I’m a bit late to the book review club for Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s “Fed Up.” Others have noted the eye-catching parts, especially his distaste for the 16th and 17th Amendments and his fondness for the 10th. I’ll add a few thoughts to what has been discussed elsewhere, rather than go through the entire book.
The book is primarily a sort of Tea Party manifesto and a states’ rights homage, so it is an incomplete guide to what sort of policies he might carry out as president. He has some bold pronouncements about scraping the federal income tax in favor of a national sales tax or a Fair Tax. He favors a balanced budget amendment. And yes, he calls Social Security a Ponzi scheme. However, there is not much in there about how to reform entitlements or what sort of policies (other than federal government inactivity) he favors. That may work to his benefit, allowing him greater flexibility to roll out new ideas. But the book embodies his Texas-centric sensibility—he currently has the best job in the world, he writes in the preface—and suggests a vast devolution of power to the states.
His devotion to the 10th Amendment is sincere and robust. Several times throughout the book he says that marriage is an issue for the states. “If you don’t like medicinal marijuana and gay marriage, don’t move to California.” (p.13) Later he writes, “From marriage to prayer, from zoning laws to tax policy, from our school systems to healthcare, and everything in between it is essential to our liberty that we be allowed to live as we see fit through the democratic process at the local and state level.” (p.27) Once again, he writes in the section entitled “States Should be the Laboratories of Democracy” that states and localities need the leeway to devise different solutions to a range of social issues. (He is savvy enough to carve out civil rights legislation, which he contends is authorized by the Civil War amendments.) Whether this perspective conflicts with more recent statements on issues like gay marriage will no doubt be the subject of debate in the campaign.
His penchant for constitutional amendments (to let Congress override the Supreme Court, for term limits on judges, spending limit amendment) is not especially conservative in temperament. Conservatives usually like the Constitution pretty much the way it is, and fear that too much meddling places in jeopardy the intricate balance of powers and the ample defense of individual rights it provides. His amendment boosterism suggests, if he is serious, very widespread structural changes in government that could have long term unintended consequences. But of course amendments would be a long time in coming and in all likelihood would fail. So is this just rhetoric? And what do we do for policy on taxes, spending and the like in the meantime?
His campaign has given conflicting answers to whether he is still wedded to everything in the book. But there is a way to find out — ask him. Why not have him sit down with a journalist and go through the book discussing and explaining it? It certainly would give him an opportunity to communicate what is in the book without others putting their own spin on it. Maybe at the debates he’ll get a chance to do some of that.