Political reporters seem much more comfortable discussing allegations of hypocrisy than discussing policy substance, so I should be glad that the extent of Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s bizarre ideas are getting some attention through the lens of hypocrisy. But I do hasten to add that the real story is the ideas not the hypocrisy. For example, Manny Fernandez and Emily Ramshaw report that “Though in his book he criticizes Mr. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act and suggests it is unconstitutional, Mr. Perry accepted financing for the education program as governor.”
As a hypocrisy hit, this is accurate, but a bit weak. Clearly, if Rick Perry genuinely believes that federal K-12 education spending is unconstitutional, he shouldn’t sully his hands with it. But the impulse not to unilaterally disarm when Congress is handing out money is totally understandable. What’s not at all understandable is the underlying belief that federal K-12 education spending is unconstitutional. There’s nothing in the text of the constitution or the history of American constitutional law to suggest that his view of this is correct. As a policy matter, zeroing out federal education spending would be a disaster for high-poverty communities (and poorer states in general) as well as exacerbating recessions by making government spending even more pro-cyclical.
And recall that education is just the beginning for Perry. He says there’s no need for federal bank regulators to have a process for receiving public commentary on proposed regulations, since there shouldn’t be any: “If the Constitution were shown the appropriate respect, Washington regulation writers wouldn’t have to worry about underrepresented views, because they wouldn’t have control over them in the first place.” He deplores Commerce Clause jurisprudence authoring “federal laws regulating the environment, regulating guns, protecting civil rights, establishing the massive programs and Medicare and Medicaid, creating national minimum wage laws, [and] establishing national labor laws.” Now in practice, I don’t think the Perry administration is going to succeed in achieving Perry’s stated goal of eliminating all federal labor and environmental regulation. But President Perry will be appointing people to manage the relevant regulatory agencies, and the fact that he regards their basic functions as fundamentally illegitimate is a big deal.