shouldn't be decided in Washington at all. Washington shouldn't be fighting a "culture war," and every day we spend fighting one with each other is a day we are distracted from fighting the real war.
So I'm not running to fight the culture war. But I'm not running to surrender it to one side, either. I'm running to propose a truce, a cease-fire we should all be able to agree on - a New Federalism that will return control over social and cultural issues to the states, cities and towns where these issues belong.
When I was Mayor of New York, I did a lot of things to promote New York values. New Yorkers want to do their own thing, and not have somebody telling them to live by Alabama values, or Kansas values, or Massachusetts values. In the last few years I've spent a lot of time traveling this country and talking to people about their values - and you know what? People in other places don't want anybody telling them to live by New York values, either. And the one thing nobody wants is to force everyone to accept Washington values. But the more these issues are decided in Washington, the more that's precisely what happens.
Conservatives and Republicans didn't like it when activist liberal judges started forcing their values on everyone else. And now that we have more conservatives on the courts, and a conservative president and for a while there a lot of Republican conservatives in Congress, a lot of our liberal friends started waking up and saying to themselves, "maybe getting these issues out of Washington isn't such a bad idea after all." Amazing thing for them to discover that all of a sudden. As Casey Stengel would say, you could look it up.
Over the coming months, I will lay out my vision of how the New Federalism will change the way Washington makes decisions. As President, I will oppose any effort to force people in Texas and South Carolina to live the way New Yorkers live, for the same reasons why I wouldn't want New Yorkers to be forced to live like people in some other city or state. This is a great country, and it's big enough for a lot of different communities and lifestyles. The New Federalism isn't about my values, and it isn't about Washington's values. It's about yours and your neighbors', wherever you live.
The New Federalism is actually a very old idea. The Framers of the Constitution would have thought it too obvious to mention, although when they thought about it they ended up writing two amendments, the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, just to make sure it was respected. We should follow their example.
The New Federalism is also a conservative idea, because it respects the people's right to make decisions about their values close to home, where they live with the consequences. It says no to having decisions about faith, about life and death, love and marriage, birth and aging, health and sickness, hearth and home made in faraway Washington by Senators and bureaucrats and unelected judges. But by making it new again we won't just be empowering "red state" conservatives but "blue state" liberals as well, and everyone in between. And we can get Washington back to doing its job.
I'm not saying that social issues are not important enough to be Washington's business - I'm saying they are too important to be Washington's business.
The New Federalism is also a size-of-government idea. So many of the decisions Washington makes about social issues aren't necessary. If we didn't spend foreign aid money on social experiments we wouldn't need to fight about whether some of that money goes to Planned Parenthood. If we didn't have so many welfare programs we wouldn't have to fight about faith-based initiatives. The New Federalism means that when we are in doubt about whether a program really reflects Washington values, we shouldn't spend federal taxpayer dollars on it.
The New Federalism is about respect. A lot of people in this country want government to reflect their faith and their values. But different people worship in different ways, and have different values. We shouldn't be telling them that those values don't matter because some judge a thousand miles away thinks their faith is silly. When people make the rules for their own communities, they get to see their faith put into works. And if they want a community with different values, well, it's a big country. There's a place out there for everyone. Some people like Vermont, and some people like Utah. And nobody in Washington should be telling them there's anything at all wrong with that.
Let's take an example, abortion. Terrible decision, abortion. Is it about a child's life, or a woman's liberty? People of good faith come out either way, and they feel very strongly about the issue, so Washington fights about it every way it knows how. Now, you all know that throughout my public career I have always argued that the law should leave this intensely personal decision to each individual woman's conscience. And so naturally I was sympathetic when the Supreme Court said the same thing in Roe versus Wade. But let's listen to something Justice Scalia said about that decision:
Not only did Roe not . . . resolve the deeply divisive issue of abortion; it did more than anything else to nourish it, by elevating it to the national level, where it is infinitely more difficult to resolve. National politics were not plagued by abortion protests, national abortion lobbying, or abortion marches on Congress before Roe v. Wade was decided. Profound disagreement existed among our citizens over the issue - as it does over other issues, such as the death penalty - but that disagreement was being worked out at the state level. As with many other issues, the division of sentiment within each State was not as closely balanced as it was among the population of the Nation as a whole, meaning not only that more people would be satisfied with the results of state-by-state resolution, but also that those results would be more stable. Pre-Roe, moreover, political compromise was possible.
