A candidate for President should present to the voters a reasonably attractive personality, experience and evidence of sound judgment, a clear-eyed understanding of the challenges and opportunities our Nation faces, and an array of plausible, sound policy proposals. (Fundraising prowess and skeleton-free closets are nice, too.) He or she should also — and this is crucial — understand and appreciate the close, rich connection between the enjoyment of human liberty and the structural features of the limited government for which our Constitution is a blueprint.
An eminent scholar of constitutional law, echoing James Madison and many other luminaries, has observed that "[t]he genius of the American Constitution lies in its use of structural devices to preserve individual liberty." I agree. And, in my view, the candidate who seems most inclined, and best prepared, to honor this "genius" is Sen. Fred Thompson.
Every candidate has a stump speech and each has floated, endorsed, and promised — ideally, without contradiction or inconsistency — a dizzying array of programs, initiatives, and — of course — "changes." Informed voters realize, though, that so much of what presidential candidates propose and embrace is, to a great extent, beyond the practical capacity of Presidents to get done. A candidate can say — and they all do — that he or she will "reform health-care" or "restore traditional family values" or "defend our borders", but sophisticated citizens understand that a President's ability to deliver these goodies is constrained by Senate rules, powerful House Committee chairpersons, the stock market's performance, and the like.
We need to ask, then, not only about a candidate's grab-bag of wonkery and litany of bullet-points, but also about his or her animating commitments. Sen. Thompson has staked out what I think are realistic and responsible positions on a wide range of important issues. More important, though, he has developed and shared, in a way that goes well beyond candidates' usual sound-bite sloganeering, the "first principles", which arise "out of the documents of Nation's founding and the wisdom of the ages", and that "guide [his] approach to the issues that are crucial to our Nation's future." (Go to the campaign web site, and see for yourself.) This exposition is one that, in my view, commends Sen. Thompson's candidacy to all of us who value the rule of law and cherish our Constitution's particular "genius."
Sen. Thompson understands — as did the Framers — that (in his words) "[g]overnment must be strong enough to protect us, competent enough to provide basic government services, but limited by the delineated powers in the Constitution." To achieve and maintain such a government — in a way that protects and respects human freedom — is, of course, no small challenge. Our constitutional response to this challenge reflects the considered belief that, as the Supreme Court has put it, "liberty of the person inheres in [constitutional] structure." Put differently, and as Chief Justice Rehnquist observed, this "constitutionally mandated division of authority was adopted by the Framers to ensure protection of our fundamental liberties."
These are not airy abstractions, far removed from real-world, "kitchen table" concerns. Our President must understand — and I believe Sen. Thompson does — the Constitution's end (human freedom) and means (federalism, separation of powers, and limited government). This matters more, all things considered, than the extent to which his canned debate answers please dial-turning focus-group members. "Our Constitution," he recognizes, "innovatively guarantees our liberties by spreading power among the three branches of the federal government, and between the federal government and the states."
(For more from Sen. Thompson on this point, go here.)
Now, among the President's most important responsibilities — second only, perhaps, to his national-security duties and his obligations as Commander in Chief — is the identification, nomination, and support of Executive officials and federal judges who understand the Constitution's "innovative" design and their own role in its service. They must be willing to enforce the Constitution's limited-government and separation-of-powers features and, at the same time, respect the limits on their own powers. Federal judges must appreciate — they must really believe — that the Constitution protects freedom not so much by authorizing them to resolve divisive moral and policy questions as by structuring government in a way that facilitates the enjoyment of ordered liberty.
No doubt, the valuable assistance Sen. Thompson provided during the confirmation of our new, excellent Chief Justice both confirmed and deepened his understanding of the importance of good judges. And, once again, Sen. Thompson's clear statement of "principles" justifies our confidence: "A free and independent judiciary that interprets the law by adhering strictly to legal text and respects its limited role in our system of government is essential to our security and freedom, and we need judges who understand that role if we are to preserve our republic and freedom."
Finally, this last statement adds texture to Sen. Thompson's firm, consistent, multi-faceted commitment to the dignity of human life, which has earned the respect and endorsement of a wide range of pro-life groups and individuals. Some might wonder whether Sen. Thompson's pro-life views are in tension with his limited-government principles. They are not. Quite the contrary, in fact. At the end of the day, no political community can be what ours aspires to be if it excludes children in the womb entirely from the law's protection. Even a limited government limits private violence. Putting aside the merits of the moral question, though, there exist few greater insults to the freedom-protecting structural features of our Constitution than the Supreme Court's gross and arrogant overreaches in the Roe and Casey decisions. Only a presidential candidate who sees — as Sen. Thompson does — these rulings for what they are can, at the end of the day, be taken seriously as a friend of ordered liberty through limited government.
Related Posts (on one page):
- Prof. Rick Garnett on Why He Supports Fred Thompson for President:
- Prof. Brad Smith on Why He Supports Mitt Romney for President:
- Prof. David Beito and Scott Horton on Why They Support Ron Paul for President:
- Prof. John McGinnis on Why He Supports Rudy Giuliani for President:
- Libertarianish Law Professors on Why They Support Their Presidential Candidates: