South Wants States' Rights

By Don Rollins

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but ’round these parts it’s not unusual to define a Yankee as somebody who thinks The War is over. For the most part, this is just a genial, regional poke in the ribs. But not always. Coming from the mouth of the modern day South Carolinian “re-secessionist,” it’s code for states’ rights 2.0. Hand to God, if this latter contingent were given the option of exiting the Union tomorrow morning, they’d be gone by lunchtime. This kind of talk is disconcerting enough. But while some rank-and-file South Carolinians are talking the anti-federalist talk, the Republican majority down in Columbia is walking the walk.

These zealots – mostly domestic and corporate attorneys who gained their seats by the courtesy of the hulking state GOP/tea party machine – are channeling their 1860 forebears with a flurry of semi-secessionist bills.

Their presenting issues are threefold: health care (unconstitutional); gun permits (as in we don’t need no stinking gun permits); and state currency (you never know when the damn Washington liberals will finally bring the Federal Reserve to its knees). Mercy. With apologies to the late Warren Zevon, can anybody say “Lawyers, Guns and Money”?

Now, sometimes crazy writes itself. The conservatives behind this axis of legislative wrongheadedness are willing – no, eager – to go on record with their stuff. And what stuff it is. These birds issue what surely must be the goofiest press releases and interviews this side of Orwellian Newspeak. But don’t take it from me:

Lawyers: Starting about this time last year, South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster joined a dozen or so other state AGs in a lawsuit aimed at repealing health care.

From the first of an ongoing series of McMaster’s ever-escalating news releases: “Today, South Carolina has joined 12 other states in filing a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the national health care law signed by President Obama.

The key question involved is whether personal freedom, state sovereignty, and constitutional law will survive in America for future generations.

A legal challenge by the States appears to be the only hope of protecting the American people from this unprecedented attack on our system of government.” (3/23/10, Office of the Attorney General, State of South Carolina)

Guns: In the wake of last December’s shootings in Tucson, one of South Carolina’s many uber-conservative Republican legislators, Rep. Mike Pitts, has become the point man for doing away with concealed weapons permits altogether. (You read that right: Zero education about how to safely carry a gun, let alone use it.)

When asked about the rationale behind the no-permit bill he introduced, Pitts was ready: “People have a constitutional right by the Second Amendment to keep and bear – not just keep, but bear – arms for self-protection … This would be a purist form of the Second Amendment …the world is becoming a more and more dangerous place and law enforcement can’t be everywhere.” (2/17/11, Times and Democrat, Orangeburg, S.C.)

Money: Pitts is on this one, too, but the real credit goes to state Sen. Lee Bright. The idea is to assert South Carolina’s “monetary sovereignty” by switching from the US dollar to precious metals.

Bright wants to fund a panel to study the feasibility of monetary sovereignty, explaining: “If folks lose faith in the dollar, we need some kind of backup. The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that states may adopt whatever currency they desire for the purposes of performing their own sovereign governmental functions, even to the extent of adopting gold and silver for those purposes while refusing to employ a currency not redeemable in gold or silver coin that Congress has designated “legal tender”…” (Spartanburg Herald Journal, 2/12/11)

Mercy. Health care for the few; guns for the many; and money for the paranoid. Meanwhile, from poverty to race to church-state enmeshment, South Carolina has more issues than Charlie Sheen. But all this hasn’t deterred its Republican policymakers from beating the political bushes for ways to assert a states’ rights exceptionalism not seen since the days of the “peculiar institution”.

So if you’re wondering what runaway conservatism looks like on the state level, it’s all right here in the Palmetto State, a place where crazy writes itself.

Rev. Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Spartanburg, S.C. Email

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2011

News | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2011 The Progressive Populist
PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652