Posted by: danielfee | March 20, 2013

Civil War 2.0: Introduction

Due to the length of this post it has been divided into six parts. This is Part 1: The Introduction. The subsequent posts will address various periods in American history demonstrating how the same basic argument, including much of the same rhetoric, between those who supported a strong centralized federal government versus those who preferred a weak central government with strong state governments are earlier versions of the conservative Tea Party movement arguments of today.

Introduction

The Tea Party is nothing new and their complaints against the federal government are not new. They are the same old radical fringe group that has been around since the founding of the country. The size of this fringe group has increased and decreased at various times in our history but it has never gone away. In the 1860’s it became large enough and gained enough political clout, especially in the south, that they declared they were no longer part of the United States of America and seceded from the union which led to an all out Civil War costing more than 625,000 Americans their lives.

Since the election of Barack Obama in 2008, I have had the uneasy feeling that America has been moving towards a second Civil War. While it has not reached the level of a shooting war, although there is clear evidence that a significant number of people are stockpiling guns and ammunition preparing for that day when they think they will need to take up arms against a tyrannical government, Civil War 2.0 has however reached a fever pitch on the Internet and in the social media. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups of all types, recently issued a report which found that the number of anti-government “Patriot” groups reached a record high in 2012. While the number of “Patriot” groups remained steady between 2000-08 in the range of 131 to 194, it exploded in 2009 to 512 groups and has increased every year since hitting a record high of 1,360 groups in 2012. That is a 900% increase since 2008. The question for the majority of Americans is “how much damage to the county will we allow these radicals to inflict this time around?”

Following President Obama’s re-election in 2012, the threats of “secession” exploded to the point that it was even noticed by the mainstream media. Although the number of signatures was relatively small in most of the so-called blue states, residents in most states filed secession petitions on the White House’s website “We the People”. While looking at the petition from my home state of Florida, which had over 34,000 signatures, more than half of the signatures I checked were from people living outside the state of Florida or no home state was provided. This included the person starting the petition. The same probably goes for the other state petitions and it is likely that many of the same people are signing the petitions in numerous states, but who has the time to investigate them all? The Texas petition, which had received the most signatures, read as follows:

The US continues to suffer economic difficulties stemming from the federal government’s neglect to reform domestic and foreign spending. The citizens of the US suffer from blatant abuses of their rights such as the NDAA, the TSA, etc. Given that the state of Texas maintains a balanced budget and is the 15th largest economy in the world, it is practically feasible for Texas to withdraw from the union, and to do so would protect its citizens’ standard of living and re-secure their rights and liberties in accordance with the original ideas and beliefs of our founding fathers which are no longer being reflected by the federal government.”

Even the stockmarket newsletter to which I subscribe predicted that it is “highly likely that a secession movement will sweep through numerous states over the next ten years.” It went on to suggest “Why don’t three-quarters of the states invite Washington D.C. to secede? Then we can start over.”

It is obvious that there are a lot of very unhappy people because their guy or party didn’t win the election. But that happens every four years. When George W. Bush beat John Kerry in the 2004 election there were 59 million voters who were disappointed, and a large number of them argued that the election was stolen in Ohio. In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote by over 500,000 but lost the election when the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the Florida Supreme Court and effectively put a stop to the statewide Florida recount, thereby giving George W. Bush the Florida electoral votes and the presidency. Clearly, Article II, Section I of the Constitution provides each state with the legislative authority to appoint their electors as they may direct. There are no provisions in the Constitution for the Supreme Court to intervene in a state election process. But there was no talk or petitions for secession in either 2000 or 2004 after those presidential elections.

The Texas secession petition specifically cites the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act), the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) and neglects to reform domestic and foreign spending as justifications for seceding. But all of those were already occurring before 2004. The Bush Administration and the Republican-controlled Congress established the TSA in November 2001, the NDAA gets adopted every year specifying the budget expenditures for the Defense Department, and the Bush administration initiated two foreign wars and started a new Medicare prescription drug benefit all while pushing through two large tax cuts; and none of these were paid for with new taxes or spending off-sets. So the neglect of foreign and domestic spending existed long before Barack Obama was elected. Why didn’t the outrage surface before, when these policies were being enacted? In fact, what you will find is that those who are complaining the loudest today were the biggest supporters of two wars and two Bush tax cuts.

