Bonkers in Georgia: Hendrik Hertzberg on More of the Rising Craziness on the Right

More on the “Rising Craziness in America.”

This piece was brought to my attention by my son, Nathaniel Schmookler.

It is followed by a question I would like to pose to y’awl, as one possible focus for the discussion on this thread.


Bonkers in Georgia

by Hendrik Hertzberg
The New Yorker, May 7, 2009

My most recent Comment was a series of small jokes riffing on a big joke, namely a moronic suggestion by the governor of Texas that his state might secede from the Union on account of the tyranny of slightly higher marginal tax rates for the rich. It was a thin reed to build a whole piece on, but it was all I had.

I should have looked harder. I’m usually a careful reader of Talking Points Memo, but I had somehow missed Brian Beutler’s April 16th post, in which he brings the startling intelligence that the Georgia state senate, by a 43-1 vote, has passed a resolution that mixes three parts inanity and one part prospective treason into a Kompletely Krazy Kocktail of militia-minded moonshine and wacko white lightning—a resolution that not only endorses defiance of federal law but also threatens anarchy and revolution.

Really, you can’t make this stuff up. You have to read it in full to believe it. Even then you can’t believe it. You thought that “nullification” had been rendered inoperative by the Civil War? Well, think again. You considered secession a pre-Appomattox kind of thing? Well, reconsider. You assumed that John C. Calhoun was a dead parrot? Well, turns out he was only resting.

The resolution is written in a mock eighteenth-century style, ornate and pompous. Just two of its twenty sentences account for more than 1,200 of its 2,200 words. But the substance is even nuttier than the style.

It begins by saying that what it sneeringly calls “a compact under the style and title of a Constitution for the United States” limits the “General Government” only to specifically named powers, such as punishing piracy and counterfeiting, and that “each party” to the “compact,” i.e., each state, is the final judge of whether the “General Government” has overstepped its very tight bounds. Among other rights, the states “retain to themselves the right of judging how far the licentiousness of speech and of the press may be abridged without lessening their useful freedom.” (There’s a lovely phrase: “the licentiousness of speech and of the press.”) If I’m reading the resolution’s convoluted language correctly, it also asserts that the states have a right to suppress “libels, falsehood, and defamation, equally with heresy and false religion” without interference from “federal tribunals.”

There’s more. If a state doesn’t like some federal law, then “nullification of the act is the rightful remedy.” And if a state decides that “any Act by the Congress of the United States, Executive Order of the President of the United States of America or Judicial Order by the Judicatories of the United States of America” exceeds what the state considers the proper bounds of federal authority, then said act or executive order or court order “shall constitute a nullification of the Constitution for the United States of America by the government of the United States of America.” What kind of act? “Further infringements on the right to keep and bear arms including prohibitions of type or quantity of arms or ammunition,” for example.

The kicker:

That should any such act of Congress become law or Executive Order or Judicial Order be put into force, all powers previously delegated to the United States of America by the Constitution for the United States shall revert to the several States individually. Any future government of the United States of America shall require ratification of three quarters of the States seeking to form a government of the United States of America and shall not be binding upon any State not seeking to form such a government.

Italics mine. If Congress were to reinstate the assault rifle ban (admittedly an unlikely prospect), there would be no more United States of America.

To repeat: this was passed by the stalwart patriots of the Georgia state senate by a vote of forty-three to one. According to Beutler, the South Dakota house passed a similar resolution, 51-18, and an Oklahoma version passed that state’s house, 83-13, and its state senate, 25-17. Oklahoma’s Democratic governor, Brad Henry, vetoed it, noting dryly in his veto message that it “does not serve the state or its citizens in any positive manner.”

I don’t have the dates of the South Dakota and Oklahoma resolutions, but the Georgia one passed on April 1st. So I suppose it’s possible that the whole thing is an April Fool’s joke.

Ed Kilgore has more to say on all this at the Democratic Strategist.



The question I would like to pose is: Where do you think all this is heading? Does this constitute any signficant threat to the peace and tranquility of the American Republic?

