At the same time, it has to be kept in mind that in American history Jeffersonianism has often been terribly distorted in order to justify vile treatment of African-Americans: the idea of “state rights” (a perfectly fine idea when rightly understood) has been used to justify slavery and racial segregation. This heritage of a distorted and misused Jeffersonianism stands in the way of Tea Party progress, since many outsiders believe that if you’re a Tea Party person your philosophy of “less government” is probably nothing more than a cover for your racism. However, the theory of subsidiarity — and a true understanding of the Jeffersonian philosophy — doesn’t simply say, “Leave it to the locals.” It also says, “If the locals can’t handle it, move it to a higher level.”
So I invite Tea Party folks to announce that they are champions of subsidiarity. And they can do this without turning Catholic. All they have to do is to admit to themselves that they are Jeffersonians.
David Carlin, a former Democratic Majority Leader of the Rhode Island Senate, is the author of Can a Catholic Be a Democrat? How the Party I Loved Became the Enemy of My Religion.