Certainly baggerism is not confined to the South, but it was born of white southern political culture, draws most of its political strength at the national level from the South, and is being more or less guided by monied southern elites. This is the theme of several commentaries out today. Let’s review.
Hendrik Hertzberg reviews the history of the 14th Amendment and how much of today’s Tea Bag Rebellion resembles the old secessionist movement.
The party of Lincoln, grand but not yet old, feared the mischief that Southern senators and representatives might get up to when their states were readmitted to the Union. The Republicans’ foremost worry was that Congress might somehow be induced to cut funds for Union pensioners or pay off lenders who had gambled on a Confederate victory. But the language of the Fourteenth Amendment’s framers went further. Benjamin Wade, the president pro tem of the Senate, explained that the national debt would be safer once it was “withdrawn from the power of Congress to repudiate it.” He and his colleagues didn’t say just that the debt could not be put off, or left unpaid. They said that it couldn’t even be questioned.
There are differences between the old secessionists and the new baggers. But …
Still, there are similarities. Prominent among them is a belief that a federal law need not be repealed in order to be nullified. Equally noteworthy is an apparent inability to be reconciled to the results of an election. Last November, after a campaign that turned largely on the issue of health care, Barack Obama was reëlected with a popular majority of five million. In Senate races, Democrats drew ten million more votes than Republicans. In the House of Representatives, Republicans, whom Democrats outpolled by a million and a half, retained their legislative majority only by dint of the vagaries of districting and redistricting. The Confederates had a better case: in 1860, Abraham Lincoln got barely thirty-nine per cent of the vote, a smaller share than any Presidential winner since.
Hertzberg argues that the President has not actually ruled out resorting to the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling. He’s very reluctant to go there, yes, but he still might.
A side note — at least one bagger congressman has declared that if the debt defaults the President should be impeached, even though that same congressman will not commit to raising the debt ceiling.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) isn’t sure whether he’ll support a debt limit deal, but he is sure of one thing: a debt default would be President Barack Obama’s fault.
A reporter for The Young Turks asked Gohmert whether he’d support a bill that would raise the debt ceiling at the Values Voter Summit on Friday.
“The word ‘deal’ concerns me,” he said. “If it’s good for America.”
When asked whether he would allow the government to default on its debt, Gohmert projected the responsibility for such circumstances onto Obama.
“No,” he said, “that would be an impeachable offense by the president.”
Yep, the Republicans are the Party of Personal Responsibility. To them, whatever goes wrong, someone else is personally responsible. Going back to Hertzberg for a moment –
The House Republicans might draw up articles of impeachment, adopt them, and send them to the Senate, where the probability of a conviction would be zero. This would not be a replay of Bill Clinton and the intern. President Clinton was not remotely guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, but he was guilty of something, and that something was sordid. Yet impeachment was what put Clinton on a glide path to his present pinnacle as a wildly popular statesman. President Obama would be guilty only of saving the nation’s economy, and the world’s. It would be all he could do to head off a post-Bloombergian boomlet to somehow get around another amendment, the Twenty-second, and usher him to a third term.
On to Michael Lind, who says The South is holding America hostage. Lind says that although baggerism is largely fueled by racist rage, what’s really behind it is something else entirely –
Another mistake is the failure to recognize that the Southern elite strategy, though bound up with white supremacy throughout history, is primarily about cheap and powerless labor, not about race. If the South and the U.S. as a whole through some magical transformation became racially homogeneous tomorrow, there is no reason to believe that the Southern business and political class would suddenly embrace a new model of political economy based on high wages, high taxes and centralized government, rather than pursue its historical model of a low-wage, low-tax, decentralized system, even though all workers, employers and investors now shared a common skin color.
So the struggle is not one to convert Southern Baptists to Darwinism or to get racists to celebrate diversity. The on-going power struggle between the local elites of the former Confederacy and their allies in other regions and the rest of the United States is not primarily about personal attitudes. It is about power and wealth.
I believe he is right, and it’s good to not lose sight of that. And in a lot of ways this is a strong parallel with the secessionists of 1860-1861. In those days most southern whites were ignorant dirt farmers kept impoverished by the slave-plantation economy that made no room for them. Slavery was a financial benefit only to the small, elite plantation class, and it was the elite plantation class that demanded secession to protect slavery. Yet somehow (largely by playing on racism) the elites were able to manipulate the dirt farmers to go out and fight the damnyankees for them. See also my comments on the Million Moran March and Kim Messick, “Modern GOP IS Still the Party of Dixie.”
Lind suggests a number of measures that would strip away the South’s ability to hold back the rest of America. Progressive activists should make these a priority, IMO.
For a long time, starting as early as 1938, Democrats generally controlled Congress on paper, but actual control often rested with an alliance between Republicans and conservative Southerners who were Democrats in name only. You may not like what this alliance did — among other things, it killed universal health insurance, which we might otherwise have had 65 years ago. But at least America had a functioning government, untroubled by the kind of craziness that now afflicts us.
And right now we have all the necessary ingredients for a comparable alliance, with roles reversed. Despite denials from Republican leaders, everyone I talk to believes that it would be easy to pass both a continuing resolution, reopening the government, and an increase in the debt ceiling, averting default, if only such measures were brought to the House floor. How? The answer is, they would get support from just about all Democrats plus some Republicans, mainly relatively moderate non-Southerners. As I said, Dixiecrats in reverse.
Exactly how anyone gets around John Boehner to achieve this is not clear.