A couple of related sites one might look at, related to this kind of secessionist/anti-federal energy that’s boiling up among some segments of the right, and to which my attention was also directed by my son, are these:

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20 Responses to “Bonkers in Georgia: Hendrik Hertzberg on More of the Rising Craziness on the Right”

  1. [Duane] Says:

    A federal government that has forfeited it’s obligation to protect the public has lost the legitimacy of representing that public. On that basis the revolt has standing. But note that these rebels juiced this conflagration. And while their citizenry may believe that weapons will protect them from the fed’s, they have less chance of that then 1,000,000+ dead Iraqi’s did.

    No, this is theatrical distraction from the class warfare. Even the resident’s of those states would probably realize that, given a little inspiration. They know that UNITED WE STAND, DIVIDED WE FALL. And so do the elite.

    Print that!

  2. David Says:

    Reminds me of when I was a kid and our standard retort when things didn’t go our way was: “Well, I’m taking my marbles and going home!”

    Some folks never grow up; they just dress up childishness in fancier words or hire lawyers to say it for them.

  3. mczilla Says:

    There has always been a good deal of secessionist noise that continually emanates from Vermont and New Hampshire, and it seems to be spreading.

    I subscribe to The New Yorker myself, and while they do publish a lot of interesting stuff, more and more I get the feeling the East Coast Establishment is a bit disconnected from the larger social reality in this country. Of course a lot of this is opportunistic grandstanding, but it’s not only Crazy Right-Wing Republicans who have lost faith in Our Government. Is it really, like some of the banks, just too big to fail?

  4. Andrew Bard Schmookler Says:

    It does not seem to me, mczilla, that this new secessionist drum-beat on the right has anything to do with the kind of “secessionist noise” that “emanates” from Vermont and New Hampshire.

  5. Todd Waymon Says:

    I’m with Duane on this one: it’s another of the many distraction from the continuing rip-off of the many by the few. Bread and circuses!

  6. Michael Fairfax Says:

    What on earth is next? Resuming witch burning? Stoning children to death who talk back to their elders? Shall we resume the killing of gay people as the bible so lovingly advises?

    What scares the pants off me are the phrases ‘the licentiousness of speech and of the press may be abridged’, and ‘states have a right to suppress “libels, falsehood, and defamation, equally with heresy and false religion”.

    Who decides what are libels, falsehoods, defamation? When America was founded the freedom of the press was said by our founding fathers to be of utmost importance! This will apparently be done away. How can these people call themselves Americans?

    We are said to have ‘freedom of or from religion’ so where does this suppressing heresy and false religion come in? What will be the penalty for heresy and false religion? Shall we bring back the water torture from the Spanish Inquisition? Opps, seems like we have already brought that one back. One needs only look at history to find the answer to that question. It appears the auto de fe may be coming back into fashion.

    Not to mention that Mr. Dick Cheney has been all over the media telling anyone and everyone that torture is what has kept America safe and without it as a ‘tool’ we are helpless to protect ourselves

    The Dark Night of America’s soul is not over.

    This also frightens me more than I can adequately express.

  7. Andrew Bard Schmookler Says:

    “The Dark Night of America’s soul is not over. ”

    What I’d say: the dark forces are no longer in power, are being bested in the battle; but they are also very much still there, still working through this kind of brokenness to do damage to America.

    It is definitely not a time to become complascent, for there has been no surrender, nor even abandonment of the battlefield.

  8. [Duane] Says:

    That’s what terrorism’s about, Mr. Fairfax, to frighten you more than you can express. The psychic wave has reflected off the periphery and is heading home. It’s time to use the best America had to offer to stop the terrorism.

  9. Jim Z. Says:

    I wish that I could take comfort along the lines of “things reverting to equilibrium.” That is, that these mischievous events will eventually lose steam and most people, even in the Oklahomas and Georgias of the world, will go back to TV football and reality shows, and leave state government to the respective Joint Budget Committees. However, I’m not so sure that the past is prologue.

    If one gives at least some credence to the idea that this is a corporate-controlled polity (and please show me otherwise), then if corporate interests and the super-wealthy 10,000 believe that promoting this secessionist line will be productive in them getting what they want, look for it to be paraded and celebrated for some time to come. The money is there to do it.

