The View from Elsewhere, TN

by Martin Harris

To misquote the title of a recent Hollywood comedy, some funny (peculiar, not ha-ha, as our grade-school teacher used to say to us semi-literates when we mis- or over-used the same five-letter word to describe markedly different incidents) just happened in national politics both on the way to, and on the way from, the recent election. One, preceding the election by more than a year, was the birth of a national Tenth Amendment Center and the subsequent establishment of a handful of State chapters. You can gauge their ideological coloration by noting that there’s a Center chapter in newly-red Tennessee but there’s not one in not-so-newly-blue Vermont. The Tenth Amendment (powers not delegated to the Federal government by the Constitution are reserved to the States or the People) isn’t taught in most of modern public education any more for all the usual reasons. Once-taught subjects, even math and reading, aren’t taught as they were, which explains why the 2/3 of students who can’t make “Proficient” by demonstrating grade-level competence with letters and numbers similarly can’t, by educator intent, describe the Constitutional basis of our Republic with the three-part Separation of Powers (quiz your recent grad for the roles of executive, legislative and judiciary) at each level of government –national, State, local, and individual– for the historic language limiting the powers of each. The other “funny thing”, following the national election by mere weeks, was an all-States nation-wide grass-roots Secession (Withdrawal) Petition, a spontaneous grass-roots conflagration (forgive the imagery) which, at last count, was adding signers in all States (even such all-blue-majority-counties ones as Vermont and Rhode Island) and had achieved posting legitimacy at more than 25,000 signatures in, as of this writing, about a dozen. Both “funny things” are historically peculiar, never having happened before in American history; one (the Petition movement) has already been dismissed in Main Stream Media as another irrational eruption of an earlier secession effort (in a syndicated cartoon, an over-weight over-age white guy in Confederate uniform confuses “we lost ‘cause we [pick-your-theory]” with “The Lost Cause”. You’ll not find, in either modern K-12 education or MSM writings or artistry, accurate historical portrayals of either multiple previous Nullification efforts (when States actually attempted to exert their Constitutional authority) or the single historic Secession effort, which was based, like the contemporary so-far-symbolic one, on issues of taxation and regulation (the 37.5% protectionist tariff drafted by Vermont’s Justin Morrill) and not, originally, on the slavery question.

These two aren’t the only “funny things” which have divided blue from red States to an extent, some historians (and lots of columnists) write, not seen since the various actions of FDR’s New Deal (some ruled un-Constitutional, some accepted and continuing, some successfully resisted and some since reversed) or, for more theatrical scribes and limners, since the Civil War itself. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act now has 27 States pursuing legal action against it, using a Tenth Amendment argument that there’s no Constitutional authority for a national health-care law and regulation, and there’s no never-before authority emanating from the Environmental Protection Agency, which now has a half-dozen States suing over natural gas issues. There are more extensions of Federal authority into education, both K-12 and beyond, which some red States (think Texas) consider excessive; and into local-government-management, which even some blue States (think Connecticut) consider excessive. The sum of all these “funny things” is a set of State-level actions and reactions which, to judge from newspaper accounts, are going almost unrecognized in deeply-blue States like Vermont. Yes, Vermont has had, and maybe still has, its own Secession Movement, retired Duke University academic Thomas Naylor leading the charge for The Second Vermont Republic which would empower itself, the Interstate Commerce Commission no longer relevant, to outlaw big-box chain stores and other evidences of “the tyranny of corporate America.” But, I’d guess, most of Vermont’s Gentry-Left majority (the State went for Prez 44 69-to-31 percent in the recent election) couldn’t name a single close friend or colleague among the 2,413 who have so far signed the Vermont (Withdrawal) Secession Petition. The nation-wide chasm between Left and Right isn’t just nation-wide; it’s intra-State as well.

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And inter-State. Another petition on the White House website comes from citizens in 12 counties of northern California and seven counties of southern Oregon, who want to form their own State of Jefferson. A quick Wikipedia look-up reveals 39 States where similar “vote-with your-feet” proposals are fermenting. Vermont is included, because the Town of Killington voted (2004 and again in 2005) to secede. Tennessee isn’t included, although its eastern more-than-half (Appalachia and the Cumberland Plateau) is far more red than blue, while the western less-than-half (urban Memphis and rural large-scale flood-plain farming) is far more blue than red. Historical note: the original 14th State wasn’t Vermont, but ill-fated short-lived Franklin, which roughly matches the deep-red more-than-half of today’s Tennessee. Modern note: the natives are indeed restless here, so far with more support for Nullification than Secession, and while there’s occasional speculation on re-constituting the now-lost State of Franklin, there’s far more extensive discussion of the relative prosperity of the red States, compared with the over-spending, debts, deficits, and ever-higher=taxes of the blue States . Think California, Illinois, Michigan, and, according to Left-leaning Daily Beast rankings, all-blue Rhode-Island is #1 for bankruptcy probability. Its even-more-blue-voting partner Vermont is #16.

Those blue-State debt levels explain why red States now seek legal distance via Nullification and, perhaps, even Secession. And recent statements from Washington –that blue States’ debts should be guaranteed by the Federal government—are seen as code for requiring surplus-generating red States –think North Dakota, Indiana, even occasionally-blue Maine—to subsidize them. In ideological terms, such tax-the-frugal re-distribution proposals are identical to newly-floated proposals regarding a new set of annual wealth taxes and a new set of annual retirement-savings taxes. For all three categories, governmental or individual non-savers (“free-stuff” voters) need not worry. Members of Tenth Amendment Centers do worry, which explains why they’re grasping for some degree of no-alimony divorce.