I’ve written a fair amount about “state sovereignty resolutions” being pushed by far-right groups and endorsed by a surprising number of supposedly respectable Republican politicians who seem to think they are capturing the populist zeitgiest. One particularly alarming example was the 43-1 vote in favor of a particularly crazy resolution by the Georgia Senate, which seems to be asserting a unilteral right of secession for any state that objected to, say, a federal assault gun ban.
It has been said in defense of those senators that the crazy resolution whipped through the chamber in one of those little-noticed end-of-session batches of resolution, and that most knew nothing more than that it involved some boilerplate reference to Jeffersonian principles of state’s rights (not that this should be an indifferent subject in any of the former Confederate states).
That’s why it was interesting when a Savannah, GA newspaper reporter polled the six announced Republican candidates for governor in 2010 whether they would have voted for the resolution, now that it’s pretty open and notorious. The results didn’t show any big run for a negligence defense:
Four of the six Republicans who want to be governor apparently favor disbanding the federal government if it imposes new firearms restrictions….
One 2010 gubernatorial hopeful, Eric Johnson of Savannah, voted for the resolution. Two others said they would have voted yes if they were senators. A spokesman for Secretary of State Karen Handel said he “supposes” she would have done so.
Only state Rep. Austin Scott, of Tifton, opposed the resolution. A similar measure in the House never came to a vote.
There was no response from the sixth candidate, U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal.
Bloggers are sometimes accused of dwelling too much on crazy people and crazy views among their political opponents, and thereby not only slurring the opposition, but legitimizing the marginal. Maybe that’s true sometimes, but the “sovereignty movement,” despite its extremely sketchy origins, really is getting some mainline Republican validation, particularly in Georgia, where support for nullification doctrines and secession threats seems to be well on its way to becoming a conservative litmus test for Republican candidates for office. That the delirium focuses on gun laws is especially revealing, since that’s hardly a priority of the Obama administration, except in the fevered imaginations of those who circulate right-wing conspiracy-theory emails.
Actually, I think it’s politically OK for them to do this precisely *because* it’s crazy. The typical Republican suburban voter in Georgia is going to shrug this off, and certainly will not retaliate by voting Democratic. The target of this posturing is the rural Confederate-Flag waving element, which is much less reliably Republican and which in any case seems to be the swing vote in Georgia elections [That’s probably the reason for the fixation on guns]. Note, too, that [as Hilzoy has pointed out] the resolution was patterned pretty closely after Jefferson’s Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, which to the unwary really does suggest that these views have the imprimatur of a revered Founder. I have long told my students that when I was in junior high school we used to have knock-down-drag-out debates over nullifaction–because for southern white kids in the last days of Jim Crow nullification wasn’t history, it was current events. But compared to the Harry Byrds and Jack Kilpatricks of our youth, these guys are kids playing with matches.