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The Contradictions of a Conservative

The good, the bad, and the ugly in Rick Perry's Fed Up

Gene Healy
August 23, 2011

Editor's Note: This column is reprinted with permission of the Washington Examiner. Click here to read it at that site.

Last week, Ezra Klein, star liberal blogger for The Washington Post, enthused that "Rick Perry's book is good. Really."

Unlike most campaign books, Klein reported, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington is "a book about Rick Perry's ideas. And his big idea is that most everything the federal government does is unconstitutional."

That sounded like chicken soup for my frosty libertarian soul, so I got a copy and dug right in.

I won't go as far as Klein—to say the book is "good" smacks of "the soft bigotry of low expectations," as Perry's fellow ex-cheerleader and former Texas governor George W. Bush once put it. If Barry Goldwater's The Conscience of a Conservative was Merle Haggard, Fed Up! is strictly Lee Greenwood.

Still, Perry's book is perhaps the most radical manifesto from a top-tier presidential candidate since Goldwater's 1960 tome—and some of the ideas it contains are very good indeed.

It's clear from Fed Up! that the guy with a degree in animal science from Texas A&M understands the Constitution better than Barack Obama, former president of the Harvard Law Review.

The book explains clearly how overbroad interpretations of the Constitution's Commerce and General Welfare clauses have led to a bloated federal government that's consuming the nation's future.

Fed Up! also reflects a solid appreciation of how federalism allows people of diverse viewpoints to live under one national government. As Perry puts it, "if you don't like medicinal marijuana and gay marriage, don't move to California."

Alas, Perry has already showed Mitt Romney-style flexibility on federalism, supporting a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. And, as The Wall Street Journal reports, "Perry Is Suddenly Less 'Fed Up' Over Social Security."

On Thursday, his spokesman protested that the book wasn't meant to reflect Perry's current views on the program.

In Fed Up! itself, Perry complains that most of the spending reductions in the '90s came about because Republicans didn't fight President Clinton's military cuts hard enough—and makes clear that, as president, not only would he take military spending—more than 20 percent of the budget—"off the table," he'd fight to increase spending.

Perry's also "fed up" that, under ObamaCare, "seniors are expected to see major Medicare cuts," and appalled that an Obama official suggested that the government could deny access to treatments that are " 'so expensive that our taxpayers have better use for those funds.' " "Shouldn't your doctor make that decision?" Perry asks.

There are legitimate constitutional and policy-based objections to ObamaCare's mechanisms for cost control. But when the taxpayer has to foot the bill and the cost is bankrupting the country, the answer to Perry's question can't be categorically "yes."

In the book's closing chapter, Perry envisions America after 15 years of conservative reform: "I see a nation where deficits are a thing of the past"—a pretty utopian goal even if Perry were willing to leave military spending and grandma's Medicare "on the table."

On page 174, we get more utopian still, with what may be one of the least conservative sentiments ever expressed by a self-styled conservative: "We are Americans," Perry writes, "of course we can have the world we want to live in."

Public opinion polls suggest that the world most Americans want to live in is one in which we can afford global hegemony, a gold-plated welfare state, and low levels of taxation—in short, a world without scarcity. Of course, we can't have that world.

It doesn't look like Perry is willing to tell Americans that hard truth. That's too bad: America could use a candidate with the conscience of a conservative and the courage of his convictions.

Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and author of The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power (Cato 2008). He is a columnist at the Washington Examiner, where this article originally appeared. Click here to read it at that site.



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