May 1, 2002


Fair-Weather Federalism? (Glenn Harlan Reynolds, April 22, 2002, FOX News)
In supporting legislation banning cloning, President George W. Bush is being true to his moral principles.

Oh, there's room to argue: In the White House's renaming of therapeutic cloning as "research cloning," I smell a focus group. But Bush apparently feels that cloning violates his moral principles, even if--as Nick Schulz has pointed out--the White House has tried to blur the pro-life character of his stance.

Unfortunately, the president's moral principles are in this instance clashing with his professed constitutional principles--and the Constitution has lost.

Bush ran as a federalist, a respecter of the principles of limited government and enumerated powers that the Framers of our Constitution believed in. But in supporting federal legislation to ban cloning--even therapeutic cloning--Bush is revealing himself as a fair-weather federalist. Coupled with his recent decision to sign campaign finance
"reform" legislation despite earlier statements that he regarded it as unconstitutional, this action is endangering Bush's trustworthiness on the very constitutional principles that got him elected.

Having had my disagreements with Mr. Reynolds on the issue of genetic engineering, I find myself in surprising agreement with this column, though I'd reach a different conclusion. The Professor makes a compelling case that in the abstract the regulation of cloning may violate the original intent of Federalism. But that horse has long since left the barn. It might be noble and honorable but it would also be foolish for conservatives to unilaterally disarm in the name of a Federalism that has not existed for decades, maybe not for centuries. For the Federal government regulates many things (especially under the Commerce Clause which seems to cover cloning too) and impinges on States' Rights in a variety of ways that the Founders would have disapproved of, and that conservatives don't much like, but there's no realistic prospect that this will change anytime soon. There's just no willingness in the general public, nor much stomach even on the Right, for the kind of dislocation that a return to originalism would require. A die-hard Federalist can congratulate himself on his strict adherence to Federalist ideals, but in the meantime his opponents will be using widely accepted anti-federalist techniques to thwart his entire agenda--what a Pyrrhic victory.

More importantly though, Mr. Bush did not run primarily as a Federalist, but as a Christian Conservative. He is a moralist first, a federalist secondarily. And Federalism is not an end goal of conservatism, it is merely a means of achieving conservative ends. So when the means (States Rights) conflict with the ends (creating and maintaining a decent society) it should come as no surprise that it is the means that suffer compromise. From a strictly Federalist standpoint, the Civil War was unjustified too, but, outside of a few unreconstructed wahoos, who today regrets fighting to preserve the Union, or the equally unconstitutional Emancipation Proclamation?

What Mr. Reynolds seems to be suggesting is that he would sooner trust a president who is willing to behave immorally in order to vindicate a mere political proposition rather than one who acts on his moral principles regardless of the political consequences his actions may have. We prefer the latter.

UPDATE : If you are being brought here from Instapundit (welcome to you and thanks to the Professor) and are unfamiliar with this argument, the ideas about the tension between Christianity and democracy are developed more fully in this Brothers Judd review : Christian Faith and Modern Democracy: God and Politics in the Fallen World (2001)  (Robert P. Kraynak  1949-) .

Mr. Reynolds characterization of this post is accurate and I think his assessment of its import is right. People who do not think our government should vindicate Judeo-Christian morality should not vote for believing Jews or Christians. On the other hand, people who believe in morality should probably not vote for nonbelievers, who are practically by definition amoral. (One hardly needs to point out the absurdity of trusting the presidential oath of someone who, not believing in God, can not feel themself bound by the oath. )

This seems a reasonable trade off for conservatives, particularly in what remains, despite some attrition, a uniquely Judeo-Christian nation and, for that reason alone, uniquely democratic. When the former ceases to be true so will the latter, as witness the trends in post-Christian Europe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 1, 2002 3:00 PM
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