    And I’m not holding my breath that the typical American will just laugh it off. I know too many otherwise educated individuals who get taken in by such blather. Then, all it takes is a Huey Long type (or, gosh, Reagan, GWBush, Palin, etc.) to become positioned to run for president. Depending on the economic circumstances at the time, such a person’s coattails could be momentarily long.

    The variety of ways to defeat progressivism are virtually endless, especially in entrepreneurial America. This is just the latest one. Limbaugh isn’t paid tens of millions a year by the corporate media for his looks; he is an effective megaphone for fascism. Follow the money. The marketing industry is fully 7% of U.S. GDP, or one out of every $14 spent in the entire economy. These dollars aren’t only spent on consumer goods. And if they can sell a washing machine, they can sell neonazism.

  10. [Duane] Says:

    No question, Jim Z. Commodified politics are a disaster. Capitalism’s bed is it’s toilet.

    Is there anyway to talk yourself out of the pit of “fascism” (including the entrepreneurial kind)?

  11. Andrew Bard Schmookler Says:

    I’m going to be launching a series in the coming days dealing with the question of whether Obama has adopted the best strategy for the battle between good and evil.

    That is, I will argue, the battle he’s fighting. But I’m uncertain whether his approach is the best available.

    One of the central questions on which that strategic issue hinges is this: what is the proper reckoning of the CORRELATION OF FORCES between good and evil in America today?

    Clearly, the forces of good have made advances in the past couple of years. We’re now a good distance from where we were when the BUshites and their Republican enablers dominated every branch of American government, and were taking us quickly down the road toward fascism.

    But what’s the balance of forces now?

    And one little piece of that question bears on the piece heading this thread: how big a threat to the health and well-being of America are these secessionist right-wing campaigns that are getting launched in these ways here and there around the country?

    Are they truly dangerous? Or are they rear-guard reactionary spasms of the vanquished evil forces, as they retreat in the face of Obama’s political success? Or what?

  12. David R Says:

    I am surprised at all this attention to this April 1 flashback to a time that is well past. But it is a feel-good moment for those who feel (and Know) that the U S government has gone well past the constitutional limits set for the federal government.

    As far as weapons ever being effective within against government over- stepping, infringing on what many feel are individual rights, don’t give it a thought. We are all economic captives in the machine. And besides, few ‘leaders’ of today will not betray their followers for a piece of the action.

    The idea that evil forces are not in control of America because the Republicans are out of the elected positions betrays, to me, a rather myopic view of our situation,

    If elections actually will continue to be held and are effective, a progressive liberal push embraced by the Democrats will see them out of political office even though the apparent alternative may be awful.
    Voters in America have for some time been voting for the perceived Lesser Evil.

    Individual Rights are, and always have been, the core value of Americans
    and the theme of true conservative politics.

    Watch and see !

  13. Jim Z. Says:

    I look forward to the thread that you describe, Andy.

    The Constitution as I understand it from a layperson’s viewpoint, is an instrument of popular sovereignty, i.e., that rights derive ultimately from the people through a system of laws. Separation of powers, both horizontally (the three branches) and vertically (the national government and the states), pehapps mainly a pragmatic and even crude tool, is also embedded there.

    That is not to say that the people do not enact laws that place certain powers, even on a long-term basis, with the government.

    And as David R. is likely meaning, to the extent that the government oversteps the bounds of power that has been legitimately given it, sovereignty remains with the people and the people have the right to recall those rights. Aside from (and in addition to) the 27 times the Constitution has been formally amended, some thinkers believe that the people may use whatever moral means they can garner to reclaim inalienable rights if that formal process fails us.

    The rub comes from, and the political debate is about, the particular areas that different people think have been overstepped. My family member may be buying up guns and ammo because he thinks that gun control laws (current and prospective) are about to render him a slave to the republic. I, on the other hand, may be much more concerned about habeas corpus, and the outrageous status that has been granted the corporation under court renderings for over a century. A houseful of weapons will be ineffective against corporate fascism.

