Secession, Patriotism and The Right

The kerfluffle about Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s recent comments about the possibility of secession from the United States reminded me of something John Ashcroft said in his Senate confirmation hearings back in January, 2001.

I was covering Capitol Hill at the time, and my professional interest was Bush Jong Il’s appointment of Anne Veneman as USDA secretary, and not the nomination of Ashcroft as attorney general. But I remember there was a bit of a dustup over Ashcroft’s comments to some so-called “Southern Heritage” magazine, speaking approvingly of the sacrifices, honor and commitment to their cause on the part of those who fought for the Confederacy in the War of 1861-65 (I really have no idea of what to call that war; it wasn’t a proper civil war, since the two sides were not fighting to control the government in Washington). Most criticism of Ashcroft’s comments focuses on race, of course, since we are Americans and race is something we simply cannot stop talking about (counter to AG Holder’s idiotic assertions some weeks ago). We just cannot speak about it intelligently, but that is another matter for another day.

What I found is interesting is that no one bothered asking Ashcroft what was honorable in fighting to secede from the United States? How would he view secessionists today (the day he was interviewed)? How is secession, for whatever the reason, not an attack on the national state, defiance of the federal government?

Now, I’m no nationalist. I’m all for carving up the United States into dozens if not scores of small statelets (I will then go live in the Grand Duchy of San Francisco, because post-USA America needs a few monarchies, and world is painfully short of ruling grand dukes and prince-bishops). Okay, not carving up — that reeks of planning and design — but rather allowing such a thing to happen.

But the Right’s talk of secession is not principled talk. If the state of Vermont were to leave the Union (while under GOP management) to become a socialist statelet (gay marriage, single-payer health care, whatever else it is progressives supposedly want), I’m certain the 10th Mountain Division would move quickly from Ft. Drum to Montpelier and subdue any attempt to resurrect the Green Mountain Boys. In fact, I bet Fox News would call for arrests and treason trials at the mere mention of such a thing. (And can you imagine the response if a Democratic state governor, in the wake of September 11, 2001, had called upon his/her state to leave the US because doing so would make the state’s resident — “Hey, we’re not Americans anymore!” — less vulnerable to attack?)

Indeed, there is much hyperventillating about the Obama regime on the Right, as if all those powers the Right religiously entrusted to Bush Jong Il suddenly became evil powers in the hands of the Mahatma. They forget an essential rule of “democratic” governance — unless you are prepared to hold power at all costs from all comers, never give any power to anyone you don’t eventually want used against you. Or: do you really want a Hillary Clinton Justice Department to have the tools of the Patriot Act at its disposal? Or: never make a weapon that may someday be turned on you.

Part of this shows just how wedded to executive power the Right is. There will be no end of their whining (jack-booted thugs again!) as long as a Democrat is in the “Presidential Palace.” Of course, Obama will use presidential power (and NPR will refer to presidential “decrees” as if he is the leader of a junta or chairman of some politburo) to the maximum extent possible. But the problem lies not in the wielder of power, but the power itself. As long as it exists, it will be cultivated, used and expanded. It is a club that will be used to beat and to kill. There is no avoiding that.