However, almost immediately after Barack Obama was elected and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka stimulus bill) was passed, you began to hear the shouts from the right-wing about tyranny. Nevermind the fact that during the eight years of the George W. Bush administration they passed three stimulus bills. It is also odd that the same people shouting “tyranny” sat quietly while the Bush administration, led primarily by Vice President Dick Cheney, pushed what is known as the “Unitary Executive Theory” for eight years; a theory which claims that the President has broad powers to take numerous unilateral actions to protect the prerogatives of the office of the President. But now they saw tyranny coming from a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress who used the democratic process to pass a piece of legislation to assist the country in recovering from the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.

Barack Obama’s vote totals of 69.5 million in 2008 and 65.9 million in 2012 are the two highest amount of votes ever received by any President. The 60.9 million votes received by Mitt Romney was just slightly higher than John Kerry’s 59.0 million in 2004 and John McCain’s 59.9 million votes in 2008. So in each of the last three elections, the losing candidate had roughly the same number of disappointed voters. So what is different this time? Why are these self-proclaimed Constitution loving conservatives wanting to leave the country they say they love so much? I thought they claimed to be the most patriotic among us. But if they cannot get the majority of their fellow citizens to agree with them, then they are ready to secede from the union and start their own country. How Un-American can they be?

This is primarily a southern state phenomenon, but it extends into the northern plain states to a somewhat lesser degree. There is no doubt that this attitude can be found in all 50 states, but in the northeast, midwest and western parts of the country it is a fringe minority of the population, while in the south it is the prevailing sentiment and majority opinion. It is not a coincidence that this is the same section of the country known as the “Bible Belt.” It is the similarity and the crossover between southern politics and religion that make this the dominant attitude of the south. Both have played to the theme of victimization quite effectively throughout the history of the United States.

Most people outside of the south will write off their complaints as sour grapes, but to do so would be a big mistake. What we are seeing from the radical right of the Republican party, better known as the Tea Party, is not new in American history. You can be ninety-nine percent certain that those advocating for secession are all Republicans (or at least voted Republican in the election) with the vast majority being Tea Party members. Throughout the history of the U.S., we have been through multiple rounds of the same basic argument. On one side are those that favored a strong central government and a union of the states, as was first expressed by Alexander Hamilton. Those on the other side of the argument favored a weak central government with a loose confederation of the states that, for the most part, would operate independently from each other. The first round came shortly after the Revolutionary War at the time the Constitution was being drafted and ratified. Round two came during the presidency of Andrew Jackson with the nullifiers led by South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun. The third round came in the form of an all out Civil War between the northern and southern states. The fourth round came after reconstruction during the Jim Crow era in the segregated south which ultimately lead to the civil rights movement in the 1960’s. Once again we find ourselves in the middle of another mostly southern uprising spurred on once again by the election of a President from Illinois.

One of the major themes of the argument that is put forth during each of these eras is that the majority, mostly northerners in the early days but now including the west and midwest, are imposing their views and laws on the south which conflicts with their southern culture. This plantation era aristocracy culture provided that the degree of liberty a person enjoyed was a direct function of that persons God-given place in the social hierarchy. The higher the status, the more authority they had to take “liberties” over the lives, rights and property of other people, which in those days included owning other people. Hence they continually portray themselves as the victims of assault and northern aggression. In fact, even though most people refer to war between the north (union) and south (confederates) as the U.S. Civil War, the hard core southerners still refer to it as The War of Northern Aggression or War for Southern Independence.

Today we do not have slaves based on skin color or ethnic origin, but rather we have those in the middle and lower classes who are wage slaves under the control of their employer with little or no voice in their working conditions or pay rates. The plantation owners of today are the big multi-national corporations who exploit their workers or ship jobs overseas to maximize profits for their owners. Whereas in the mid 1800’s to those leading the secessionist movement, liberty meant the liberty for whites to own black slaves and take them wherever they wanted with minimum oversight by the central government, today liberty to conservatives and the Tea Party movement means unregulated free markets; the liberty of corporations to exploit their workers, take jobs and profits wherever in the world they want, with minimum oversight by the federal government.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these historical periods and the arguments that were put forth in opposition to a strong centralized federal government. As you read through the historical arguments against the federal government, keep in mind that the Tea Party’s stated principles are a constitutionally limited government, fiscal responsibility on taxation and spending, and unregulated free markets. We will be able to see how similar the Tea Party rhetoric of today is to the past and that these would be secessionists; their cries of tyranny are just a repeat of the same old arguments put forth by the anti-federalists, the nullifiers, the confederates, and the segregationists.

I will address each of these periods in our history in follow-up posts:

Round One will address the anti-federalists

Round Two will address the nullifiers

Round Three will address the confederates

Round Four will address the segregationists

Round Five will address the Tea Party

 

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