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Friday, 01 November 2013 08:23

Rise Again: The Creation of the Modern Nullification Movement

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STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

CalhounRegular readers of mine may wonder why I am spending so much time on Ted Cruz. He did not get what he apparently wanted out of the last budget/deficit crisis, repeal of “Obamacare.” He is being roundly criticized, even by reactionaries in his own party like Sen. Orrin Hatch and former Sen. Trent (Fix my Porch) Lott, for helping to engineer the government shutdown (being roundly blamed on the GOP) and the threat of fiscal default. Nationally, he is polling terribly. Yet he seems not to care. So why, we must ask, is that so. Because in terms of what his real goals are, he didn’t lose. He won.

Ted Cruz had three goals for his “anti-Obamacare” crusade. First, he was clearly out to make himself the legislative leader of the Tea Party Reactionaries in the House of Representatives. As a Senator, to accomplish this he had to do something very unusual in the Congress: reach across the Capitol Rotunda to the other House. But he did that and he became the most visible leader of the “anti-Obamacare” faction in the Congress. (Oh yes, of course the GOP would love to repeal Obamacare, not, as many observers have noted, because it is a bad law [well, since it leaves the system in the control of the “health” insurance companies it is, but that’s another story] but because they are afraid that it will become at least a modest success --- and guess whose name will be on it forever?)

Second, it is becoming more apparent by the day that he (and his powerful, wealthy, Corporate State backers) wanted to place himself in the running, now, for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination. (Why, he has already gone to Iowa, with the first primary over two years away.) He sees that his path to doing this is to place himself as far to the Right as he possibly can, continuing to follow through on the “Rightward Imperative” that has been central to the politics of the GOP since the time of Goldwater (of which I have written on a number of occasions).

If one wanted any confirmation that he is both placing himself in that running and that he has already determined that the best way he can do that is to attempt to let no one get further to his Right, see the almost hysterical reaction to his actions from that former darling of the far, far Right, former Sen. Rick Santorum. He actually said that Cruz “did more harm than good” with his various maneuverings. This from a man who has openly placed “God” above the Constitution. And oh yes, another 2016 GOP Presidential hopeful, feeling the heat from the GOP’s farther-to-the-Right-on-immigration-than-he-is Sen. Marco Rubio has actually backed away from his own immigration plan.

But third, and this is the most dangerous for the future of Constitutional government in the United Staes, Ted Cruz and the “Tea Party” GOP minority in the House of Representatives have created something very important: the modern version of what is called “Nullification.” In this he has already been successful. The original version of Nullification was an attempt by the Slave Power to protect its interests even though they represented a minority of the then popular vote in the United States. The present one is an attempt by representatives of a wing of the Corporate Power to protect its interests, even though they too represent a minority of the popular vote in the United States.

The original “Nullification Crisis" occurred in 1832-33. It concerned a new Federal tariff that would have raised the costs of imported manufactured goods. The intent was to protect domestic manufacturers from cheap (mainly English) foreign competition. Many of those in the South, which had little or no manufacturing and thus had to purchase most such goods on either the domestic or foreign market, were very upset by the passage of this legislation. In response to it, the South Carolina legislature passed an "Ordinance of Nullification," threatening to prevent the collection of tariffs by Federal officers by force, and if necessary to secede from the Union. 

President Andrew Jackson, himself a slave-owning Southerner, responded strongly and quickly, threatening the use of Federal force just to collect Federal tariffs in South Carolina ports, and certainly to deal with any attempted secession. He made it clear that neither nullification nor secession would be tolerated, that he considered even nullification to be treason, and that the Federal government would respond to either by force. The "Great Compromiser," Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky, worked out a deal to achieve a gradually declining tariff, and the issue died down. Less than 30 years later it was of course South Carolina which led 11 Southern states into secession over the expansion of slavery into the Western territories, and the perceived threat posed to the institution of slavery itself.   But at the time, South Carolina only once attempted to unilaterally overturn Federal legislation that had been passed by the Congress (in which it was represented). 

Now we have the modern version of it and it is in one sense more dangerous, for the time-being at least, than the original was.  Jackson faced down his fellow slave-holding Southerners over the issue of what the Union and the Federal government meant and in any case, a compromise on the matter was fairly quickly worked out. The modern Nullifiers, rather than simply saying, “No we won’t” (collect the tariffs) have said “we demand repeal of an act of Congress,” without being able to achieve that aim through the Constitutionally-mandated legislative process. 

Rather, they used two Congressionally-controlled Federal fiscal deadlines having nothing to do with the legislative process to attempt to bargain for the reversal of otherwise irreversible legislative losses.  South Carolina, in 1832 at least, and confronted by the threat of the use of force, could try Nullification once.  And that was it.  In our time, since these deadlines appear on a regular basis, Cruz and the Tea Party are in a position to use them over and over again, and have already stated that that is precisely what they intend to do.

Anti-democracy (even the type that exists in the bought-and-paid-for Houses of Congress) is the theme of the now Cruz-led “Tea Party” Republicans.  If you can’t get what you want through the conventional legislative process, well then just go in a different direction.  After all, “the people,” according to Cruz (with no supporting data, of course), are “against Obamacare,” and “the people” want it repealed.  Where have we heard that what “the people” want, regardless of polling, and much more importantly regardless of voting outcomes, takes precedence over parliamentary/Constitutional functioning, especially when there is a maximum leader who knows himself, in his soul, just what it is that the people want?  Watch out, America.  Here comes Ted.  For one thing, he ain’t Mark Wahlberg’s talking teddy bear, and for another, he ain’t funny.  Do you want to see a prototype?  Try looking up the fictional President Jefferson Davis Hague, leader of the Republican-Christian Alliance in my book, The 15% Solution.

Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for BuzzFlash@Truthout he is the Editorial Director of and a Contributing Author to The Political Junkies for Progressive Democracy (http://thepoliticaljunkies.org/).  Dr. Jonas’ latest book is The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022: A futuristic Novel, Brewster, NY, Trepper & Katz Impact Books, Punto Press Publishing, 2013, http://www.puntopress.com/jonas-the-15-solution-hits-main-distribution/, and available on Amazon.