Republicans have dominated Texas politics for decades. During that time, Texas Republicans have developed a reputation of being in favor of free enterprise and limited government. But is this reputation deserved? Are they really defenders of individual liberty, or are they something else. This week, I will look at the ideas that dominate the Texas Republican Party.
Rick Perry served as governor of Texas longer than anyone. He has also authored several books, and thus, he provides us with insight into the ideas that guide the Texas Republican Party.
During his time in office, Perry presided over one of the nation’s most vibrant economies, but he also worked to pass a number of laws that restrict the non-economic activities of Texans. Perhaps the most notable of these was his 2007 executive order that mandated all 11-year-old girls be vaccinated for human papillomavirus, which causes cervical cancer. While the order allowed parents to opt-out, and Perry later rescinded the order after enduring heavy criticism, it illustrates Perry’s views on the role and purpose of government.
In his book, Fed Up!, Perry explains his view on state government: “States have the prerogative to legislate on any topic—public health, morals, and so forth—while the new federal government was designed to be of limited function” (p23). He went on to write, “From marriage to prayer, from zoning laws to tax policy, from our school systems to health care, and everything in between, it is essential to our liberty that we be allowed to live as we see fit through the democratic process at the local and state level” (p27).
Consider that Perry does not speak of individuals living as they choose. Instead, he speaks of the group—we—making collective decisions through the democratic process. The group, not individuals, should make decisions regarding morals, marriage, health care “and everything in between.”
Perry repeatedly denounces statism—the view that the individual is subordinate to the government—writing that “statists believe in a powerful, activist central government…” (p13). Despite this, he is not opposed to the subjugation of the individual to a central government; but he wants that government to be located in the state capital. Perry merely opposes statism on the national level. On the state and local level, he advocates for democracy—for the individual to be subservient to the majority. He writes:
Your city council, your mayor, your local school board, and often even your state representative are people who live and work in your neighborhood. These are people you are more likely to be able to influence and whom you can more easily hold accountable. So, is it better for them or for Washington to have more power over your life? (p12)
Perry doesn’t object to the fact that politicians have power over our lives. He simply wants us to have an opportunity to influence those politicians.
Whether we have influence over politicians is irrelevant. If they have power over our lives, our lives are not ours to live as we choose. Ultimately, the decisions of those politicians supersede our own decisions. The real question isn’t which politicians should have power over our lives, but rather whether any politician should have power over our lives. And according to the principles of America’s founding, the answer is a resounding NO.
Perry implies that if we have a voice in policies and legislation, then we are free. The fact that we are forced to abide by the policies and decisions of legislators, regardless of our own values, desires, or judgment, is not mentioned by Perry. Perry believes it proper to force individuals to abide by the dictates of the majority in regard to land use, taxes, and other economic issues, as well as marriage, morals, education, health care, and “everything in between.”
To Perry, there is virtually nothing that states cannot regulate, so long as the majority is in agreement. Perry claims that “there are fundamental rights, expressed in the Constitution and Bill of Rights,” such as the right to bear arms (p99). But he later writes, “Through the police power, states have the right to determine what should or should not be lawful behavior and to administer punishments accordingly” (p107). If the state—through its police power— can determine “what should or should not be lawful behavior,” on what basis can he claim that we possess certain fundamental rights? What limitations are there on state government?
If one accepts Perry’s premise, there are no limitations on what state governments can do. If the state can regulate economic issues—land use, taxation, and health care—as well as social issues—marriage and morals—there is virtually no activity beyond the state’s control.
To Perry, liberty does not pertain to the individual, but to the majority—the collective. To Perry, liberty means the “freedom” of the majority to impose its values upon the entire citizenry. Federalism, he writes, allows “like-minded people who share our values and beliefs” to live in the same state (p13). And those who do not share those values and beliefs can either live elsewhere, or be forced to conform to those values and beliefs. In short, according to Perry, individual rights are not unalienable, but subject to the permission and approval of the majority.