Suffice it to say, the Republicans know they should not just be against Obamaism; they should be for freedom but are afraid to articulate why because, frankly, they, too, want to be re-elected, and doing so would require articulating the conservative philosophy they may not understand.
Let’s face it - conservatism is confusing to some Republicans: “Wait, we’re conservatives, but we are for the liberalism of the Enlightenment?” And there has always been that mystery over the difference between federalism and being a federalist: “Hold on, a federalist is for centralized power, but federalism is against centralized power? Huh?” Or, “How can a conservative also be a revolutionary?”
What conservatism-populism-libertarianism - which some used to call Reaganism - needs is an updated nom de plume, a new “handle.” Something easily understood: localism.
It is nice and friendly sounding, easily and immediately understood. Who is opposed to local control? Localism. Think local market, local school and local hardware store. All these things work marvelously well at the local level, so why can’t government also work at the local level?
Forget ideology for a second. This country is the third most populous nation on Earth, with more than 300 million residents. It is vast, diverse, and it has become apparent to all that it is simply impractical to govern this country from one corrupt city-state along the Potomac.
Localism is intellectual common sense. Liberalism - the seizing of power and wielding of it from afar - is anti-intellectualism.
The response of the Arizona Legislature is a natural outgrowth of the failure of Washington, and it should be applauded by all who applaud local control. Undeniably, across the country, 50 sovereign states are reasserting themselves in dramatic and creative fashion, from suing Washington over the insulting threats to the 10th Amendment to challenging Washington’s authority over public education.
President Obama has unleashed a great new national debate in America, one not seen since the days of Reagan. Mr. Obama, like Alexander Hamilton, Woodrow Wilson and Lyndon B. Johnson, believes in controlling and ultimately subjugating the behavior of the citizenry in the name of “helping them.” Mr. Obama though, in attacking the state of Arizona, is fostering localism, not forestalling it. Creative revolt is spreading, and with the rise of the Tea Party movement, we are witnessing new history being made. The rise of this movement is as important a political development as the rise of the Reagan Democrats in 1980.
The American citizenry is engaging in the full flower of a New Enlightenment, believing that the natural state of people is freedom through secularism or through faith and that natural law dictates that people should be free of the state.
Americans want more than just to own a loaf of bread. They want to own their own lives again. They want local control.
On his deathbed, the old abolitionist and Republican Frederick Douglass was asked by a young man his career advice. Douglass replied, “Agitate son. Agitate, agitate, agitate.”
The battle has been joined.
Craig Shirley is president of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs and has written two books on Ronald Reagan, including his newest, “Rendezvous With Destiny” (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2009). He is now working on a political biography of Newt Gingrich.