"The Civil War still divides Americans, especially at a time when some in the Tea Party movement talk of states' rights and secession; when many states are rebelling against federal initiatives such as the health care overhaul; and when America's changing demographics make some nostalgic for a society in which white Christians were more dominant."
That's how USA Today's Rick Hampson went out of his way to smear conservatives in his February 17 story -- "Across the South, the Civil War is an enduring conflict" -- devoted to examining how commemoration and/or celebration of the Confederacy during the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in the South is a divisive political issue.
Of course, aside from Texas Gov. Rick Perry's veiled reference to secession nearly two years ago, leaving the Union hasn't exactly been high on the Tea Party agenda. Winning elections and shaping policy through the democratic process have.
What's more, while the media like to pretend that only conservatives have tossed about wild-eyed dreams of secession or nullification, shortly after President George W. Bush won reelection there were liberals blowing off steam by fantasizing about such options.
Take, for example, MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell.
Noted Michelle Goldberg of the liberal website Salon.com in November 2004:
Speaking on "The McLaughlin Group" the weekend after George W. Bush's victory, panelist Lawrence O'Donnell, a former Democratic Senate staffer, noted that blue states subsidize the red ones with their tax dollars, and said, "The big problem the country now has, which is going to produce a serious discussion of secession over the next 20 years, is that the segment of the country that pays for the federal government is now being governed by the people who don't pay for the federal government."
A shocked Tony Blankley asked him, "Are you calling for civil war?" To which O'Donnell replied, "You can secede without firing a shot."
For now, of course, secession remains an escapist fantasy. But its resonance with liberals points to some modest potential for constructive political action. After all, as the South knows well, there are interim measures between splitting the nation and submitting to a culture pushed by a hostile federal government. Having lost any say in how the nation is run, liberals may be about to discover states' rights -- for better or worse.
Liberals have long opposed the growth of state power, and for good reason. The century's most significant clashes over federalism have been over civil rights, with the national government forcing the South to submit to desegregation. Since then, fights over everything from abortion to school prayer have pitted Northern liberals, who want to use the federal government to enforce individual rights, often in the face of hostile majorities, against Southern conservatives, who believe that communities should be free to set their own norms.
Now, though, it's liberal enclaves that feel threatened by the federal government, and who will likely need to muster states' rights arguments to protect themselves from Bush's domestic policies.
The struggle against ObamaCare is a struggle over the proper limits of federal power. What's more, Tea Party activists and sympathetic state attorneys general are challenging the law through the appropriate constitutional channels: the federal courts, not discredited notions like nullification and secession.
Reporters like Hampson should know better than to tar the Tea Party with a veiled charge of racism by suggesting the movement is a seditious enterprise aimed at destroying the Union when in fact it's a patriotic one aimed at preserving it under its appropriate constitutional bounds.