Parsing the Rick Perry rebellion: A manifesto of Western conservatism

What we may have seen rise to relevance this past week at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is political contention between red states and blue states. You might say a contention has begun to take substantive form between the Eastern establishment and Western conservatives, primarily represented by Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R).

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Perry proposed a virtual manifesto of new thinking which might be considered a manifesto of advancing Western conservatism.

“I am reminded this morning of words that speak to the American soul ... words spoken by Thomas Jefferson, who said ‘a little rebellion now and then is a good thing.' ... So I have a simple suggestion: It is time for a little rebellion on the battlefield of ideas."

Taking particular aim at New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Hillary Clinton as “prison guards of the past,” Newt Gingrich came later to reinforce what Perry had said. It is actually time for “a big rebellion in the battlefield of ideas,” he added. Conservatives should offer an “alternative government movement,” Gingrich said, not an “opposition movement.” 

As Perry articulated it: “Instead of looking to Washington to find the front lines of this battle, I ask you to look to the states, where we find the laboratories of innovation, and 50 different experiments in democracy taking place.”

Parsing three key items of Perry’s speech:

Jeffersonian rebellion. Rebellion, not revolution. In a word, there are two approaches to American governance articulated at the founding: Hamilton’s vision of centralized power and Jefferson’s of heart-based indigenous “natural states” rising across the continent. We today have two central-government parties, the Democrats and Republicans. Perry brings forth an actual Jeffersonian approach. It is a transformational approach to America’s future.

Red and blue America. Perry takes the blue vs. red division out of political abstraction to regional competition. “Among the states we see two visions for America. There's the vision common in blue states, where the state plays an increasing role in the lives of its citizens. And then there's the vision common to red state America where the freedom of the individual comes first, and the reach of government is limited.”

Devolution. “That's why we must elect the right kind of leaders to represent us in Washington, leaders who devolve power to the states and not rob them of it.” This is the truly rebellious idea. Since 1913 and the passage of the 17th Amendment, power has shifted to New York and Washington, D.C. Other conservatives talk of smaller government to cut or reduce spending but retain centralization of power. Actually reformulating America by restoring power to the states is a holistic crossing of the river to a new America.

Thankfully, Perry did not quote Limp Bizkit or play the guitar. And CPAC was thrilled to see again the inspired barnstorming preacher/governor those back home in Texas have long known so well. That governor never arrived in the 2012 presidential race. Quite possibly, the primary forum felt foreign and artificial to him. Possibly his time is still ahead.

Quigley is a prize-winning writer who has worked more than 35 years as a book and magazine editor, political commentator and reviewer. For 20 years he has been an amateur farmer, raising Tunis sheep and organic vegetables. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and four children. Contact him at quigley1985@gmail.com.

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