Back in 2009, deep into the throes of the Health Care Reform wars, assorted talking heads of the pundit class gawked and coughed at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) rather unconventional comparison of the legislative debate to the 19th century fights over slavery and suffrage. Said Reid in his signature barbed style:
When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said, slow down, it’s too early. Let’s wait. Things aren’t bad enough. When women spoke up for the right to speak up, they wanted to vote, some insisted slow down, there will be a better day to do that. The day isn’t quite right. When this body was on the verge of guaranteeing equal civil rights to everyone, regardless of the color of their skin, some senators resorted to the same filibuster threats that we hear today.
Republicans immediately called for an apology and resignation, quickly charging up the conversation for political value, sensing Democratic leaders were desperate at a time when votes were scarce. Plus, polls were showing Reid was in a re-election pickle of his own.
Almost a year later, Reid may have been on to something.
Ignorance of basic American history has the general populace lulled to sleep. But, students of history would worry about the explosive and highly charged political language flying around these days, including talk of states seceding from the Union. The latest politician patronizing southern Republican primary voters is the erratic Congressman Zach Wamp (R-TN), who now joins Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) and an array of other high profile Republicans itching to light the flame of secession talk. Says Wamp in an exclusive interview with National Journal’s Hotline On Call:
“I hope that the American people will go to the ballot box in 2010 and 2012 so that states are not forced to consider separation from this government,” said Wamp during an interview with Hotline OnCall.
He lauded Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX), who first floated the idea of secession in April ’09, for leading the push-back against health care reform, adding that he hopes the American people “will send people to Washington that will, in 2010 and 2012, strictly adhere” to the constitution’s defined role for the federal government.
“Patriots like Rick Perry have talked about these issues because the federal government is putting us in an untenable position at the state level,” said Wamp.
We haven’t heard the word secession widely used in mainstream political conversation since the 1850s, when Southern Democrats and slaveholders, threatened by Northern economic expansion and “Yankee” abolitionists, pressed hard for an independent South. The Southern elite at that time went so far as to encourage a string of unsuccessful armed expeditions into Cuba and Central America in an attempt to strong arm the global cotton and sugar trade. By 1865, over 700,000 Americans lost their lives in combat and war-related diseases.
Hence, concerns over “secession” talk are justified considering the history behind the most deadly war ever fought by Americans and on American soil. Not to say we’ll be witnessing any type of domestic armed insurgency any time soon, but it’s worrisome to hear elected officials toy with volatile political language during times of economic downturn – which was the case during the ugly recessions prior to the first Confederate shots fired at Fort Sumter in 1861. Talk of secession, mixed with Supreme Court nod to gun rights and armed fools brandishing guns at anti-Obama rallies is enough to ulcer any keen observer of American politics. It’s interesting that no one has called for an investigation into Rep. Wamp’s (R-TN) comments, considering he’s taken an oath – as a federal officeholder – “ … to protect and defend the Constitution.” Should Wamp give up his seat?
In Wamp’s case, he’s willing to say anything to outmaneuver Knoxville, TN Mayor Bill Haslam (R) and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R) in a highly competitive Republican primary towards the race to replace outgoing Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen (D). Republicans understand the power of using modern Confederate code language to attract the Southern sensibilities of Tennessee voters; former Memphis Congressman and one-hit-Black-political-wonder Harold Ford (D) found out the hard way during his tough battle for Senate in 2006. The latest Tennessee Mason-Dixon poll has Haslam with a comfortable and nearly double-digit lead over Wamp, 36% to 25%, Ramsey tugging at Wamp’s heels with 20%. The key, as Wamp sees it, is finding a way to stoke the flames of the undecided 17%. In the Volunteer State, where Confederate mementos are proudly displayed, he might have found it – but, at what cost? We should watch the Tennessee Governor’s race closely to see if Wamp’s stunt actually worked.