In Defense of the Federal Government

The federal government, the old song goes, is an intruder; anything she does can be done better, smaller, cheaper, and with less of an intrusion on personal liberties by the states. And nowhere is tune carried with more pride than in Texas; but at Governor Rick Perry’s inaugural address, immediately preceded by the remarkably, ah, secessionist speech of his lieutenant, the returning statesman played his common refrain to a odd, and notably dissonant melody. Texas is great, he says, and will survive despite the economy, because of her capacity to innovate. One excerpt that I honestly do love:

We tamed the frontier, formed our own Republic, discovered oil, pioneered space and transformed the marketplace. The first word spoken on the moon was “Houston,” [the name of] a city whose [founder] was not Texan by birth but Texan by choice, like millions more who would follow.

A great line — but inaccurate, insofar as it credits Texas alone with these victories. The moon landing, of course, was an American victory that happened to be run from Houston. Texas did her part and did it well, and has since leveraged the opportunity into “cornering the market” on America’s public space exploration effort, but it’s an opportunity that only fell to Texas by virtue of her membership in the Union. Texas didn’t go to the Moon; Texas helped her nation to the Moon. Just so, Texas is building herself into a scientific powerhouse. But that growth occurs, in substantial part, by virtue of federal dollars flowing into research universities.

I don’t mean to minimize the pride we all should feel for our states — or the accomplishments that make Texas’ future as bright as its past is inspiring. But Perry’s point, and Texas’ story, together illustrate the general rule, that the union is, ought to be, and must be strong, for only this union allows us to share in the collective greatness conferred by our individual uniqueness. It’s easy to paint the federal government as an enemy, but it is the tie that binds us, and one that operates more for the better than it does for the worse.



  1. Admittedly I skimed the speech very quickly but where do you see secessionist rhetoric? You complain that he doesn’t understand that Texas only succeeds because it is part of the Union but these closing remarks seem to contradict your assessment (emphais mine):

    ” And it’s the story of millions of Texans who have lived the American Dream in this state so abundant with opportunity – those who sacrifice, those who persevere, those who dust off their boots and get back up every time they get knocked down. They are the ones who know the meaning of the American Dream, the Texas Dream..

    He’s very clearly trying to link Texan ideals with what he perceives as American ideals. Not sure how that can be taken any other way.

    1. I suspected as much. So even if he’s not wrong, Perry is making a good point here that nevertheless undermines his at other points secessionist rhetoric.

      1. Kris – maybe you can point out the ‘secessionist rhetoric’. I just don’t see it.

        1. I didn’t necessarily mean in this speech, which I have not read. Perry has made secessionist statements, statements in favor of secession, in the very recent past.

          First he claims Texas might be better off without the federal government and the union of states, and then later touts the achievements of Texas that relied in no small part on the federal government.

          1. Ames is saying the sessionist rhetoric is in his Lt. Governor’s speech. I just don’t see it. He does reference a session of the state legislature. Maybe Ames got confused : )

  2. Tenther nullification arguments are an obvious dog whistle to secessionist concerns.

    1. Oh Lord….

      The tenther rhetoric is just an attempt to re-emphasize states’ rights. How many people are seriously talking about secession? How many people are seriously concerned about them attempting it? You haven’t joined the tinfoil hat brigade, have you Ames?

  3. Do you think the tenth amendment allows states to ignore federal laws with which they disagree, or has any substantive limit other than of the type expressed US v Printz, and US v New York?

    1. I don’t know enough about Consitutional law to give you an educated opinion on it. But I do understand the intent and I think it’s pretty harmless. It’s part of a long tradition of American populism. This is the latest manifestation. You should have majored in US history…the insight is so much more valuable than studying dead Romans.

  4. Haha, we can contest that, but I did both :). The tenther nullification arguments made by Perry’s lieutenant are a new gloss on Sam Calhoun’s old position, the one denied by Andrew Jackson, and that precipitated the Civil War. The inclusion of the Tenth Amendment as a prop is meant to buttress the otherwise meritless arguments, but in fact, add nothing. The point is, historically and logically, nullification is tied to secession.

    1. That’s not what LinkedIn says! There’s an ENORMOUS difference between statements made before the Civil War (when the threat of armed rebellion had been bubbling just below the surface for decades) and statements made in 2011. Surely you know that.

      I don’t believe they are tied other than as a matter of historical trivia. Nulliication doesn’t have to lead to secession. Secession was threatened once upon a time but that time is long past. The Civil War settled that question.

      1. Dick Turpis · ·

        I’ll admit I’m not expert in this, but coincidentally I was just reading about the Nullification Crisis under Jackson. When South Carolina threatened to nullify tariffs it seemed to leave Jackson with the choices of allowing state nullification of federal law (which would undermine the Union) or enforce the tariffs with federal troops, which comes pretty damn close to civil war. I’ll leave citations of case law to Ames and others with more knowledge of the subject, but it seems to me nullification was settled in the 1830s and 1860s. It is not in itself succession, but it is the first step on a road the inevitably leads either there or to a nation more under the Articles of Confederation than the Constitution.

  5. Haha, I am more than the sum of my LinkedIn profile :). And hasn’t the threat of armed rebellion been bubbling just below the surface in tea party ranks?

    1. Define ‘threat’. Are we talking ‘inflammatory rhetoric’ or folks actually arming themselves? Do you actually think that a significant amount of TP folks would be stupid enough to try to take on the federal government in an armed conflict?

  6. Yeah, there’s a bit of nullificationist subtext in there. But on the other hand, one thing that struck me about the speech is how he refers to Jefferson et al. as “our Founding Fathers” without blinking, when the Texan ‘Founding Fathers’ properly speaking are an entirely different group of people about 50 years later. That speaks of a pretty internalized American identity to me.

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