Let’s be honest: We all know you’re not really gonna quit smoking, start exercising, and eat more vegetables as of today. As Emerson wryly remarked: “All promise outruns performance.”
The key to keeping your New Year’s resolutions is to make them more realistic. Rather than try to drastically change the way you live, why not start with the more modest goal of changing the way you speak? And what better place to start for conservatives than with America’s Founding principles?
As conservatives continue to rediscover the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, it is important to use words and embrace ideas that are consistent with our Founding principles.
If you’re fond of the term “states’ rights,” have a soft spot for nullification, are tempted by isolationism or are wary of equality, here are four simple resolutions to begin getting right with America’s principles. Once you have these down, you can start correcting your friends and move on to other core concepts.
1. Speak of Federalism, not “States’ Rights”
States don’t have rights. People do.
States have powers. Nowhere in the Constitution are states said to possess rights. Congress has certain powers, clearly enumerated in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, and the conservative-favorite Tenth Amendment makes clear that all the other powers are reserved to the states.
Not only is it incorrect to speak of states’ rights, but the expression has more baggage than Samsonite and Louis Vuitton combined. In case you didn’t know, “states’ rights” was the rallying cry of segregationists. Since no right-thinking conservative will keep company with such people, let’s just drop the term states’ rights once and for all.
If you’re concerned about federal encroachments on state sovereignty or the erosion of federalism–as you should be–then speak of federal encroachments on state sovereignty or the erosion of federalism. Or of the need to restore limited constitutional government, reinvigorate local self-government, decentralize power or check the growth of out-of-control government. With so many great formulations to choose from, why weaken the case for liberty by relying on “states’” rights?
2. Resist the Nullification Temptation
Are you unhappy with the constitutional abomination called Obamacare? Do you think that Congress has no power to compel you to purchase health insurance?
Good. Now encourage the repeal of the law or wait and see what mood Justice Anthony Kennedy will be in next June when the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of Obamacare.
But please don’t start talking about nullification as the magical silver bullet that other conservatives somehow overlooked in their efforts to repeal Obamacare (or any other unconstitutional law, for that matter).
Nullification is blatantly unconstitutional. As James Madison pointed out in 1798, 1800 and again during the Nullification Crisis of 1832, individual states do not have the power to unilaterally declare federal legislation unconstitutional. They have the power–in fact, the duty–to challenge laws they deem objectionable, but this must be done within the existing constitutional framework. Let us behold a republican remedy, as Madison would say, to this federal overreach.
3. Isolationism is un-American
Unless you’re describing the Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan or the hermit kingdom of North Korea, “isolationism” should be eliminated from conservative foreign policy discussions.
As a nation dedicated to the universal truth of human equality, America simply cannot withdraw from the world and be indifferent to the fate of liberty. American exceptionalism is fundamentally incompatible with isolationism. More so than any other country, we have a duty to stand for liberty.
And no, the Founders were not isolationists. The Heritage Foundation’s Marion Smith has written the definitive refutation of this bogus argument in “The Myth of Isolationism.”
So if we’re not isolationists, does that mean we’re interventionists who want to make the world “safe for democracy“? Of course not. There is a middle ground between naive isolationism and crusading interventionism: a distinctively American foreign policy, anchored in the principles of the Founding, that secures our interests all the while upholding our commitment to liberty–a commitment which need not necessarily translate into military interventions.
4. Equality is not a four-letter word
Seeing how the Left blathers on incessantly about inequality and dreams of a Harrison Bergersonesque America, some conservatives are wary of equality. Yet no word is more central to the American tradition which we uphold than equality.
Equality is the first self-evident truth proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and ours is a country “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” By this, of course, we mean equal natural rights and the equal opportunities afforded by free markets and the rule of law.
The real tragedy of inequality in America is not that some earn more than others–class envy is something that afflicts Europeans, not Americans. Rather, it is that big government breeds what Paul Ryan calls “a class of bureaucrats and connected crony capitalists trying to rise above the rest of us, call the shots, rig the rules, and preserve their place atop society.”
Let us therefore reclaim the mantle of equality from those who’ve perverted it in the pursuit of equal outcomes.
- David Azerrad is Assistant Director, B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics.
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