Salena Zito posted a brilliant article on Real Clear Politics which contrasts the differing philosophies of government between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.
Zito states that America is moving away from the Hamiltonian model i.e. “His vision was to promote an economy based on commerce, wealth and strict laws, advancing towards a technological age and European-style collectivism.”
Hamilton was, in his wider view, a non-believer in the basic capabilities of humankind to manage its affairs” he believed humans were inherently flawed and, left on their own, made poor choices.
In contrast, Jefferson “had a deep belief in man’s goodness and liberty’s importance...and his vision of America was of a decentralized federal government with power spread out to the states and local governments”
Zito sees the election of 2010, and incidences from popular culture as marking a shift away from the Hamiltonian to the Jeffersonian with the Democratic Party being particularly “out of sync” with this changing mood.
Whilst making the point that American history is one of “zigzagging” between these visions-not wholly embracing either, Zito stops short, I believe, of the full transcendence of the deepest nature of the 2010 result.
For the true nature of this paradigm shift we need to look beyond Jefferson, whose vision has been, to some degree, made archaic by the shift from the agricultural country America was in his time, to the commercial one Hamilton conceived of, to now consider the vision of his colleague James Madison.
Madison had moved in his thinking to a strong states rights position.* “He characterized inherent or implied (i.e. federal) powers as ‘the creatures of ambition...powers extracted from such sources will be indefinitely multiplied by the aid of ...patronage which, with the impossibility of controlling them by any demarcation....would ultimately swallow up state sovereignties”.
In his later thinking Madison had been inclining towards the doctrine of “Dual Federalism,” according to which collisions between the states and federal government were to be avoided by recognizing that the purposes which the general government was intended to promote were relatively few, whereas the states were entrusted with the furtherance of government; the public safety, morals, and the general welfare.”
The states rights position is one that is clearly recognizable as one that has indeed had a zigzag course through American history. In ascendance throughout the laissez-faire pre-depression time of the first third of the twentieth century, and very much in abeyance during the centralising period of Roosevelt’s administration and the second World War.
Democratic Party majorities in congress were tempered by the substantial number of old South representatives who, due to longevity, headed up key committees. Democratic Party president’s ambitions towards centralizing were quickly muted by mid-term swings to the GOP. However, during the G.W. Bush years things got out of kilter.
A huge swing to the traditional control on the leftward swing of the Clinton administration “The Contract with America” was negated as the pitfalls of becoming a Washington insider allied with a tendency to fall for the siren songs of lobbyists, led to a massive increase in government spending. That this led to economic near collapse and the massive repudiation of the Republican Party in 2008 was a natural consequence.
The hubris of the Obama administration driven by a demanding “progressive” left and a lickspittle media, led them to a wildly leftward swing which was, as Zito points out, rejected strongly and led to the rise of the Tea Party.
In examining this return to Jeffersonian principles, which is described by quoting an author Dr.Lara Brown as “our culture connecting with individual liberty again” Zito misses the Madisonian prescription. The “principal objects of government...public safety and general welfare” are implied in the Jeffersonian blueprint, what is missing is the third arm of the Madisonian analysis-morals as a principal object of government.
This is understandable as Jefferson was a deist, at best, and his view of human nature was predicated on man’s inherent goodness. The true nature of America has been one of a belief in man’s inherent goodness allied with an abiding belief in a loving God who guides America’s destiny. “One nation under God” is still the prevailing ethos no matter how much the progressives may wish to demean and deprecate this ideal.
The election of 2012 will be a battle between the Hamiltonian forces as represented by the Obama administration and the Madisonian forces represented by Sarah Palin.
It is clear that Palin’s entire political being is a combination of Jefferson’s individualism and belief in states rights and the inherent goodness of mankind, coupled with Madison’s belief in (state) governments having a responsibility to be an exemplar in morals. This assumption of moral guidance is one of “by example” and not by force.
Palin would have ranged against her the massive forces of centralization, the bureaucracy, the liberal media and the violent “progressive” blogosphere. It would be normally a daunting, near impossible challenge for one lone woman.
But the reality is that Palin will have an army of supporters and, perhaps, most importantly “an idea whose time has come” which idea is as old as history and is an unstoppable force.
*Madison quotations from asterisk to end of quotations at "general welfare" 'The Federalist Era 1789-1801' John C. Miller