  14. Andrew Bard Schmookler Says:

    “The rub comes from, and the political debate is about, the particular areas that different people think have been overstepped.”

    Yes, but this country has a 220-year history of the enactment of laws and the interpretation of the Constitution– so people ought not feel free to just make up an altogether new version of our social contract.

    Habeus corpus, for example, is fully established as a right of the people and an obligation of the state. And there’s never been a ruling that says that a law banning sawed-off shot-guns (or automatic assault rifles) is beyond the legitimate authority of the federal government.

    Nor has the concept of “nullification” got a stitch of established constitutional precedent to support it.

  15. Jim Z. Says:

    I agree, Andy.

    I’m no legal scholar, so I have to concede your points about the law. I guess I’m saying that the political moons could align, and a Roberts-Alito Court could take us into never-never land politically.

    I recall reading the Bush v. Gore decision back in 2000, and coming to the conclusion that for all of the seeming coinsistency and indeed conservatism (in the non-political sense of the term) of the Court, even the US was vulnerable to the type of politicization of the judiciary that Alvaro Vargas Llosa describes in his 21st century political writings about Latin America. A particular state may have no ability to return to the old nullification theory, but present the conditiions for a nation-wide panic, and I don’t put it beyond our neighbors to get swept up in a thoroughly a-constitutional tide.

  16. [Duane] Says:

    You believe, Jim Z., that if McCain had been elected, we would be further in that pit. You believe that Obama has forestalled that slide. Obama has reduced your fear of fascism below what it was with Bush.

    Do you attribute those improved estimations to Obama, to the media, or to a people’s movement? Whether you pronounce it the latter or not, you must put more works (not faith) there. The system has betrayed and is betraying; do you think it’s betraying for a good cause?

    some thinkers believe that the people may use whatever moral means they can garner to reclaim inalienable rights if that formal process fails us.

    You’re obviously not confident of this. Wasn’t this essentially Jefferson’s opinion? Are you expecting a government of laws to respect “moral” claims to “inalienable rights”? And what about a government that “modifies” law per private interests?

    Seems there’s already an a-constitutional tide awash. Isn’t your disagreement with your relative basically one of tactics?

  17. Jim Z. Says:

    I can’t say that I understand your question/comment, [Duane], but that’s not your fault. No doubt my comments here are as obscure as they come.

    Mainly I’m trying to sort out various long term as well as short term trends; deep underlying patterns as well as surface evidence; our achievement of the US Constitution (which I’ve called the greatest document by the hand of man, flawed though it be) vs. the real possibility that the people calling themselves Americans will throw that over in another flight of political fancy or suicide, call it what you will; that there is no greater threat to our ideals than the corporation’s place in our system, and I do not see that influence receding.

    I am pessimistic that the positive political news of late will last or turn into a sustained political recovery from the ppast century. Americans have been too hypnotized by the massive marketing infrastructure that has captured their every waking moment (not to exclude their subconsciouus, obviously).

    That news media are taking the nullification discussion as if it were something serious is evidence to me that we are in serious trouble. I think Andy’s initial question to us focused on that. Might such a movement gain? It might but not in that name. It might well become a building block of the radical Right in retaking the country, of transforming it into something more scary than we now imagine. Remember how much a buffoon people around the world saw Hitler, when in fact the evil he was concocting went beyond imagining. The tools now available to the single military superpower, in an endgame for resources, seem unprecedented.

    At a surface level I’m of course pleased and optimistic about Obama as you say forestalling a plunge into chaos. My life is only so long; nice to have the coming 8 years after the last 8. But for my grandkids, one of whom will attain voting age in the last year of Obama’s second term, I see a noose tightening. Corporate power has long since begun transcending national boundaries, and that trend, it seems to me, shows no sign of abating. Nothing about Obama’s policies/practices, so far, persuades me otherwise (as if any of his supporters thought that they would). He seems transformative, but not in a sense that will turn back the larger power relationships. His cabinet members recoil in horror at the very thought that anyone other than mega-corporations might control health care, e.g.