Roe's mandate for abortion on demand destroyed the compromises of the past, rendered compromise impossible for the future, and required the entire issue to be resolved uniformly, at the national level. At the same time, Roe created a vast new class of abortion consumers and abortion proponents by eliminating the moral opprobrium that had attached to the act. . . Roe fanned into life an issue that has inflamed our national politics in general, and has obscured with its smoke the selection of Justices to this Court, in particular, ever since.
Justice Scalia was right, and those of us who support legal access to abortion should have had the confidence in our own position and the faith in the American people to listen to him. The Supreme Court didn't need to take this issue away from the people, the states and local communities. We didn't need to stop trying to persuade people. The Constitution doesn't say anything about abortion, and it certainly doesn't say that decisions about it have to be made by judges in Washington.
I pledge to you today that I will appoint judges to the bench who have Justice Scalia's good sense and respect for the people, the law and the democratic process.
Some people will look at things I've said and done in the past and say that I'm changing my positions on some of these issues. But that's the whole point of a compromise. I'm not here to tell you that I've had some great conversion like St. Paul on the road to Damascus. I'm not a product to be packaged as the new, improved version. What I'm offering to do is meet people on both sides of the aisle halfway. And that means that we all have to accept that we can't get everything we want, everywhere, every time. We all need to stop trying to change the law by winning one election or appointing one judge. You want change, you start by changing the culture. We don't need the courts to do that - we just need them to get out of the way.
I'll give you another example. For a lot of years the Supreme Court tried to figure out when you can use the law to ban obscenity and pornography, and the best definition they could come up with was "I know it when I see it." And the Court kept taking more and more cases and making a bigger and bigger mess trying to make decisions for all these cities and towns across the country. Finally they basically gave up and said that the decision comes down to local community standards. That was in the early 1970s.
In New York, people had, well, some pretty elastic standards about what you could get away with. For a while it was anything goes, whatever floats your boat. But what happened by the time I became the Mayor was, we had parts of the city that used to be great, wonderful places, like Times Square, and they were overrun with sex shops and prostitution. You couldn't take your children through large parts of Manhattan.
As Mayor I changed that, and I didn't do it by calling up Washington and asking for federal legislation. I did it with local law enforcement and zoning laws and the tools at my disposal as Mayor. And people went to federal court to stop me - you know, almost everything I did in New York, somebody went to federal court to stop me. I might as well have changed my name to Versus Giuliani. And we didn't win all those court battles, but we won enough of them to make Times Square a place where decent people could take their families again. And that didn't happen because something changed in Washington. It changed because people in my city got fed up, and the culture changed enough to elect people who would do something about public order and decency.
We need to leave a lot more decisions - about abortion and gay rights, about drugs and guns - to individual communities to reflect their own values. Like New York in the 1970s, they may not always make the right decisions. But people have a way of learning over time to do the right thing in their own neighborhoods. That's the most conservative idea there is.
If we are going to go back to first principles and hand power back to local communities, we are all going to have to accept compromises at the national level. This whole culture war business over Washington values may have started with liberal judges rewriting the constitution, but it didn't get out of hand because any one group wanted to hijack the process. It happened because a lot of people of good faith on all sides just wanted to do the right thing - the right thing for innocent children or women's health or marriage or gay rights. People wanted to stop the spread of pornography, or to keep guns off the streets, or to keep an innocent woman from being starved to death by her husband. I'm not here to criticize anybody for wanting to do the right thing. But we are all going to need to resist the temptation to go back to the way things have been in national politics, and I'm starting that with my own positions. I hope you will join me.
Finally, a word for my fellow Republicans. Some of you are wondering whether a Giuliani presidency would mean rewriting the party platform and standing for something different. Others are hoping for just that. The New Federalism is the way for us to say we have a big tent party, and also say we have the party of people who vote their values, and mean both. By returning these issues to states and local communities, we can build state and local parties that reflect the diversity of our great country and yet still stand for the things we all have in common. I'm asking for your vote because I believe that those common principles deserve a bigger majority than we have had in some time as a national party. And our country deserves to have a president who does his job and lets local community leaders do theirs.
My own sense is, the media would really have had no choice but to eat this up, and it would have upended the narrative of the 2008 primary campaign by presenting Rudy, of all people, as the great peacemaker on social issues, while staying true to his fundamental issue positions.
We may never know.