If you read about how the federal constitution came about, one thing is crystal clear: it was devised by people who wanted to create a strong federal government and saw the states as obstacles to doing so. The people who believed in states rights and an anemic federal government — the ancestors of today’s Tea Party — were the Anti-Federalists. And they lost.
But especially in recent decades, these modern day Anti-Federalists hatched a massive bamboozle in which they projected the the aims and values of the losers — the Anti-Federalists — on to the winners of the debates — Hamilton, Madison, Washington, Franklin and the rest of them.
This hasn’t simply been an effort on the terrain of political argument. It’s dominated the high-toned theory of the conservative legal academy as well.
But now it seems that anti-federal government thought has become so powerful and accepted that it’s finally ready to come out of the Anti-Federalist closet and embrace its true heritage: The Articles of Confederation, the failed union of sovereign states the federal constitution was hatched to replace.
In her latest column (thanks to Jon Chait for flagging it), Amity Shlaes proposed a major reversion to the Articles of the Confederation model: removing the federal government’s ability to tax individuals and replacing it with a claim on states. In other words, devolving the taxing power to the states. And the idea actually appears to come from none other than Kevin Hassett, one of Mitt Romney’s economic advisors.
Whatever else, getting the real identities of the players in the ‘federalism’ debate is a very positive development.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.