Secession and Racism

And now, just after the inauguration of America’s first black president, comes loud talk of secession and nullification. What a coincidence.

It seems like only yesterday that right-wingers were condemning critics of a president as un-American, chanting “Proud to be an American,” and branding as traitors to America those opposed to state torture. Today, they say their enemy is America. Oh yeah, and these are the same people who decried so-called “situation ethics.”

Texas Governor Rick Perry got quite a bit of attention from his public flirtation with the secessionists during an Austin teabagging orgy. Just the week before, Perry endorsed the quirky “Tenth Amendment” movement and a states’ rights resolution. I say quirky, but 23 states have adopted these non-binding paeans to antebellum saber rattling.

Here’s a sample paragraph from the resolution adopted this year, by a vote of 43 to 1, by the Georgia State Senate:

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that any Act by the Congress of the United States, Executive Order of the President of the United States of America or Judicial Order by the Judicatories of the United States of America which assumes a power not delegated to the government of the United States of America by the Constitution for the United States of America and which serves to diminish the liberty of the any of the several States or their citizens shall constitute a nullification of the Constitution for the United States of America by the government of the United States of America.

Can you imagine what would have happened to the Dixie Chicks if they’d said something about nullifying the Union?

Near as I can tell, the beard these extremists are hiding behind is concern over the national debt and mythical tax increases. Nevermind that it was George Bush who took the debt to historic levels. All President Obama has done is cut middle class taxes and sent billions of dollars to the states in the form of an economic stimulus. Southerners, at least, ought to notice he sent the aid without the carpetbaggers.

To be fair, there were contemporary secessionists before Obama. Some don’t like the so-called “war on drugs,” some are just anti-authoritarian. I can sympathize. The war on drugs has been a tragic failure, at least from a democratic, crime-fighting point of view.

And I don’t like authority much, either. I tend to agree with Jefferson. We could use a revolution every generation.

However, Federal authority and Union-wide efforts are necessary prerequisites of many things I do like, like Interstate Highways, the U.S. Post Office, a national defense, insured bank accounts, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, air traffic control, environmental protections, a common currency, etc., etc., etc.

The secession/nullification talk is not just anti-authoritarian, and it’s not confined to the South. Generally, Southerners like authority and hierarchy. They don’t mind somebody on top, as long as they can be on top of somebody else. Call it the Great Chain of Teabagging.

But people such as Gov. Perry, and the elite consultants behind the public hate-filled, secessionist comments of powerful right-wing officeholders and wannabees, are another story. They know exactly what they are doing. They are running their 2010 campaigns, and they are hoping they can drive a big anti-Obama, racist turnout in a mid-term election in which Obama won’t be on the ballot.

This cynical manipulation is so morally repugnant that it’s hard to find adequate words of condemnation. How do you say, “Go to Hell, but stay in the Union?”

These manipulators fully understand that the term “states’ rights” calls up images of lynching, of fire hoses and snarling dogs, of governors standing in the doorways of schools keeping children of color away.

Their coded message to the angry: We’ll take you back to those glorious days when most knew their place, and when we could punish the uppity ones without any old federal government telling us that we can’t.

You know, one of the old forms of violent, racist punishment that disappeared (not so many years ago) after passage of the Federal Civil Rights Act included driving a wedge in a tree stump, sitting a naked black man on the stump so that his testicles hung inside the wedged gap, then pulling out the wedge. A knife would be left behind to assist the victim in a necessarily self-mutilating escape. Another kind of teabagging, you might say. How dare the federal government interfere with a sovereign state’s right to turn a blind eye to such practices?

I know many conservatives are not full of hatred, are not racists, and just have different views about democracy and government. Still, do their more legitimate political aspirations excuse their alliance with those who hate and those who would manipulate that hatred in the pursuit of power?

No. Such was the famous Nixonian “Southern Strategy,” and I know no better definition of “Un-American.” I don’t want them to leave, I just want them to leave their hatred behind. The haters will not listen to me. But they might listen to those responsible conservatives whose legitimacy they skulk behind. Talk is not enough. It’s all too easy to say “compassionate conservatism,” as we’ve learned. Responsible conservatives must repudiate the hate, reject the code words, turn the haters away from their rallies and leave them to their private hells with no false promises of aid, comfort, or a return to bygone days of wedged stumps and hanging trees.

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About Glenn W. Smith

Glenn W. Smith has spent the past 30 years in journalism and politics, where he’s made a name for himself as a writer, campaign manager, activist, think tank analyst and, as Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas says, a “legendary political consultant and all-around good guy.” “There’s no one like him,” says author George Lakoff. CNN commentator Paul Begala says, “He has unmatched experience, a graceful pen (or pixel nowadays) and deep insight into the best and worst of us.” Novelist Sarah Bird speaks of his “lucid and lyrical” prose. And, she says, he’s fun. Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington says Glenn writes with “grace and abundant humor” and “uses his colorful experiences in Texas to enlighten us all.”

Smith led Ann Richards’ successful 1990 campaign for Governor of Texas. He worked for former Texas Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby and U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen. Earlier, Smith was a political reporter for the Houston Chronicle and the Houston Post. He’s coordinated national campaigns for groups such as MoveOn.org. In 2004, he authored the highly acclaimed book, The Politics of Deceit: Saving Freedom and Democracy from Extinction. He also wrote Unfit Commander, a book that detailed George W. Bush’s mysterious disappearance from military service.

In 2004, Smith was featured in the film, Bush’s Brain, a documentary about Karl Rove. Smith provided commentary on Rove’s role as then-President Bush’s senior advisor. He has made numerous media appearances with Chris Mathews on Hardball, Joe Scarborough, Brit Hume, and many others. He writes a regularly for top national web sites, including FireDogLake and Huffington Post.

As a senior fellow at George Lakoff’s prestigious Rockridge Institute in Berkeley he studied, wrote and taught on the power of metaphor and narrative in political communications. He also lectured on religion and politics at the Starr King School for Ministry in Berkeley. As a sponsor and organizer, he has pulled together numerous national events with progressive religious leaders. He also organized a celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King at Riverside Church in New York City as well as “Freedom and Faith” bus tours, which was a nationwide campaign for social justice and progressive values.

Smith’s play, Double Play, which explored American Western myths and legends, was held over to sold-out audiences. He’s even written and performed songs in the Americana tradition, such as his best-known song, “Helping Marty Robbins,” a tribute to his hometown, Houston.

Most recently, Smith is the creator of DogCanyon, a political and cultural web site covering state, national and global issues from a Texas perspective. DogCanyon is an exhilarating and unique site that gets the connections between politics and culture and explores both the personal side of politics and the ups, down, craziness and beauty of “life its ownself,” as humorist Dan Jenkins would say. DogCanyon offers heartfelt personal essays, hard-hitting political analysis, and, most importantly, laughs.

As Paul Begala said, Smith writes in “the finest, firmest, fearless tradition of Texas essayists like Molly Ivins.”