Interest continues to grow in the concept of federalism, what it means, where it came from, and how it can heal the country. In this edition of our ongoing interview series with prominent political voices, we discuss federalism and the Constitution with William F.B. O’Reilly, the President Pro Tem of The Federalist Party of America (FPA). Mr. O’Reilly is not only involved with FPA, he is a columnist at Newsday, a former board member of the American Association of Political Consultants, and a current board member at The William F. Buckley Jr. Program at Yale.
We highly enjoyed the opportunity to ask Mr. O’Reilly some questions, and we hope the readers equally enjoy his answers.
1. Your recent National Review Article announcing the launch of The Federalist Party of America attracted a lot of attention. What kind of responses have you seen? Did you expect people to respond to the way they have?
- The response has been overwhelming, and in the most reassuring way. I’m hearing from serious people — conservatives and fiscally responsible Democrats — who feel they have no place to turn in national politics anymore. They understand that the American future is in real jeopardy because of Washington overreach and overspending, and they no longer trust the old parties to do anything about it. I know how they feel. I’ve been a proud and lifelong conservative Republican; I always trusted that Republicans would right the ship if given control of Washington. But just the opposite is happening. Republicans are now spending and borrowing just like Democrats did. I love the Republican Party, but I’m a father first. Like so many others, I can no longer stand on sidelines while Washington runs up credit card bills in my daughters’ names.
2. What makes the addition of another party feasible in today’s climate? How does it avoid the traps of other political parties- partisan fights, susceptibility to lobbying, etc?
- There are so many pitfalls for new political parties, and frankly I’ve always been a skeptic of them. They can quickly devolve into factionalism and chaos, and everyone wants to be in charge — whether the party has three members or three million. Personalities begin to overpower principles. That’s human nature. The Federalist Party of America is therefore doing everything it can to structure itself in a way that avoids the tiger pits others parties have fallen into face first. It’s why we have one-year term limits for all leadership positions, and strict annual donation limits of $100. Message discipline will also be key to our success or failure. If we chase every shiny object coming down the stream in the day-to-day news, we’ll never find coherence. If we focus strictly on congressional term limits and on the principles of federalism, we might just make it over time. Getting a fully functioning grassroots party up and running will no doubt take a miracle, but miracles do happen when they’re most needed.
3. Is there a path for the Federal Government to return to its Constitutional moorings…in other words, can the cat be walked back into the bag? How?
- Yes. And it must by necessity. With $20 trillion in federal debt, not counting trillions more in unfunded liabilities, Washington can’t sustain itself much longer. It’s a simple matter of math. That said, the Federalist Party of America well understands that returning responsibilities to communities and states will never happen overnight or as completely as we wish. But we need to start moving in that direction, and we will not allow the perfect to get in the way of the good. We will cheer on any progress, and try to fan it into a trend.
4. How does one sell federalism and the Constitution to a self-proclaimed progressive? Is it even possible?
- Blue State progressives should naturally gravitate toward federalism. Most liberal states are donor states, meaning they send more money to Washington every year than they get back. New York for example, one of the bluest of blue states, sends $40 billion more to Washington annually than it gets in return. Big government progressives need to be educated to understand that they’ll be able to do more with government dollars at the state and local level when Washington is cut out as the middleman. Government spending is most economical closest to home. They’ll also have more direct authority over how those funds are spent. Keeping more dollars in the states is an area where liberals and conservatives should be able to agree. It’s our job to help foster that discussion.
5. I have come across a lot of individuals who claim the banner of conservatism or libertarianism, and point to the 10th amendment as a means of compromise, specifically on contentious topics like abortion or the 2nd amendment. What is the proper use of the 10th amendment? Is it ok to use it this way?
- I personally believe it can be in some cases, but that’s where the courts matter so much in interpretation. As general principle, the Federalist Party of America sees things clearly here: The Constitution stands as written unless and until amended. Our founders built into the Constitution a mechanism for making changes to it. Those amendments don’t come easily — the founders were wise and naturally conservative in that regard — adding or changing them requires the clear will of the People. As much as The Federalist Party of America would like to snap its fingers and see a 28th Amendment creating congressional term limits passed tomorrow, we’re going to have to work for it, and ultimately that’s a good thing. It may also be a blessing as an organizing tool.
6. Your website notes that the enactment of congressional term limits is a primary goal. What do you think about similar restrictions on the judiciary?
- In our effort to stay hyper-focused in our early days, we have not taken a position on judicial term limits. But no doubt we will be taking a good hard look at the pros and cons of that down the pike. For now we’re taking baby steps, but we hope to be up and striding before too long.
7. What about repealing the 17th amendment? Would this accomplish the same objective?
- I don’t see the Party pursuing that, but please remember that I only speak for myself. The 17th Amendment gave Americans the right to elect their senators, rather than have them be appointed by state legislatures, and I doubt we’d want to mess with that in any way. Our plan is to pursue a 28th Amendment to impose term limits, just as the 22nd Amendment limits presidential terms.
8. Who is your favorite founding father? Why?
- That’s a tough one! I’m a huge Madison fan, but I’d have to go with George Washington. If that sounds like a punt, I promise it’s not. Washington showed enormous restraint and humility in relinquishing the presidency after eight years, something unheard of at the time. It told the world that America would be different, indeed — that the people would come before the government. With any luck, there’s another George Washington, or Georgia Washington, studying hard in school right around now. The nation could use him or her.
9. What inspired you to get involved in politics?
- I had an uncle run for U.S. Senate from New York in 1970 when I was seven years old. Every morning I put a “Jim Buckley for Senator” sticker up on a light pole at the corner of 93rd Street and Fifth Avenue, and every night someone tore it down. One day, a kind soul in hippy dress saw me trying to shimmy far up the pole. He offered to help, throwing me up onto his shoulders so I could get the sticker as high as possible. But when he saw whose name I was putting up there, he grimaced and dropped me smack onto my backside on the pavement. That was it. I was hooked. This politics thing is very interesting, indeed, I remember thinking. (Jim Buckley won running on the New York Conservative Party line alone.)
10. Which Representative would you think is most likely to cane someone on the senate floor? (For the reader, the history behind this question can be found here)
- I can’t say for sure, but it’s possible that all representatives snap one day and go after Nancy Pelosi at the microphone, with Democrats, maybe, leading the charge. But again, I speak only for myself here…
We again thank Mr. O’Reilly for taking the time to enlighten our readers. If you have not already done so, please consider becoming a member of The Federalist Coalition here. If you wish to read more about The Federalist Party of America, visit their website here.
Note: The Federalist Coalition is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization seeking to encourage politicians of all political persuasions to support a return to decentralized governance. We support any efforts and will applaud any political figure willing to support and communicate the principles of American Federalism. This article is not an endorsement of The Federalist Party of America.