Wednesday, April 15, 2009

On Tea and (Little) Sympathy

I thought I would take a little time today to wade into an area of American history I normally try to avoid: the antebellum era. It was a period that never really interested me in my history studies. But I am finding myself looking back to that era, because of the growing shrill of the American political right.

I was reading about this news conference that Texas governor Rick Perry held. There was discussion of the dissatisfaction the Texan felt regarding the so-called growing overreach of the federal government (we will ignore the growing overreach of the federal government when Perry's gubernatorial predecessor was in office, because it doesn't count when Republicans do it). Talk of secession has been creeping into the discussions of segments of the political right.

So, I thought I would do a service. First, we need to step back and look at the Nullification Crisis back in the 1830s (see here), where South Carolina, upset with federally imposed protective tariffs, decided that it had the authority to ignore the law. This theory was essentially debunked by the conclusion of the crisis, though it did help to solidify, over time, factions within the country that ultimately wrapped themselves on either side of the slavery issue.

Secession, in my opinion, was essentially nullification on steroids. If, as in the nullification crisis, a federal law that had adverse effects on a state, and theoretically, that state should be able to ignore the law, then it should follow that when the federal government seems to be gunning for your very way of life, then a state should be able to excuse itself from the federal compact altogether (I hope my fellow historians will correct me where I need to be corrected, or elaborate as needed, because this is not my strongest suit, this period).

Naturally, we recall what secession wrought. Therefore, it is interesting that in this year of the bi-centennial celebration of Lincoln's birth, we have the low level discussion of secession creeping into the political landscape. My hope is that these same people understand the full ramifications of what they are bringing to the table. It is reasonable to disagree with the Obama administration on issues of policy; however, I think that it is bordering on outrageous to begin suggesting that we should consider the potential benefits of secession.

As people gather for these "tea parties," I want the rest of us to consider the aforementioned historical issues I've raised. The moves by some of the GOP governors, attempts to avoid portions of the stimulus legislation and funding, seem reflective of nullification. All of this talk of the oppressive and invasive measures of the Obama administration, can move us, if so pushed, down this road again, if we aren't careful.

What is most amazing to me is that the GOP, with all of its blustering about the "victimology" practiced by the likes of the gay community, and racial and ethnic minorities, seems to have become quite adept at victim peddling. And subtle nullification-like moves and calls for secession do nothing more than buttress my observation. It seems to me that the "tea party" participants should stop taking whine with their "tea."


Fiona said...

I guess I'm of two minds.

On the one hand, I find the rhetoric pretty scary. It *does* remind me of the "fire-eaters" and other extremists who advocated secession in the 1850s.

On the other hand, I watched a video clip of a tea party on the jackandjill blog, and it seemed like there weren't very many people present. Today's images from the Huffington Post look the same - 40 or 50 people. And when 70% of people respond that they support the president, I start to think this is a tempest in a teapot. Hardy, har har.

I think the President is setting a good example, too. Just ignore it, explain what you're doing and why you think it will work, and move forward. If you're right, time will tell. If not, the tea parties aren't the real problem.

BiblioDiva said...

I'll believe Gov. Perry feels that the federal gov't is reaching too far into Texas when he gives back ALL of the federal funds Texas receives.

That would be 30% of the state's funding.

Scott said...

I'm kind of enjoying watching the Republicans flailing around trying to find something--ANYTHING--that anybody wants to listen too.

The GOP has shrunk to the tiny base of its base, the hardcore right-wingnuts who believe that the solution to all our problems is to cut rich folk's taxes even more. And while we're at it we can ban abortion, bash gays, and arm everybody in the country with their own personal assault weapon.

That seems to be the extent of their "new" ideas.

Well guys, good luck with that.

PS--I loved David Schuster's comment on MSNBC the other night, talking about an appearance by Dick Armey at a "teabagging".

Schuster said, almost straight-faced, "Well, if you're going to have teabagging on a mass scale, you need a Dick Armey."

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey, you make some thoughtful points, but I think you are too worried about a fringe movement. Conservatives generally don't have the "protest" temperament so I understand that it is unusual to seem them in the street. I don't agree with the "Tea Party" protesters, but I also don't see the menace in them protesting. The left is full of protesters--I didn't see anyone forecasting the end of the Republic when the left is in the street conducting what are often violent protests. As long as people are peaceful, I'm OK with the Left or the Right airing their views in public. If they are violent, that's another story. Lock em up!

Christie Martin said...

Thank you so much for your point that there's only a problem on the Right when someone on the Left expands the government. Who created the DHS that's now looking so closely at conservative groups? Can we say irony?

What many in these tea parties are expressing is a frustration with the two party system. A lot of the people you see there are not true Republicans, they have Conservative leanings, true, but are disenfranchised by the GOP. Let's wait and see if a third party can actually emerge from all this tumult and energy.

As a Texan, I was pretty ticked at Gov. Perry bringing a topic into the debate that was settled very firmly 100+ years ago. Before he made his remark I'd thought only the ignorant had daydreams about secession. Our governor has national hopes, it seems, so brace yourselves for more of this silliness. Perry should have stuck with bragging about his part in where Texas has done it right: our fine economy, strong housing market, and low tax rates that have encouraged growth generating more tax income. Why no one (even Bush) ever wants to try that on the national scene is beyond me.