    I don’t see a people’s movement other than that more people cast votes for Obama than for McCain. It was a clean election, mostly. Obama himself won’t be cloned, and will be followed by those likely less inspiring. I doubt that the American people will overturn the assault on their rights; I see in fact zero evidence of that. The political system adopts laws and rules all the time that amount to handing people’s rights over to private interests. But it is hardly mentioned in these terms.

    One is more likely to see Obama accused of not having enough business executives in his cabinet, than to see anyone ask why in hell corporations must be represented in the seat of power. When did they become citizens, exactly? Jefferson, as well as many prominent founders and their legacy, regularly warned against corporate power (think Lincoln, the first Republican president). Today that is a quaint historical footnote.

  18. [Duane] Says:

    I pity those who undertake a People’s History of the Third Millenium. The documentary record is oceanic and they shouldn’t depend on the NSA for the compilation. Then again, the NSA is probably authoring history right now, so even the people’s history is not clear.

    Personally, I am already tee’d off at the baby boomers who facilitated, no embraced, Raygun etc. How are you loosening the noose for your grandkids? I hope it’s not the #1 escape chute. What would you plan in case nullification was attempted? If it’s so threatening doesn’t it deserve a plan? Would you, terrorized by brainwashed terrorists, join your relative? He probably sleeps more easily than you. The satellite view turns one neurotic.

    But you threaten your credibility with statements like this:

    That news media are taking the nullification discussion as if it were something serious is evidence to me that we are in serious trouble.

    Shouldn’t you be far less credulous at this point? If you imagine your relative in one of these rebel states, how would you explain to him the impossibility of his repelling the US military? Would he hope to outcon a conman government? Would you convince him that if the Feds allowed the secession then it probably wasn’t his best alternative?

    You sound like Morris Berman who sees an inescapable dark age of “corporations”. That maybe. But submitting to that fear in the face of conmen, well, what did Franklin say?

    At what point are we going to realize this is a really shitty play? Let’s enact another.

  19. Jim Z. Says:

    I had not heard of Morris Berman. I’ll look him up.

    No doubt my understanding of things has contradictions.

    It should be pointed out that not everyone in the Boomer generation supported Reagan; many have fought this type of politics for many years. Reagan, his cabinet, his “owners” if you will, were not boomers; they were older (the median boomer was only age 25 the year Reagan was elected, hardly an age that controls the levers of power. They were age 45 when Bush II first took office; the shrub you probably can pin on the boomers).

    Based on some information that has come to light about the infiltration of the US military by fundamentalist christians, are we so sure that the military itself won’t be part of the game?

    My relative, I think is anything but calm; from what I can tell, he’s hyped, tightly coiled and like a hair trigger. I’m sad for his family, who have done nothing to deserve such an armed militant presence in the home.

    Again, I not so much think secession or nullification themselves are the threat, but corporate power which will use such movements to its own demands. It’s not like they haven’t done it before.

    We do the best we can to provide our grandchildren support, comfort, life skills especially critical thinking, a shield from fear, steadiness, etc. We aren’t the parents, so there is a limit.

  20. [Duane] Says:

    Enlightened parents of middle class kids are by insecurity, almost forced into faith, preemptive protectiveness, or a loving-detachment (which is probably an older style of parenting anyway). More force toward feudalism, the entrenchment of power, and generation of the wretched of the earth. Kids (more than ever?) are born on a battlefield.

    They need a new, true “faith”.

    And so does most everybody, even your relative and his like, and not the kind Toady Blair is peddling.

    Sorry to hear your relative is trigger-anxious. Another Raygun legacy is a passle of people who are a confused blend of liberalism and conservatism. Flummoxed, gun-toting, capitalist-apologists, not trigger-happy but sort of John Wayne wannabe’s. Cowboys with a peacemaker. In love with responsibility but shameless in their absorbtion of a noxious ethic.

    Pop that bubble before it’s too late.

    There’s a rich link between “organized” religion and “state police”. E.g., heard of operation Gladio? The CIA in Italy cooperated with Opus Dei. Look up Daniel Ganser’s work. Absolutely the military is in a domestic state of play.

    Speak out.

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