Rick Perry = AuH20?

It’s understandable that Rick Perry superficially reminds some people of George W. Bush, though their differences are also well-documented.

On the other hand, a half-century ago, a macho ex–Air Force pilot from the Southwest took the Republican party by storm, articulating the constitutional flaws of the New Deal, and arguing in a widely-read book,

The Tenth Amendment is not “a general assumption,” but a prohibitory rule of law. The Tenth Amendment recognizes the States’ jurisdiction in certain areas. “States’ Rights” mean that the states have a right to act or not to act, as they see fit, in the areas reserved to them. The States may have duties corresponding to these rights, but the duties are owed to the people of the States, not to the federal government…The Constitution, I repeat, draws a sharp and clear line between federal jurisdiction and state jurisdiction. The federal government’s failure to recognize that line has been a crushing blow to the principle of limited government.

The author of these sentiments is widely credited with founding the modern conservative movement (along with a certain editor of a certain fortnightly), and inspired this speech by a radio spokesman named Ronald Reagan:

In 1964, Barry Goldwater was nominated by the Republican party to challenge Lyndon Johnson for the presidency. But while conservatives of a certain vintage recall that ’64 campaign fondly, the extreme nature of Goldwater’s defeat was no virtue. In January of 1965, Democrats found themselves with a 155-seat majority in the House of Representatives and a 36-seat majority in the Senate. In January of 2009, by comparison, Democrats’ majorities were “merely” 79 in the House and 20 in the Senate.

That 1965 Congress, the most left-wing in history, immediately went to work passing a series of amendments to the Social Security Act that we now know as Medicare and Medicaid. It’s ironic that the defeat of Goldwater, the first postwar presidential nominee to frontally challenge the New Deal, led directly to New Deal II — the Great Society — and thereby to our present fiscal crisis.

The 2012 election, we all know, could be similarly consequential: failure to repeal Obamacare will make us nostalgic for the deficits of today.

There are a few reasons to believe that Perry 2012 will be different from Barry 1964. Perry, as the long-serving governor of a surging state, can speak to pocketbook issues in a way that Senator Goldwater could not. The national unemployment rate in November 1964 was 4.8 percent, compared to 9.2 percent today. Perry’s political team, by all accounts, is talented, disciplined, and effective.

While none of the GOP presidential candidates have proposed a detailed, credible plan to address entitlement reform, it’s arguably Perry who would be best-served by such a plan: it would aid the perception that he is a pragmatic problem-solver, and prevent others from successfully caricaturing him as an entitlement abolitionist. To be certain, they will try, but thoughtful reforms in the pursuit of liberty are no vice.

Avik Roy — Avik Roy is the President of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity (FREOPP.org), a non-partisan, non-profit think tank.

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