I've long thought that President Thomas Jefferson's creative vision was for an America which hasn't been born yet. That we had repudiated Jefferson in favor of Alexander Hamilton's view of one world economy and centralized government. But Indiana Gov. Mike Pence's (R) comments last week suggest a historic sea change.
"The one [Hamilton] was extreme centralization," wrote historian Frank Owsley, "the other [Jefferson] was extreme decentralization; the one was nationalistic and the other provincial; the first was called Federalism, the other States['] Rights, but in truth the first should have been called Unitarianism and the second Federalism."
Then what Pence described at the NRA conference last week in Indianapolis might rightly be called Federalism.
What we had before was perhaps right for the times when America consisted of three cities and a forest, but now that the forest is full, it is Jefferson's time: Jefferson's American centuries lie ahead.
Pence's view might be called "American realism" as it models the demographics of populations and economy which have moved west since the end of World War II and before, building a new, a different, American cultural, political and economic paradigm and one which is just now awakening and rising to prominence.
He told the NRA crowd:
"Washington, D.C. is not only broke, it's broken. The longer I serve as Governor of this great state, the more convinced I am that the cure for what ails this country will come more from our nation's state capitals than it ever will from our nation's capital.
"We must never relent in our efforts to renew the national government. But with equal vigor, redouble our efforts to advance freedom and American ideals in every state in the land. Despite what Washington, D.C. may think, our state governments are not territorial outposts of the federal government. ... It will not be enough for renewed majorities in Washington, D.C. to simply cut government spending. We must demand that the next generation of leaders permanently reduce the size and scope of the federal government by restoring to the states and to the people those resources and responsibilities that are rightfully theirs under the Constitution of the United States."
Conservatives frequently talk of "small government" but only to thin spending on projects they don't like to shift funds to their own projects. They ignore the states entirely and even further advance centralization and Washington dominance. But it is there in the states, as Pence says, where the future of America awakens.
This was America's first Jeffersonian vision. Maybe it was not possible until today, prevented by time and historic circumstances and the accumulation of wealth since the Industrial Revolution in the northeastern quadrant of the United States. Now it is time.
I reported here in September 2013 that Pence was part of a fledgling political initiative, a new Jeffersonian movement to shift control of America's fate from Washington to the states, where it was intended to be. It is today a movement still seeking form and an archetypal leader. That could well be Mike Pence.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.